is a 2003 film about a group of scientists who must travel to the center of the Earth to restart the faltering core of the planet. The government gets a group of four scientists to find a way to make the Earth's core continue to spin, since it's winding down and with it goes the Earth's magnetic field, and without it the entire surface will be melted by cosmic winds. Using literal Unobtanium
to build a ship hull that grows stronger the more pressure is put on it, they set off to deploy a set of five 200 megaton nuclear bombs
in the core with the idea to restart it spinning.
It goes without saying that the science is atrocious... actually it went with saying, it's The Intuitor's
pick for movie with the worst physics. But enough about that, we must get to what little story there is!
Glib disdain aside, it's a decent popcorn flick with good special effects and a premise that wouldn't be out of place in a Jules Verne
novel. That said, parallels to Journey to the Center of the Earth
aren't likely to be favorable for this movie because the characterizations aren't much to write home about. You have intrepid lead scientist, sexy romantic interest female scientist, Deadpan Snarker
scientist, and geeky enthusiastic scientist. Aided by a Playful Hacker
with a rat motif.
Now say your mantra
three times and lie back thinking of England
This film provides examples of:
- Armies Are Evil: The Earth's core got screwed up because those darn evil military sorts wanted an... earthquake gun... or something. It seems almost wedged in as an afterthought to get double mileage out of handwaving the ridiculousness of the core stopping and so that the movie can claim to have an important message.
- Badass Boast: This is Rat's defining characteristic, really.
This is my kung fu, and it is strong.
We multitask like you breathe. I couldn't think as slow as you if I tried.
- Blatant Lies: When Rat is being busted by the FBI, he quickly starts destroying evidence by purging it and microwaving CDs. They come in, and:
: [Sitting in front of a dozen PC towers]
Okay, I know these look
like computers... Totally not
- Convection Schmonvection: Averted, mostly. The characters were being protected by the Unobtanium hull of the Virgil, and they couldn't exit the craft without suits of the same material. Braz got cooked to death when he went out into the magma-free, but appropriately very hot impeller compartment to deactivate the safety switch holding the compartments in place.
- Deus Ex Nukina: The Earth's outer core has stopped spinning, and nuclear weapons are the only thing that can get it started again.
- Do Not Pass Go
Dr. Josh Keyes: Blindfolded. Do not pass go. Go directly to PhD.
- Do Unto Others Before They Do Unto Us: The explanation for the construction and deployment of DESTINI: "Someone was going to build it, so we built it first."
- Down L.A. Drain: Early in the film, the crew of the Space Shuttle has to make an emergency landing here after Earth's collapsing magnetic field causes the Shuttle's navigation systems to go haywire during reentry.
- Drawing Straws: For who has to go on the suicide mission outside to release the locks holding the compartments together. It seems to be lengths of wire instead of straws, but same idea. Interestingly Subverted— All the wires are the same length. Braz intentionally rigged the drawing against himself because he didn't feel right letting someone else die for his creation. In the end, after tearful goodbyes all around, he gets his wish.
- Dwindling Party: Once the Virgil undertakes its mission, crew members get picked off one by one by the mission itself.
- The Virgil itself, in a way, as every last subsidiary compartment is lost or sacrificed over the course of the film.
- Everything Is Online: Rat routes the a significant chunk of the U.S. electric power grid to Coney Island.
- Follow the Leader: The film was pitched as "Armageddon, but down."
- Freeze-Frame Bonus: When pigeons lose their sense of navigation and are flying into plate-glass windows, one of the windows finally breaks. If you freeze-frame on this moment, you'll see that the window is broken not by a flying pigeon, but by a flying trout.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Where to begin...well look at the poster...now...only 2 of the crew survive.
- Hollywood Darkness:
- Either Virgil has a backup generator which allows running a small pilot light (and the welding machine in the scene where the power cables are attached to the hull after the core of the reactor had been pulled out), or the characters have a sixth sense which allows them to see in pitch black darkness. It's a perfectly sealed shell thousands of miles below Earth surface. There is no way it can get light inside once the electrical power dies.
