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Film / The Core

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Keyes: The core is the size of Mars. You're talking about jump-starting a planet. This is a superheated hyper-fluid of molten iron and nickel at 9,000 degrees Fahrenheit, 2,000 miles down, 1,000 miles thick. And the deepest we've ever been miles?, with a two-inch drill bit.
Gen. Purcell: If we can go into space, we certainl-
Keyes: Well space is easy, it's empty. We're talking about millions of pounds of pressure per square inch. Even if we somehow came up with a brilliant plan to fix the core, we just can't get there!
Zimsky: Yes, but... what if we could?

The Core is a 2003 Disaster Movie (or possibly a Stealth Parody of same) directed by Jon Amiel, with a cast including Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Delroy Lindo, and Stanley Tucci.

The film is 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.

Not to be confused with the 2000 film Deep Core.

This film provides examples of:

  • Aerosol Flamethrower: Used by Keyes and Zimsky on a peach to demonstrate what will happen to Earth without the geomagnetic field.
  • Apocalyptic Log: Lampshaded and sidestepped towards the end. Zimsky has been narrating into a handheld recorder for the entirety of the mission, presumably for his next book. Towards the end he is trapped in one of the ejected compartments of the Virgil, 4000 miles underground near the earth's core, and waxing philosophical into his recorder when he suddenly stops, realizes his situation, and realizes that his recording will be destroyed in a matter of seconds. He asks, "What the fuck am I doing?" and dies laughing seconds later.
  • Armies Are Evil: The Earth's core got screwed up because those darn evil military sorts wanted an... earthquake gun... or something. Enforced: DESTINI was a hastily-added plot point added in reshoots, after test audiences complained that the original story of the Earth's core just stopping for no discernible reason at all was nonsensical.
  • Artistic License Military: Throughout the movie, Robert Iverson, the Space Shuttle pilot and later the first pilot of Virgil, is referred to as possessing the military rank of "Commander". The problem is that Commander is a Navy rank, and Iverson is Air Force, with that service's equivalent of Commander being a Lieutenant Colonel. However, the confusion possibly arose from the fact that the leader of a NASA mission is given the honorary rank of "Commander" despite their actual military rank.
    • Actually, they did get this one right. Commander Iverson is in the Navy, not the Air Force. This is shown in the scene where USAF Major Beck is expecting a court martial for the space shuttle incident, but is instead assigned to the Virgil project. Iverson is there, wearing a black uniform with three stripes on the sleeve - a Navy Commander.
  • Artistic License Space: 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.)
  • Ask a Stupid Question...: Keyes approaches Zimsky on the street after the latter finished a presentation to see if he could review Keyes' core-stopping research.
    Zimsky: (as if this request was beneath him) Do you know who I am?
    Keyes: Yeah.
  • Badass Boast:
  • Better than a Bare Bulb: The movie spends a bunch of time on lines that seemingly give a wink-and-a-nod to how ridiculous everything about it is, typically some variation of, "That's impossible!" "But what if it wasn't?"
  • Bittersweet Ending: The core is successfully restarted, and the remnants of the Virgil crew successfully return to the crust to get stuck on the ocean floor but able to send a beacon that attracts whales that allow Rat to trace their location. Only two of the Virgil crew make it out alive, as almost all of the rest performed Heroic Sacrifices to advance the mission.
  • 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:
    Rat: [Sitting in front of a dozen PC towers] Okay, I know these look like computers... Totally not.
  • Buffy Speak: Keyes at one point refers to himself as "Apocalypse Boy."
  • 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.
  • The Chains of Commanding: There's an excellent speech on this.
    Col. Robert Iverson: Being a leader isn't about ability. It's about responsibility. I mean, you're not just responsible for making good decisions. You have to be responsible for the bad ones. You got to be ready to make the shitty call. ...Because you're so good, you haven't hit anything you couldn't beat. I mean, hell, you were the one who figured out how to save the shuttle. You made me, you made the rest of NASA just look like an ass. It's just that you're used to winning — and you're not really a leader until you've lost.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Serge's death, which has the poor guy getting slowly crushed inside of a compartment. When the compartment is detached, it gets compressed into a small box.
  • 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 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.
  • Earth-Shattering Poster: This poster. While the image being portrayed is of the Earth slightly off center with a red line running directly through the center, the message is still pretty clear: The earth will be destroyed from within, and it's not going to be pretty.
