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Jon Amiel
Aaron Eckhart, Delroy Lindo, Hilary Swank, Bruce Greenwood, Richard Jenkins, Tcheky Karyo, D.J. Qualls, Stanley Tucci, Alfre Woodard
Writing Credits:
Cooper Layne, John Rogers

Earth has a deadline.

Academy Award winner Hilary Swank (Boys Don't Cry) leads an all-star cast in this electrifying journey that puts you in the middle of the most spectacular film adventure.

Geophysicist, Dr. Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart, Erin Brockovich) has made a terrifying discovery: the Earth's inner core has stopped rotating. Now the planet's electromagnetic field is deteriorating and within months, Earth will be destroyed. One hope exists: to send Keyes and an elite team of scientists in a subterranean vessel to the center of the Earth. As mankind's fate hangs in the balance, the scientists and the ship's crew must do the unthinkable - detonate a nuclear device to reactivate the Earth's core.

Box Office:
Budget $85 million.
Opening Weekend:
$12.053 million on 3017 screens.
Domestic Gross:
$31.111 million.

Rated PG-13

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
French Dolby Surround 2.0

Runtime: 134 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 9/9/2003

• Audio Commentary with Director Jon Amiel
• “To the Core and Back: The Making of The Core
• Deconstruction of the Visual Effects
• 10 Deleted/Extended Scenes with Optional Director’s Commentary
• Previews

Search Titles:

Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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The Core (2003)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 2, 2003)

While the disaster flick enjoyed a minor revival in the late Nineties, we’d not seen many high profile entries in that genre since the Great Stuff Falling From the Sky renaissance of 1998 with Armageddon and Deep Impact. Both those movies made decent money, which means it seems unlikely that 2003’s The Core will spawn a resurgence in these efforts. A dud with critics and audiences, The Core presents a sporadically interesting but generally lackluster piece of cinematic calamity.

Some odd occurrences start to occur around the world. In Boston, some folks with pacemakers drop dead all at the same time. In London, flocks of birds go into a psycho frenzy. University of Chicago geomagnetics professor Dr. Joshua Keyes (Aaron Eckhart) discovers that the Earth’s electromagnetic field is falling apart because the planet’s score stopped spinning.

We see the effects of this on a space shuttle mission that involves Major Rebecca “Beck” Childs (Hilary Swank). The disruption alters the ship’s landing settings and sends them over Los Angeles. She improvises a new setting and saves their bacon. This earns her a spot on the mission to fix matters.

In this group of “terranauts” sent into the depths of the planet, we find Beck and Keyes along with high energy weapons specialist Dr. Serge Leveque (Tcheky Karyo), self-inflated geologist Dr. Conrad Zimsky (Stanley Tucci), pilot Commander Robert Iverson (Bruce Greenwood), and Dr. Edward Brazzleton (Delroy Lindo), the inventor of the vessel that takes the gang to the middle of the Earth. Back on the surface, the crew communicate with project leader General Tom Purcell (Richard Jenkins), flight director Stickley (Alfre Woodard), and super-hacker “Rat” Finch (D.J. Qualls). Inevitably, problems arise along the way; mettle is tested and some folks won’t make it home.

564 days: apparently that’s how long after September 11 we needed to wait before studios would release a flick that depicts urban destruction. The Core definitely doesn’t skimp on the mayhem. Lightning trashes Rome, and microwaves melt the Golden Gate Bridge. I don’t bring up the subject in a judgmental way to condemn the makers of The Core, but I must admit it feels somewhat weird to get a film with this sort of material so soon after the real tragedy of 2001. Add to that the even more recent space shuttle calamity and The Core easily could seem tasteless.

It doesn’t. When I remove all that from the equation, The Core feels like a pretty average little disaster flick. More so than Armageddon and its modern brethren, The Core comes across like a throwback to that genre’s entries from the Seventies. Although it tosses out a fair amount of humor, it presents an earnestness lacking from other modern efforts, and the structure appears more classic. It doesn’t use as much visual gimmickry and quick cutting, and even the score sounds like something that would easily fit with a Seventies movie.