- When Braz steps out in the entrance tunnel to operate the controls which allow separation of Virgil compartments, his helmet lamp cracks instantly from heat. However, there is daylight-like light around him, they didn't even bother to simulate the darkness. (Of course, the walls were supposed to be 9000 degrees, which would mean they'd be glowing white-hot — so if anything there should have been more light.)
- Hollywood Hacking/It's a Small Net After All: "You want me to HACK THE PLANET??". And he does.
- Hollywood Science: Seeing how this is what the movie is most known for, the examples are put in their own section here.
- Artistic License – Astronomy: The sun does not emit evil microwave death rays that can boil San Francisco Bay and melt the Golden Gate Bridge. (And if it did, a magnetic field wouldn't stop them.)
- Artistic License – Biology: One of the first signs that something is going wrong is when pigeons suddenly go mental and start smashing into everything. This is explained by the changes to the Earth's electromagnetic field messing with their natural navigation systems. While it is true that many birds such as pigeons use electromagnetics to navigate, it is for long-distance travel only. It would be more like if your car's GPS went on the fritz: instead of flying to London, they'd end up in Norway. They still have eyes, they wouldn't just whack into anything in their way!
It may, however, work if the field is fluctuating wildly and causing the pigeons to get confused and panic, but that's probably overthinking things. In its defence, the movie also lampshades it; when the hero asks "How do birds navigate?", one of his grad students replies, "By sight."
- Artistic License – Geology: More examples than any human being can list, but we're going to try:
- The Virgil encounters an underground equivalent of an asteroid belt composed of gigantic diamonds... which cannot form as deep as it is, since carbon could not possibly crystallize in those kinds of temperatures... the crystals would be constantly breaking down before they could fully form. Plus, carbon is far too light to remain below the mantle for very long... it would be like popping a balloon at ground level and expecting the helium to remain where it was.
- In Real Life, the Earth's core spins because the rest of the Earth is spinning. It rotates once every 23 hours 56 minutes 4 seconds, just like the rest of the Earth does. Relative to somebody standing on the Earth's surface, the core doesn't appear to move at all. If the core "stopped spinning", it would appear to spin in the opposite direction relative to the Earth's surface. (And where would all that angular momentum go? At the very least, the rest of the Earth would have to speed up.)
- The Earth's outer core weighs in at 1.8 sextillion metric tons. You'd have to throw one hell of a monkey wrench into the path of that spinning freight train to brake it from one-rotation-every-24-hours to a dead stop. And even if you did, all that angular momentum would have to go somewhere; the rest of the Earth should have sped up by quite a huge margin.
Not to mention we haven't developed a single nuclear warhead powerful enough to even break 6.0 on the Moment Magnitude scale. Krakatoa laughs at our most powerful nuke. So how can you expect a nuke to even give so much as a nudge to all that molten iron?
- When the Virgil descends through the Earth's crust and into the mantle (and, later, when it has to travel upward through the mantle to escape), the mantle shown is clearly supposed to be a liquid, thereby not requiring the use of their drilling laser. In Real Life, the lower and middle mantles are semi-liquid goop that flow like pitch (at best), while the upper mantle is most decidedly solid.
- A cavernous gas-filled geode, surrounded by 800,000 pounds per square inch of pressure at several thousand degrees, would never be able to form in the first place, much less endure for the years or millennia before the Virgil encountered it. This one gets Lampshaded in the movie, with two of the scientists discussing how it should be impossible. It eventually gets a Handwave that boils down to "look, it must be possible, as it's right here."
- When the impeller is jammed by a fallen amethyst crystal and the geode starts leaking magma from above, the team keep right on cutting through the crystal at the cost of one member's life, even as the pooled magma gets closer and closer. But amethyst melts at the kind of temperatures which liquefy magma; it's only compression that keeps such crystals intact, and the geode's open interior should give heated minerals enough space to deform freely. By all rights, the crew should have just gone back inside and waited for the magma (which their vessel is designed to withstand) to engulf the Virgil and melt the thing loose.
- The geomagnetic field protects the surface of the Earth from charged particles (like the solar wind and cosmic rays), but it has no effect on electromagnetic radiation such as microwaves. If the Earth was hit by an evil microwave Death Ray from the sun, like the one shown in the movie, we'd be fried whether the Earth's magnetic field was there or not. (And if space really was filled with that much microwave radiation, every one of our satellites would be fried instantly.)
