The Earth’s rotating core has stalled. As a result, electromagnetic fields are thrown out of whack, violent storms are tearing through Rome, and intense microwaves threaten to cook the planet and everyone on it. The earth will be a wasteland in less than a year unless the world’s scientists and the U.S. military can come up with a way to burrow to the center of the globe and unleash bombs that will act as a nuclear defibrillator, jumpstarting The Core.
The ship’s diverse crew includes scruffy geophysics professor Josh Keyes, a humble hunk with a good heart. He is reunited with Sergei Leveque, an old friend and colleague specializing in weaponry. They are joined by a brilliant, if pompous self-promoter named Dr. Conrad Zimsky, as well as the ship’s designer, Dr. Brazleton, who happens to be an unheralded genius Zimsky took advantage of years earlier. At the controls are NASA astronauts Col. Robert Iverson and Maj. Rebecca Childs. Back on the surface, a nerdy computer hacker known as Rat controls the flow of information and works miracles from his keyboard (requiring only an unlimited supply of Xena: Warrior Princess videotapes and microwavable Hot Pockets).
No sooner does the away team plunge beneath the earth’s crust than things start to go wrong. They must overcome one crisis after another. In doing so, casualties mount. But everyone on board realizes that failure is not an option, and that the suffering taking place in their midst and on the earth’s surface is nothing compared to the wide-scale loss of life sure to occur if they don’t successfully complete their mission.
positive elements: In broad strokes and subtle gestures, The Core esteems kindness, humility, modesty, compassion, teamwork, relational reconciliation and supreme sacrifice. Human life is valuable. An off-course space shuttle consciously tries to crash-land in as unpopulated a locale as possible. Beneath the earth’s surface, an acetylene torch needs more oxygen to free the ship, leading Josh to surrender his life-support system to meet the need. People use their unique skills and knowledge to help the team accomplish its goal. Nearly every crew member who dies does so in a selfless act of bravery. When three men draw straws for a suicide mission, we learn that the "loser" rigged it so that his friends would be spared. Sergei notes that the notion of trying to save the world can be overwhelming, so he thinks in terms of saving just three people—his wife and two children. Col. Iverson tells Rebecca, his gifted second in command, "Being a leader isn’t about ability; it’s about responsibility," and says that true character comes not from winning all the time, but from losing now and then. People who have wronged or misjudged others apologize. Even Zimsky’s arrogance softens as he witnesses the heroism of those around him. Characters repeatedly deal with the inner turmoil of seeing a life lost in the interest of the greater good. Told that NASA may need a man like him, Josh responds that his college students need him too, making it clear that he’s not interested in wealth and glory, but in humbly serving others.
spiritual content: When Rebecca begins to bring up the role of "fate or God" in their circumstances, Josh blurts out, "You leave God out of this!" The statement is devoid of any positive or negative connotation, but it does raise an interesting issue. The movie takes Josh’s advice, leaving God out of things. It’s humanistic, relying on science and ingenuity to save the day. The notion is that we got ourselves into this ecological mess and it’s entirely up to us to get ourselves out. God, prayer and religion play no part in how people react to impending Armageddon. Zimsky’s final thoughts include the spiritually obtuse hope that "man can come to know the most important thing of all—himself."
sexual content: Just a couple lines of dialogue. Rat is a virgin who says his life’s ambition is to have sex before dying. A married man refers to his work as his mistress.
violent content: A businessman drops dead when electromagnetic interference disrupts his pacemaker (other victims’ bodies are shown as well). The same phenomenon causes a flock of birds to fly frantically into solid objects such as statues, buildings, vehicles and people. Cars wreck and a bus flips onto its side. People get nasty shocks when a wild electrical storm converges on Rome. Intense lightning strikes tear up streets and demolish the Colosseum. A space shuttle gets thrown off course and must crash land in L.A. A motorist suffers a serious sunburn before the deadly microwaves responsible melt the Golden Gate Bridge at rush hour, causing countless vehicles to plunge into the bay (a news report shows San Francisco after it has been scorched into a post-apocalyptic wasteland). Brazleton coldcocks Zimsky. Also, not all of the subterranean travelers survive. [Spoiler Warning] Crew members are hit by falling objects (blood shown on face), tumble into molten lava, are crushed when a jettisoned section of the ship succumbs to intense pressure, perish from amazing heat and die in a nuclear blast. But the film doesn’t take tragedy lightly. There is always sadness connected to the loss of life.
crude or profane language: About 25 profanities, mostly h---, d--n and exclamations of "my god." There are several s-words and a couple misuses of Jesus' name. Very near the end of the film, Zimsky utters an f-word.
drug and alcohol content: Members of the crew toast their mission with champagne. Josh and Sergei get blitzed at a bar, though the consequences are immediate for Josh who says, "I think I skipped drunk and went straight to hangover." It’s rare that we see Zimsky without a lit cigarette in his hand (if you think second-hand smoke is annoying in a restaurant, try being stuck in a sub with a chain-smoker as you journey to the center of the earth—yuck!), but it could be argued that because he’s a boorish, self-centered jerk, smoking is portrayed as one of his faults rather than a glamorous habit to be imitated.
other negative elements: Rat’s criminal history and reputation as a master computer hacker are what make him a valued member of the team, indirectly rewarding him for a checkered past. It’s not uncommon for movies like this to vilify the U.S. military and its government-sanctioned scientists for creating an environmental crisis. Such antagonism exists here, which will bother some viewers in light of our military’s real-life sacrifices and need for support.
conclusion: Nonstop technobabble notwithstanding, I liked this energetic B-movie. A lot of critics will compare it with Armagedon because of its similar plot line (a heroic team travels a great distance to set off a nuclear charge that will save the earth from global destruction). But a more appropriate comparison—based on tone and moral content—would be the 1997 Tommy Lee Jones disaster pic Volcano. Like that film, this one focuses on noble people rising to meet an enormous challenge without concern for their own safety. The action peril is intense at times, but it exists to make a grander statement: Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for a friend. Or his family. Or his country. Or his planet. Like Volcano, The Core gives us heroes of virtuous character that we can really get behind. So when they make the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good, it has a—to borrow the title of another such film—deep impact.
The Core is a movie best viewed by older teens and adults. The madness on the earth’s surface is unsettling, but it’s so rooted in science fiction that it shouldn’t cause long-term anxiety (unless your daily commute takes you across the Golden Gate Bridge). If anything, the lasting impression should be one of hope. When the planet and its inhabitants are condemned to certain death within a year, I couldn’t help but think that, with all the problems in the world today, things could be worse. At least we’re not sitting around counting the days until we’re microwaved like one of Rat’s Hot Pockets. And if the folks onscreen can unite and solve their crisis, maybe world peace isn’t so impossible after all. Hollywood has a way of oversimplifying life, but sometimes that’s just what we need—a conquerable catastrophe. It’s pure escapism. And it works.