Not that some similarities to the modern movies don’t occur. I found the flick’s occasional demonstrations of surface mayhem to strongly remind me of similar examples from Armageddon. The Core trashes Rome and San Francisco and does so in episodes that feel taken right out of Armageddon. Granted, this film uses different methods – a massive lightning storm fries Rome, while microwaves bake Frisco – but otherwise they feel quite a lot alike.

One area in which The Core differs from Armageddon and disaster flicks from the Seventies relates to its cast. Most entries in the genre pour on the movie stars, but you’ll not find a single one in The Core. I’d be hard-pressed to select the film’s most bankable name, as it has none. When you put Aaron Eckhart and Hilary Swank in the leads, you make the roster of Tea Leoni, Robert Duvall and Morgan Freeman look like the cast from the remake of Ocean’s Eleven.

While I don’t regard a lack of star power as necessarily a weakness, it does cause a bit of a hole in this sort of flick. For better or for worse, we’ve become conditioned to disaster movies with all-star casts. This is supposed to be an event film, and without big names, it lacks the same kind of punch.

To its credit, however, The Core does feature an excellent group of actors. They may lack name recognition, but there’s not a dog in the bunch. Heck, its sole Oscar winner – Swank – probably isn’t even the best actor of the group. Folks like Lindo, Tucci, and Woodard have produced solid work for years.

Unfortunately, they don’t get much to do with their talent here. Tucci gets the best role as the egotistical Zimsky, and he chews the scenery with aplomb. Swank probably makes the weakest impression with her straight arrow Beck. The actor does nothing wrong, but she lacks much charisma and never turns the character into someone about whom we really care.

Actually, I never developed a great interest in any of the personalities, since they all seemed so one-dimensional. The movie gives us the requisite brief character synopses but doesn’t do much beyond that. Granted, with so many roles, it becomes more difficult to flesh them out, give us the desired action and mayhem, and not end up with a four-hour movie, but I think we could have gotten better-defined characters than we receive here.

Maybe if the action sequences seemed more compelling I’d forgive the other flaws more readily. Unfortunately, The Core lacks the flair and sizzle that would make it really exciting. Slam Michael Bay all you want – and director Jon Amiel indirectly does so in this DVD’s audio commentary – but the Armageddon leader knows how to make an action sequence move. Amiel seems so determined to be the anti-Bay that the film becomes too static and unemotional.

On one hand, I admire Amiel’s attempt to leave out the cheesy sentiment of an Armageddon. But on the other hand, aren’t flicks like this supposed to revel in cheesy sentiment and flashy action sequences? No one wants to see a documentary in The Core; the more extreme the action, the better.

At the end of the day, The Core presents a serviceable but curiously uninvolving disaster flick. A lot of it seems predictable, and it does nothing to expand or define its genre. However, it also avoids most of the pitfalls that might make it laughable or unusually goofy. The Core doesn’t appear really good or really bad; it’s just kind of there.

The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio A/ Bonus B

The Core appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. I expected a terrific transfer for a recent, big-budget flick like this, and I got it.

Sharpness appeared consistently excellent. Virtually no softness reared its ugly head as the movie stayed detailed at all times. The movie seemed very distinct and well defined. I saw no jagged edges, but one or two small instances of shimmering popped up, and I also noticed some very light edge enhancement at times. As for print flaws, I detected none. The movie looked clean and free from defects.

Despite the fairly dark subject matter, The Core presented a surprisingly bright palette. The film displayed colors that appeared vibrant and distinctive at all times. The hues were rich and tight, with no problems like noise or bleeding. Blacks were deep and concise, while shadows seemed well defined and showed the logical level of density. Overall, The Core looked great.

And its Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack seemed even more impressive. The material offered many opportunities for stunning audio, and the mix really delivered. The soundfield used the different speakers to great advantage and kept them in gear literally from start to finish. This was a very active track that rarely slowed to let us catch up with it. From the space shuttle shots to those in which our “terranauts” head into the Earth to the many disaster sequences, the flick presented effects that popped up all around us. They melded very well and created an involving and dynamic sense of place. I’d pick some standouts, but the whole thing functioned as a series of remarkable sequences; The Core featured a tremendous soundtrack.

