This blog post I wrote in 2007 has come up so often in conversation lately that I just trolled through the Wayback Machine (aka the best service to humanity that exists on the internet) so I could resurrect it.
I just finished watching The Core, which I enjoyed for its cheap thrills, unlikely but believable scenarios, and passable acting. Though this movie is one of many based on some projected Earth-destruction situation – that can only be averted by tremendous self-sacrifice and a motley crew of scientific experts, pilots, hackers, and military strategists – it actually pulls this off as well as it possibly could, completely fulfilling what I deem to be the core requirements of the action-armageddon genre:
1. Rockin’ the Method: the problem must be solved by science, so the audience can be amazed by the inventiveness of the less brawny characters whose genius saves the day (maybe even multiple times.) One of several examples of this fromThe Core is when “one guy who doesn’t die” character realizes that although their ship has no power to get home, they could continue deeper into the core in order to harness the power that their ubermetalsomething ship will gain from the increase in heat. This movie is actually one of the better when it comes to tickling the wannabe scientist within us. Yes, all of us. Better than say…Deep Impact. Though I haven’t seen it in awhile so I can’t be sure. I learned things about fluid mechanics and geophysics! (not to say they are scientifically accurate things. see “Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics“.)
2. Brutal Self-Sacrifice: there comes a point in any good armageddon action movie when characters have to give up their lives for the cause. sometimes they draw straws, sometimes there’s empassioned arguing about who could be the most useful for the rest of the mission, but often it’s the guy who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Will he cut the tether and allow the doors to close so the rest of the team can make it to safety? Or will he insist that they try to rescue him, further endangering themselves and the mission?! In The Core there are several types of self-sacrifice – the valiant on-purpose kind, the “oops the door is shutting” kind, and the “holy shit if we don’t jettison that thing now we’ll all die! frankie get out!!” kind. One of the self-sacrifices involves the kind-hearted, unappreciated inventor of the superdrillship braving 9,000 degree metal to get to a manual override that will allow the remaining heroes to work their plan C for saving the world. I appreciated the little touches, like the bursting of the helmet lamp and the gooey melting suit shoes. Brutal. (comparison: Bruce Willis must stay behind to detonate the nuke in Armageddon)
3. “Baby baby, hold together.” Obviously none of these movies would be exciting if things went as planned. And even if you manage to overcome the environmental obstacles, you’re left with the increasingly dire problem of wear and tear on your ship. Usually the final problem to overcome is that of the blown power circuit, the broken propulsion system, or the breached helm that will keep you from making it home alive. It doesn’t matter that you saved the world if you can’t get back to see it. This is another area where scientific genius enters in, unlike in Dante’s Peak, where the solution to the problem of the melting metal boat in the acidified lake is to jump out and give it a shove. I guess that qualifies more as idiotic self-sacrifice. Another significant trope that could fall under this category is the ubiquitous communications failure, forcing the heroes to prove that they’ve got what it takes to fly solo. The lack of mission control usually leads to some flaring tempers, too.
4. Monumental destruction. What really needs to be said about this? It’s the main fodder for all the trailers, because seeing the Parthenon exploded by lightning (?) is exciting even if you know it’s computerized to the max. The Core’s destruction sequences are really cheesy compared to Deep Impact and its megatsunami. I haven’t seen Day After Tomorrow, or I would comment on it. Microwaves getting through a hole in the Earth’s protective (and waning) electromagnetic shield and destroying the Golden Gate bridge? yawn. A static lightning cloud storm thing roaring up the streets of Rome? yawn. (though the electrified espresso machine and the unsuspecting barrista was a nice sterotypical touch). Pigeons going crazy and flying through windows and busting heads in London? hellll yes.
5. The Bad Guy. He seems like he’s there to save the world like the rest of the crew, but does he have an ulterior motive? What’s with those clandestine communications to the head of the military? What does he know that we don’t know!? Eventually this guy either gets killed by a natural event – and we’re happy – get’s killed by a testosterone-ridden co-crewmember – and we’re happy – or he turns out to be a moral human after all, and chooses to do the right thing. Either way his suspicious behavior creates some good tension as you wait for the moment when he’ll eff everything up by choosing self-preservation over self-sacrifice.
I also have to say that the hacker kid in The Core is a great character, and the Hot Pockets were yet another nice touch.