- When the Virgil begins its journey toward the core, it begins at the Marianas Trench, which rends itself apart to form a whirlpool that sucks the ship downward. The problem: the Marianas Trench is on a convergent plate boundary.
- Artistic License – Medicine: A failure of the Earth's magnetic field isn't going to stop a pacemaker (or a wristwatch, for that matter), and even if it did, the heart the pacemaker is attached to wouldn't suddenly stop beating entirely. Pacemakers are given to patients with irregular or erratic heartbeats. A failed pacemaker may be a medical emergency, but it's not a guaranteed instant death sentence.
- There is one possible justification: the shifting magnetic field induced electrical current into the wiring and electrodes around the heart. The pacemaker isn't the killer, it's simply the means. Accidental minor electrical shock via current generated by shifting magnetic fields that puts the patient into ventricular fibrillation. At least it's a shorter stretch than everything else in this flick.
- Artistic License – Nuclear Physics:
- The 5 bombs in the movie have a yield of 200 megatons each. No Real Life nuclear weapon larger than 50 megatons has ever been detonated, and no weapon larger than a theoretical 100 megatons has ever even been built. Even using the most compact bang-for-your-buck nuclear weapons technology available, a single 200 megaton device would be larger than a whole compartment on the Virgil.
- Our hero has to boost the warhead yield of the last bomb by 30%. How does he do this? By taking 6 pounds of plutonium from the Virgil's nuclear reactor and placing it next to the bomb. It's doubtful the writers were even aware that multimegaton nuclear devices use the nuclear fusion of heavy-hydrogen isotopes as their primary energy source, and only use the nuclear fission of plutonium-239 (which has to be weapons grade, not reactor grade) to set the fusion reaction off.
Fission-fusion-fission bombs do employ a uranium-238 tamper around the outside, which absorbs the neutrons generated by the fusion reaction and undergoes spontaneous fission. This doubles or even quadruples the warhead yield. At the 200 megaton level, it's likely that all the bombs had to be fission-fusion-fission devices. However, the uranium tamper must surround the fusion core to do this. Having a chunk of uranium (or plutonium) sitting off to one side would only create some atomized uranium(or plutonium) shrapnel.
- Artistic License – Physics:
- Sound waves do not change frequency when they pass from one medium to the next. (They do change wavelength, though, since the speed of propagation always equals the frequency times the wavelength.)
- The Second Law of Thermodynamics, in particular, takes a mighty shellackin' in this movie. Even if unobtainium were a perfect insulator, so that no external heat could get in at all, the interior of the Virgil would still generate an enormous amount of its own waste heat from human bodies, life support systems, electronics, the motors running the impellers, etc.. You saw how hot the nuclear reactor's core was. The only "heat sink" they brought along was some liquid nitrogen. Even if half the entire payload mass was liquid nitrogen, it would certainly have absorbed all the heat it could within the first hour.
Likewise, generating electric energy simply because it's hot outside won't work. You can only generate power if there's a temperature difference, and heat is allowed to flow along that temperature difference — unobtainium or no unobtainium. Any theoretically-possible scheme for using the hull to generate impeller power would have fried the contents within seconds.
- Interestingly, because of gravity any journey through the planet, regardless of the start and end points, should supposedly only take about 45 minutes with an appropriate vehicle (which they had); so enough liquid nitrogen to cool the Virgil for an hour would actually have been sufficient and even allow a decent amount of leeway.
- Just Plane Wrong: Not only does the Space Shuttle not rely exclusively on a magnetic compass for navigation, a magnetic compass isn't even part of its navigation package. Earth's normal geomagnetic field changes not only with latitude and longitude, it also changes with altitude, and at the altitude for Low Earth Orbit it's very different than it is down here on the surface. The shuttle determines its location partly by data fed to it from the ground — which also doesn't rely on magnetic compasses — and partly by extrapolating this data via its very limited onboard computers. (And nowadays, one would suppose, from GPS.)
- Indecisive Parody: Stanley Tucci gives us one of Richard Dawkins, which is actually not as much of a Flanderisation as you might think.