Audio quality also seemed solid. A few lines betrayed a smidgen of edginess, but not many, and most dialogue appeared well defined and distinct. I noticed no problems with edginess, and most speech was recorded neatly. Music sounded bright and dynamic, as the score featured good range and clarity. Not surprisingly, the effects made the strongest impression. Those elements seemed clean and accurate, and they presented powerful material when necessary. No distortion occurred and the track as a whole offered very deep and tight bass response that gave my subwoofer a real workout. Keep The Core on your short list of demo mixes, as it seemed thoroughly stunning in the auditory realm.

As we move to the supplements, we open with an audio commentary from director Jon Amiel. He offers a running, screen-specific look at his film. Although he provides an erratic track, the director does cover a lot of territory. Not surprisingly, effects fill a lot of time during his chat, and he gives us some good notes about that topic. Amiel also tells us a fair amount about changes made from the original script as well as cuts from the final flick.

Unfortunately, Amiel too frequently simply praises participants – usually the actors or the composer – and too many empty spaces appear. Some of these are intentional, as the director doesn’t want to interfere with performances that he really likes. Hey Jon – we’ve already seen the flick, and if we want to revel in the work, we can just change tracks ourselves. Overall, the commentary seems useful, but the various flaws make it fairly average.

After this we locate To the Core and Back: The Making of The Core. In this 10-minute and 52-second program, we find movie snippets, behind the scenes materials, and interviews with Amiel, screenwriters Cooper Layne and John Rogers, producer David Foster, visual effects supervisor Greg McMurry, editor Terry Rawlings, production designer Philip Harrison, director of photography John Lindley, president and creative director of Frantic Films Chris Bond, visual effects supervisor Jamie Dixon, and actors D.J. Qualls, Delroy Lindo, Aaron Eckhart, and Hilary Swank. The show offers some notes about the science behind the film, its attempts to be character-driven, and effects. The latter elements present its most useful parts, but overall, “Back” is too short and fluffy to be very worthwhile. It simply tries way too hard to convince us that The Core is a great movie and uses too little time with actual information.

Deconstruction of the Visual Effects does exactly what its title states. This area breaks into five subdomains, each of which examines a specific element of the movie. We learn about “Pre-Visualization” (four minutes, 30 seconds), “Trafalgar Square” (3:16), “Rome” (3:32), “The Golden Gate Bridge” (4:26), and “The Geode” (3:02). The presentation includes production materials and behind the scenes shots, movie clips, and interviews with Amiel, visual effects supervisor McMurry, Chris Bond of Frantic Films, visual effects supervisor Bryan Hirota, editor Rawlings, 3DSite president Daniele Colajacomo, visual effects supervisor Dixon, and visual effects supervisor Scott Gordon. Though some of the material seems a little dry, for the most part the presentation enlivens the topic and makes these featurettes nicely engaging. The behind the scenes work meshes well with the interviews to make this an informative and compelling series of pieces.

Next we find a collection of Deleted/Extended Scenes. This area includes 10 cut or altered sequences that run a total of 14 minutes and 11 seconds. One or two minor subplots get the boot, and we also lose some small character moments. In particular, the antagonism between Brazzleton and Zimsky shows up a lot. These can be viewed with or without commentary from director Amiel. Although the director gives us some good notes about the scenes, he doesn’t always tell us why he deleted the material.

At the start of the disc, you have the option to watch some previews. This includes ads for Timeline, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, and The Adventures of Indiana Jones. One other note: as usual with Paramount’s releases, most of the extras provide both English and French subtitles.

The Core gives us a pretty ordinary disaster flick. The movie boasts a solid cast and an intriguing concept, but it never quite catches fire and involves the viewer. The DVD presents very strong picture and a fairly useful roster of extras. The movie’s stunning soundtrack is the star of the show, however; I might keep this one in my collection if just for demo purposes. Otherwise, The Core is a generally mediocre action movie. It offers enough excitement to make it acceptably entertaining, but it doesn’t do anything more than that.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.9714 Stars Number of Votes: 35
4 3:
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