  • Everything Is Online: Rat routes a significant chunk of the U.S. electric power grid to Coney Island.
  • Exact Time to Failure: Zimsky summarizes how long they have during his and Keyes' Aerosol Flamethrower presentation.
    Zimsky: Three months, gentlemen, and we're back in the stone age. A full year, the field collapses... (gestures to the still-flaming peach) ...and that.
  • Fake Video Camera View: A man is recording video of his family in Trafalgar Square, then we see them through the viewfinder of a video camera, including blinking red dot and "REC" in the upper right corner, just before the scene of pigeons falling from the sky, dead.
  • Fatal Family Photo: After Leveque's death, we see a book opened to a page with a drawing of Leveque labeled "PAPA" by what is presumably Leveque's child.
  • 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.
  • From Bad to Worse: How Josh and Zimsky explain the effects of the Core stalling and the EM field failing from everything with an electronic circuit getting fried to lightning storms with a hundred strikes in every mile. "After gets bad."
  • Godzilla Threshold: Creating an experimental machine capable of going down to the center of the Earth and dropping multiple multi-megaton nuclear warheads is an insane idea, but considering the only other option is sitting down and waiting to die it's the best chance humanity's got. The plot becomes a Race Against the Clock because the government is going to apply their own version of the Threshold once it looks like the Virgil mission may not succeed and fire Project DESTINI again in the hopes that this will make the core stable... and taking the chance it will just accelerate the apocalypse if it doesn't.
  • The Greatest Story Never Told: Defied by Rat, who spreads files on the mission and Project DESTINI to all of the major news services of the world.
  • Headphones Equal Isolation: The LA canal bridge worker who only notices the space shuttle sliding up behind him when he turns round - and that's only to see what his workmates are running away from.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Braz, Leveque, and Zimsky.
    • Leveque's death is sort of a subversion, considering that his death possibly could have been prevented had Beck flipped the override switch.
  • 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: The Movie. Seeing how this is what The Core is most known for, the examples are put in their own section here.
    • Artistic License Biology: One of the first signs that something is going wrong is when pigeons suddenly go completely 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 this way if the field is fluctuating wildly and causing the pigeons to get confused and panic; however, that does not appear to be what's happening. In its defense, the movie also lampshades it; when the hero asks "How do birds navigate?", one of his grad students replies, "By sight."
      • Apparently, a bunch of orcas felt like singing humpback songs to the Virgil when it re-emerged into the ocean. Even though orcas don't sing and would scare off any humpbacks that did come near the vehicle.
    • Artistic License Geology: More examples than any human being can list, but we're going to try:
      • Let's start with the fact that 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. 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?
      • On the subject of the core's weight (and thus, density), at some point they get the surprise that the core is supposedly of a different density than they thought (emphasis added) it had. The movie handwaves it with a variant of "hey, nobody has ever been down there to measure the core's density" (again, emphasis added). Never mind that said density has been accurately measured by how it affects the propagation seismic waves (from earthquakes of known origin), a measurement that has been verified by how it's used to accurately calculate back the position of new quakes by their seismic waves' propagation through the core.
      • The Virgil encounters an underground equivalent of an asteroid belt composed of gigantic diamonds. Diamonds cannot form as deep at the ship's level, 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.
      • 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), and 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. note 
    • 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 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. Now, 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, and so on. Just look at 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. note 
      • 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.
      • Perhaps the most glaring flaw of the movie is that, if the Earth's core did somehow stop rotating, the geomagnetic field wouldn't gradually grow unstable. It would just disappear.
    • 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, but also 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.)
    • Writers Cannot Do Math: When a character uses prime numbers to send a secret message, the recipient starts the list of numbers with 1, which is not a prime number note 
