In honor of Jules Verne's Feb. 8 birthday, here's a tribute to the vaguely Verne-ish disaster flick The Core. Why do I love it so?
- The cast: you've got Aaron Eckhart, in probably his biggest pre-TDK role, Star Trek: First Contact's Alfre Woodard, Star Trek XI's Bruce Greenwood, Hilary Swank looking darn good in a flight suit and Delroy Lindo and Stanley Tucci at each others' throats. I dare anyone to name a better disaster-movie lineup from the past quarter-century at least.
- The roles: the people in Virgil are actually substantial characters, not one-note talking props. Each death, when it comes, is different in tone (one quick and unexpected, one surprising but agonizingly drawn out, one deliberate and heroic and one... well, one pretty funny), and each one carries an emotional resonance.
- The direction: the pace is excellent. A fair deal of comedy, some of it very much tongue-in-cheek, helps to soften the shock of the ludicrous premise so that by the time the drama sets in, we're already enjoying ourselves and not necessarily expecting as good a movie as we get. There are also some pretty nifty directorial flourishes in long takes and cool transitions.
- The "Quartz Grand Canyon" sequence has a hauntingly beautiful quality. There's definitely something to be said for the homely wonders of innerspace fiction vs. the cold infinity of space.
- Unobtanium: hey, now we know why it was so rare in Jake Sully's day - most of it was destroyed in the Virgil! Seriously; don't pretend that that link isn't cool.
- The science: I know, I know, it's a fairy tale. So are 90% of big-budget movies. If that's your complaint, you're in the wrong movie.
- The poster: badass. Great tagline, too.
And, finally, it just might be smarter than it at first appears. Mick Lasalle, The San Francisco Chronicle:
There is something dead at the core of our world -- literally -- in the sci- fi fantasy "The Core." As a result, the electromagnetic shield that protects us from the sun is breaking down. Every living thing on Earth is doomed.
If there's a metaphor at work in this picture -- the planet itself is recoiling in horror at the antics of modern humanity -- it doesn't feel heavy- handed. Like those 1950s sci-fi movies inspired by nuclear terror, "The Core" seems unaware that it's all about expressing an anxiety lurking beneath the surface. It's a straight-ahead adventure with the usual number of thrills, but with the added virtue of being smarter and more sober than one might expect.
I recently watched it for the third time, and it's still awesome. It's better-written than Independence Day, better-acted than The Day After Tomorrow, better-directed than Armageddon (I'm assuming, never bothered to watch it) and shorter than 2012.