- Lampshade Hanging: After discovering that the Earth is doomed, the protagonist is summoned to a meeting at the Pentagon to explain the problem to the military. When asked what can be done about it, he dives into a passionate, in-depth explanation of why the plot of the movie they're in is impossible (in short: there's no way they could possibly get to the core in the first place). The answer he gets is "Yes, but... what if we could?" In addition, less than five minutes later in the movie, the impossible substance that makes the whole story possible is dubbed "Unobtainium".
- Meaningful Name: The ship is named the Virgil, after Dante's guide through Hell in the Divine Comedy.
- Monumental Damage: A must for this movie's genre. Complete with evil space rays melting the Golden Gate Bridge, pigeons going berserk in Trafalgar Square, and accumulated lightning exploding the Coliseum and Vittorio Emanuelle monument.
- Multinational Team: Subverted. It should have been an entire world effort, since everyone would die if it failed, yet it seems to be an almost 100% American project with French meddling (Serge Leveque brought from his government nukes stamped with the French flag). And maybe Dr. Conrad Zimsky had been Polish by his name and mannerisms (Poles have among Europeans, but not among Anglophones, the reputation to be insanely proud).
- Product Placement:
- "I'm gonna need an unlimited supply of Xena tapes and Hot Pockets."
- In a deleted scene, one of the minor characters gets a Hot Pocket foisted on her. We can't tell if her reaction was "Mmm, that's good," "Mmm, that's too hot", or "Mmm, get this thing out of my face."
- Redemption Equals Death: Zimsky finally gets over his ego after Braz punches him in the face during a tantrum. Of course that means he's pretty much the next one to die.
- Running Gag: Zimsky's ego. Anytime anybody challenged him on anything, he'd ask, "Do you have any idea who I am?"
- Science Hero: Ironically, given the sloppiness of the actual science, the protagonists are quite intentionally written to be these.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Brazelton hasn't built a prototype of his ship at the time the military catches up to him because he didn't manage to improve his production methods enough to build the thing without spending a ludicrous amount of money. So the military gives him a ludicrous amount of money ($15 billion to be precise).
"Will you take a check?"
"Why not use a credit card? You'll get miles."
- Sharp-Dressed Man: Dr. Conrad Zimsky. Not only he is always elegant like a head of state, but during the helicopter landing scene, when everyone else has a beaten-up bag, camera closes in on his Louis Vuitton bag... even as he is going to a very possible death.
- Shout-Out: Oddly enough to Sailor Moon of all things. Kenyes tells his grad student assistant "You can use our T1 line to look up Sailor Moon crap, you're up to this!".
- The Virgil.
- Project D.E.S.T.I.N.I. is headquartered in Alaska and the facility somewhat resembles that of HAARP.
- Signs of the End Times:
- People with pacemakers all dying due to localised electromagnetic pulses.
- Birds mass suiciding because their directional sense was off, causing them to fly top speed into buildings.
- The ozone layer developing holes that let through unfiltered sunlight hot enough to melt the Golden Gate Bridge.
- Stealth Parody: Many believe the film to be this, some film critics and even reports from the actors acknowledging that they knew how goofy it all was (Aaron Echart said he couldn't stop laughing that he was wrestling a nuke). That there were originally going to be DINOSAURS below the Earth would support this.
- Summer Blockbuster: Averted. The movie opened in March.
- The Rat: Averted. The character of Rat wasn't an informant, he was simply a really really good hacker.
- And then played straight, as Rat is the one who decides to inform the world about the "Unsung Heroes" of the Core mission.
- Unobtainium: Lampshaded, the characters literally call the material "unobtainium" ironically.
: "Its actual name is 36 syllables long." [shrugs] "I call it Unobtainium
- Third Act Stupidity: the death of Serge Leveque could have been easily averted. It took 2 minutes, 36 seconds of movie time before the compartment was ejected and crushed. A simple and quick manual-control opening of the doors maybe 2 ft to allow the man crawl outside before ejection could have not taken more than 4-5 seconds. The entire scene had been Played for Drama.
- Zeroes and Ones
Rat: "I speak one language. 10100. With that I could steal your money, your secrets, your sexual fantasies, your whole life. In any country, any time, any place I want. We multitask like you breathe. I couldn't think as slow as you if I tried."