  • I Let Gwen Stacy Die: Had Beck flipped the override switches when Keyes told her to, Leveque could've been spared the grisly death that he was subjected to. Keyes then calls her out on it.
  • Indecisive Parody: Stanley Tucci gives us one of Richard Dawkins, which is actually not as much of a Flanderisation as you might think.
  • Insufferable Genius: Zimsky.
    • Also highly downplayed with Rat.
  • 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.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: Granted, this is a Dwindling Party story, but Cmdr Bob Iverson's role in teaching Beck how to be a leader meant he was likely doomed anyway, forcing her to step up.
  • 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, neatly Averted for Paris' Eiffel Tower oddly enough note 
  • 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, though not among Anglophones, the reputation to be insanely proud).
  • Nerds Are Virgins:
    Rat: Wait a guys aren't here to whack me are you? Cause I was kinda hoping to have sex before that happens...
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Zimsky is basically a perverse mix of Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins.
  • One-Hit KO: After Zimsky reaches a Rage-Breaking Point about the stupidity of the team's plan, he has a hostile and unrelenting breakdown, and he only stops with Braz gives him a single right hook to the jaw.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": Serge set the nuke codes to his daughter's birthday. A justified example, as there is no possibility the nuke will be misused and the code should be something easy to remember.
  • Planetary Core Manipulation: The Earth's core slows down and needs to be restarted by four scientists in an Unobtainium-hulled drilling machine with five 200-megaton nukes.
  • Precision F-Strike: Recording his final thoughts at his imminent demise, Zimsky realizes no one will ever hear them, and delivers the following:
    Zimsky: What the fuck am I doing! (laughs)
  • Product Placement:
    • There's some less-than-subtle product placement of Pepsi and Mountain Dew. Amusingly, it's when someone can't get one of their vending machines to work.
    • "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."
  • Profane Last Words: When Zimsky is stuck with the nuke, talking into his recorder, he wonders aloud what the fuck he's doing just before his death.
  • 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.
  • 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?"
  • Say My Name: Keyes to Leveque as Leveque is being crushed inside of a compartment.
  • Science Hero: Ironically, given the sloppiness of the actual science, the protagonists are quite intentionally written to be these.
  • Scientist vs. Soldier: The United States Government (the "soldiers") created a weapon of mass destruction meant to trigger earthquakes at will (Project DESTINI) out of sheer paranoia and when they test-fired it they caused the whole mess that drives the plot, and when things start to look belly-up they are perfectly willing and able to try to fire it again without knowing whether or not it will make things worse but believing it's not like they aren't already with their backs against the wall. The rest of the cast fulfill the scientist role, and start by telling them how brain-dead stupid the Project was, call out Zimsky for being the one to design it, and race to fix the core.
  • 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. Keyes 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 localized 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.
  • Smooch of Victory: Beck and Josh share one at the very end when they figure out how to get Virgil moving again just as the nukes go off. Interestingly, though, they bond but there is no further indication of romance or attraction between them by the time the movie ends.
  • 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.
  • 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 would have easily allowed him to crawl outside before ejection could have not taken more than 4-5 seconds. The entire scene is instead Played for Drama because we're supposed to believe not saving him is the right choice.
  • Unplanned Manual Detonation: Upon reaching the Earth's core, the crew discovers that one big nuclear explosion isn't going to cut it, so they devise a plan to split the bombs into multiple compartments, which they will then release in key locations. Unfortunately, Virgil wasn't designed to be able to jettison undamaged compartments, and the manual override switch is outside the ship. In an area exposed to magma. Braz volunteers to deactivate it, knowing it'll be a one-way trip.
  • Unobtainium: Lampshaded, the characters literally call the material "unobtainium" ironically.
    Braz: "Its actual name is 36 syllables long." [shrugs] "I call it Unobtainium".
  • We Used to Be Friends: Zimsky and Braz were colleagues before he claims Zimsky stole his research and paid him nothing in return. They butt heads quite a bit through the mission but reconcile shortly before Braz's Heroic Sacrifice.