Earth has a deadline.
Ah, one of my favorite movie genres: the Armageddon disaster flick. Not content endangering just a plane or skyscraper full of people, Hollywood loves to threaten the entire goddamn earth with total annihilation. Space comets, nuclear weapons, and Mother Nature can be a bitch, but what happens with our own planet runs out of gas and decides to take an eternal break? Well, you get something like The Core. Starring Aaron Eckhart (Erin Brockovich), Oscar winner Hilary Swank (Boys Don't Cry), Delroy Lindo (Heist), Oscar nominee Alfre Woodard (Grand Canyon), and the ever-dependable Stanley Tucci (Big Night), The Core makes its DVD debut care of Paramount Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Listen, I'd love to sit here and explain to you why the Earth's core has stopped spinning. Sadly, I don't have either the brainpower or intuitive skills to recollect what The Core told me. All I know through the scientific mumbo jumbo is that it's got something to do with molten metal coming to a screeching halt (because of an American weapons project) and the magnetic fields screwing things up. As Dr. Conrad Zimsky (Tucci) informs us, solar rays will "literally cook our planet," making us into one big intergalactic BBQ. The answer? Gather a group of rag tag experts and scientists to save the planet, of course. With the help of Dr. Ed Brazzleton (Lindo) and his mammoth ship able to burrow its way through rock, Gen. Thomas Purcell (Richard Jenkins, Six Feet Under) collects a geophysicist college professor (Eckhart), a space shuttle pilot (Swank), a computer expert (D.J. Qualls, Road Trip), and a few other folks who'll help stop the sun from making "the coast toast" (oops, sorry, wrong disaster movie tagline). It's a race against time (when isn't it?) to get our core back on track before we're all turned into walking, talking pop tarts.
I'm the first in line for movies like The Core. I love to see billions of people on the brink of extinction only to witness a handful of good looking actors rescue them from certain doom. Only model-esque women and chiseled men can save the planet, good work if you can get it. The Core is a movie that knows exactly whom its target audience is. If you liked Howard's End, The Core is not for you. If you enjoyed Howard Stern's Private Parts, you're getting warmer.
The Core begins like any other movie about the possible end of the world—we meet our main characters (usually working at ordinary, everyday jobs before being called to save us all) and watch as some natural disaster shakes down the planet (usually a city or popular landmark) causing mass destruction so the film's budget can immodestly show up on screen and scream "Hey, look at me! I cost oodles and oodles to make!" Next we have the obligatory scene of everyone in training for their mission, then the mission gets underway with cuts in the narrative displaying such titles as "The Earth's mantle—17 hours later." These filmmakers sure know how to pack a lotta information into a measly two hours of entertainment.
To be sure, The Core is the most preposterous of all disaster movies. I'll buy being trapped in a burning high rise. I'll swallow chasing down and then being caught inside massive Midwest tornados. Hell, I'll even be suckered into watching astronauts travel into outer space to lay nukes on an incoming asteroid. What I don't buy is the fact that humans have only burrowed about seven miles into the earth, yet in three months we're able to make it to the center and back again. The Core is a movie that depends solely on your ability to put brain on hold for two straight hours. Director Jon Amiel (the Catherine Zeta Jones jigglefest Entrapment) solidly directs a movie about humans tunneling through thousands of miles of solid matter within a few days. He gets credit for…well, actually agreeing to direct a somber movie about jump starting a planet.
Everyone in The Core plays their characters straight as an arrow. However, the story isn't void of humor, as when Eckhart helpfully advises Gen. Purcell that he should pay $50 billion for the ship on a credit card so he can "get the frequent flier miles." But the general rule of thumb is to play this stuff with deadly seriousness—for God's sake, the world is at stake! Swank, showing she has no idea how to pick a prestigious project after an Oscar win, has two emotions: sadness over the loss of various characters and determination. Aaron Eckhart fares a bit better as he tries to convince us that he's worried about lots of molten rock that looks suspiciously like computer effects. The supporting cast is made up of Delroy Lindo showing great restraint in the face of forehead-slapping dialogue, Stanley Tucci as a cowardly scientist (who has one of the best anger management monologues in the film), and D.J. Qualls as a computer hacker who is able to control any info about the project using about four computers. Uh-huh.
In the end, a few heroes make it back alive. Like you didn't already know this. What, you think Hollywood would let some of their best looking talent be killed off with the possible whiff of a sequel in the air? What I'd really like to see is a movie where heroic Americans attempt to bravely save the planet and get blown to smithereens in the process. Then we'd get to see the reactions of everyone on earth. "Crap," one high ranking general would quip, "our only plan has failed. Get ready for an interplanetary rib roast!" Now that's what I call a real disaster movie.
The Core is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Thrill to molten lava flying at your face! Shudder as crystal and rock crumble before your eyes! Yes, all the thrills of deep planet diving can be found in this very attractive looking DVD transfer! In all seriousness, The Core looks great—the colors (lots of blues, oranges, and bright reds) all appear to be in solid shape while the black levels are well defined. Hard as I tried (which wasn't very, since I was mesmerized by all the cheesy special effects), I couldn't find any major flaws in the picture. Overall a very fine effort by Paramount.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English. I was just as pleased with this sound mix as I was the video portions of the disc. The Core features a very rollicking 5.1 mix with surround sounds and directional effects engaged throughout the length of the film. Lots of explosions, crumbling rocks, and slucking molten lava filled both my front and rear speakers, making for an enveloping sound experience. Also included on this disc are Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround tracks in English and French, as well as English subtitles.
Paramount has pulled out a few of the stops on this disc and included a few extra features. The best is a five featurette breakdown of the film's special effects. For those who want to know how the effects guys made the Golden Gate bridge fall to pieces, this is a great place to start. These featurettes also focus on some of the pre-visualization of the effects, how they made giant purple crystal shards look real, and what it took to blow up Rome. Various effects artists comment on how they achieved these stunning visuals. I'm a fan of taking a look at how movie magic is done, so for my dollar these are the best features on the disc.
Next up is a commentary track by director Jon Amiel. Amiel seems to be a genuinely likable guy who is somewhat chatty about the film. Many of the comments are relegated to "I like this shot" and other nods to the production, though there is some discussion about the special effects and the human side of the story. Wait, there was a human side to this story? Fascinating! While I wouldn't consider this to be a great commentary, fans of the film will most likely enjoy the information.
A short "To The Core and Back: Making Of The Core" documentary provides viewers with typical talking head interview snippets from the cast (including Swank, Eckhart, Qualls, and Lindo) and crew (director Amiel, producer David Foster, et cetera) as well as behind-the-scenes footage. This is a brief look at the production with the makers pontificating on what drew them to the project.
Finally there are 10 deleted scenes/extended scenes presented in non-anamorphic widescreen (none of which were very impressive) plus a few previews for various Paramount titles, including the much anticipated Indiana Jones trilogy.
The Core is silly entertainment, and yet I was enthralled by its utter disregard for reality. I'm surprised that when you open up the case there isn't a round slice of bologna staring up at you. It's no piece of classic American cinema, but it is s hoot on a Saturday night (with a boatload of friends and an even bigger boatload of beer). Paramount's work on this disc is apt—the video and audio portions are great and the extra features are plentiful.
Though it's utter nonsense, The Core is a lot of fun. Case dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Director Jon Amiel
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