Journey to the Center of… You Know
So you go into a movie like The Core — and by “you” I mean geeky SF dorks like me, and by “geeky SF dorks” I mean people who can have three-hour debates over the Prime Directive and who consider Sci Fi Channel’s Monday-night four-hour block of Stargate SG-1 appointment television and who accept the designation of geeky SF dork as a badge of honor and intellectual superiority — and you’re a little bit aquiver with anticipation cuz we might get lucky and get some honest- to- Asimov SF but you’re mostly dreading it because the trailer makes it look like the second coming of Independence Day which is, okay, a guilty pleasure, idiotic but kinda sorta fun, or worse, maybe all Bruce Willis drillin’ the bitch and astronauts walking all slo-mo to their ship like that makes them more heroic or something.
But damn if it isn’t. Damn if you — and by “you” I mean “me,” of course — don’t sorta slink down in your seat during the opening few minutes, getting that twitchy, shivery feeling like this is gonna be something worth reseeing on a geek night out with your geeky pals and a trip to the diner afterward to rehash and argue about.
Yeah and yee-ha! but this is good old-fashioned pulpy, popcorny B-movie fun only with real science and no giant radioactive mutant anythings, so maybe it’s not B-movie stuff at all. I mean, sure, it’s got all the classic elements (except giant radioactive mutant anythings). Like the dorky scientist who knows the secret of how the world’s about to end and how to save it and who’s really cute like no professor you ever saw and certainly did not have in school. Like the evil military type who’s never out of uniform and always near a red phone and knows something supersecret about why the world might be ending, since you asked and don’t you know there’s a cold war on. (Which is hilarious, actually, because there isn’t a cold war on and you can’t help but wonder who they’re talking about when they say “The Enemy”: Canada? Mars? Cuz it’s not like there’s anyone around to have a cold war with anymore, only hot wars where we go in and crush everyone so there’s no need for a supersecret weapon of mass destruction because, you know, they’re using ancient $1.98 Yugoslavian knockoffs of cheap Russian machine guns and couldn’t afford a trillion-dollar WMD anyway. Unless we gave it to them.) Like the hotshot pilot who’s too big for his breeches and is all arrogant and never makes mistakes and surely is in for the lesson of his life.
Only here the hotshot is a she (Hilary Swank), which tells you for sure that Toto, I don’t think we’re in the 50s anymore. And the science is fairly grounded in reality. Sure, there’s a few howlers — and I’ll leave it to you to figure out where and when to laugh — but mostly, it’s the cute, dorky scientist standing around explaining actual scientific stuff and having actual scientific discussions with other actual scientists, which will probably bore the crap out of anyone who actually wanted to see Bruce Willis drillin’ the bitch and will thrill all those dorky SF geeks like me, who between finding all of this totally cool will have time to wonder How on earth did they get away with making a real SF movie these days? Yeah, stuff does blow up real good, but not as much as you’d think. It’s much more about explaining This Is The Planet / This Is The Planet On Ionized Radiation / Any Questions? than witnessing the global carnage and destruction. Michael Bay, Jerry Bruckheimer, take note: this is how you do it.
The B-movies were all about Themes and Messages and Metaphors and Allegories and forget scientific accuracy (giant radioactive mutant things? c’mon), and The Core is all pretty much on- the- nose, not pretending to have an agenda beyond making science look pretty cool. But it’s not like you can really call The Core an A-movie, either, cuz it’s not about the Holocaust or the death penalty or a sensitive artist falling in love with a shy chambermaid in 19-century Venice. So call it a B-plus movie. It’s not even afraid to evoke the guy who was maybe the first to make A-level B-movies — Hitchcock — with a whole freaky thing about birds going crazy. I tell ya, it’s ooky, that opening bit with the birds, and not like much of anything I’ve seen in SF flicks before.
And if they stretch the scientific accuracy thing a tad in places, it’s still forgivable, because the attitude is really SFnal in a way that doesn’t usually get seen onscreen, either. It’s the attitude in which scientists are the heroes, the ones who save the world, not the bad guys for having dared to meddle in things Man Was Not Meant To Know. Brains and reason and rationality and intelligence save the day — not guns, not luck, not brawn. (Though, my god, Aaron Eckhart, who’s the aforementioned impossibly cute scientist, is shirtless in one scene and it’s like you almost wanna avert your eyes lest you by blinded by his godliness — the man goes from adorably rumpled to shining Adonis in 60 seconds. And that is a scientific fact.)
If there’s any message at all, besides the kinda obvious Be Nice To The Planet, it’s quick and brief and comes in the last 30 seconds, and it’s basically: Ya Can’t Keep A Geek Down. We geeks knew that already, of course.