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The Core

Had 2003's The Core arrived in the mid-'90s — or even just been released in the high summer instead of the end of March — it might have been a modest hit for Paramount. Instead, the disaster flick returned $31 million domestically from an $85 million budget, which is a shame — this isn't the greatest sci-fi movie ever made, but it has some appealing names on the roster and at least tries to be as much about science as fiction. Aaron Eckhart stars as Dr. Joshua Keyes, a university-bound scientist who specializes in the earth's electromagnetic field. He knows a lot about the planet, but what he doesn't know is that he has a high-level Pentagon security clearance — it's only when people start dropping dead, as if on cue, from failed pacemakers that Keyes is consulted by the military brass. Once the physicist is able to rule out a terrorist pulse-weapon, he's let go, only to decide to continue looking into the matter on his own. And what he discovers is far worse than any WMD — the molten part of the earth's core has stopped spinning, creating electromagnetic havoc around the globe. Keyes and his mentor, Dr. Conrad Zimsky (Stanley Tucci), deliver a chilling presentation to the military, after which it's decided a ship will be constructed by renegade inventor Dr. Ed Brazzelton (Delroy Lindo) to be taken to the earth's core by NASA pilot Maj. Rebecca Childs (Hilary Swank). Once there, it's hoped a nuclear device will put the earth back in motion. It's pretty clear that The Core wants to be a blend of Jules Verne and Isaac Asimov — perhaps it's not quite up to the level of these two masters of science fiction; then again, perhaps today's audiences would find Fantastic Voyage (1966) absurd as a summer blockbuster. The Core does get in at least one Verne-esque sequence when the "terranauts" pierce the hollow center of a massive amethyst crystal and venture outside their craft to look for damage, and to take in this strange new inner world. It's an inventive scene that hearkens back to the secret worlds revealed in Verne novels, and more of these would have been welcome. And while the film never becomes jargon-heavy, it does keep up a steady scientific patter — reportedly, the premise is based on a theoretical paper by a Cal Tech professor. But even if an armchair scholar could spelunker mile-deep holes in the script, in the end it's a popcorn-movie, which means it's about the plot, effects, and acting. The story never lags, even when it gives way to traditional disaster-movie tropes of sacrifice and heroism, while it appears a small army of people put together the film's countless CGI shots, all of which are marvelous to behold. And the cast is a solid bunch — Aaron Eckhart and Hilary Swank got their start in low-budget indies, and Jerry Bruckheimer was clever enough to draw from the same ranks for potboilers like Con Air and Armageddon. Both leads are attractive, but not overly pretty Hollywood types, and if they're forced into some overacting at points, it's easily overlooked. Also on the ride are Tucci, Delroy Lindo, Tchéky Karyo, and Bruce Greenwood, while DJ Qualls plays "Rat," the world's foremost computer hacker, and Alfre Woodard runs ground control with grim determination. It's not a standout, but The Core is a worthy spin in the disaster genre. Paramount's DVD features a crisp anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include a subdued solo commentary from director John Amiel, a behind-the-scenes featurette (10 min.), and deconstructions of five special-effects sequences. Keep-case.

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