In 1998, the world had to deal with two catastrophic asteroids bound to split the planet in two and kill all life as we know it. In Armageddon, Bruce Willis saved the planet by drilling 20 miles into an asteroid the size of Texas and dropping in a nuclear weapon. In Deep Impact, there wasn't a whole lot we humans could do about the planetary destruction, but Elijah Wood played kissy-kissy on top of a hill, and Morgan Freeman was the President of the United States. In both movies, a happy ending came about, despite everything the universe threw at the luscious blue and green marble we call Earth.

The Core arrived late to the scene of the "destroy the planet, only do it one city at a time" movies of the late '90s, waiting until 2003 to release its wisdom on the world (though not in such a clearly political tone as was The Day After Tomorrow's environmentalist edge), perhaps to wait until Hilary Swank could look girlish enough, or Alfre Woodard was ready for another SciFi movie after Star Trek VIII: First Contact.

In any event, the movie reached into the pits of humankind to find a way to destroy the planet that just hadn't been thought of yet, and came up with something brilliant--and when I say brilliant, I of course mean absolutely impossible, backed up with silly "mathematics" and bogus MAD-inspired weapons propagation.

Warning !! Spoilers follow !! But you really shouldn't watch this movie anyway, so it is no big loss if you actually know what happens right now.

The movie opens with Dr. Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart) watching birds go nuts on Trafalgar Square in London, a scene clearly inspired by The Birds by Hitchcock, though lacking in the suspense of that movie. These aren't killer birds sent to destroy mankind, my friend--they're being affected by the electromagnetic field surrounding the earth. Stay with me on this one. They go crazy and fly into windows, disrupting phone calls, terrifying a nice American tourist family, and grinding London to a halt, as a bus collides with a taxi and a statue of some bloke on a horse gets pelted with stuffed birds thrown from off-stage.

Dr. Keyes, being a brilliant geophysicist and college professor, immediately sets his doctoral students on the task of checking to see if other weird stuff has happened around the globe. Surprise surprise, lots of stuff has, mostly including animals going nuts. Dr. Keyes, being a brilliant biologist (I guess) connects the animals' weird behaviors to the degradation of the electromagnetic field around the Earth. He runs some impressive-looking tests on some ancient-looking computers, and reaches his conclusion: less than a year left for the planet--for, you see, the core of the world is stopping!

Meanwhile Hilary Swank navigates a shuttle down from space after being given false information from the ground (uhhh ... electromagnetic field disturbances! It gave specific-yet-false numbers!) right into the Los Angeles River. Her commanding officer, Col. Robert Iverson (Bruce Greenwood, the Canadian left-handed President John F. Kennedy from Thirteen Days) is duly impressed, and offers her some Canadian bacon.

You're still here, right? Good. So, Keyes leaps out to talk with some famous mathematician named Dr. Conrad Zimsky (played to perfection by Stanley Tucci, aka Puck from A Midsummer Night's Dream, possibly the only acting being done on the screen, with the possible exception of Tchéky Karyo--we'll get to him soon) who has made lots and lots of money speaking and signing books. Zimsky doesn't believe Keyes, some no-name college professor who taps him on the shoulder after a book-signing, but goes over the diagrams and recipes (I guess that's what was in those folders--we never get to see) with Keyes in his fancy apartment. "Okay," Zimsky says. "I'm sold. Let's go tell some people with uniforms and funny jewelry!"

Okay, he never says that exactly, but it's something like that.

Keyes, thinking he'll never save the world with that hair, seeks consolation from his good pal Dr. Serge Leveque (here's Tchéky!), who is apparently a nuclear weapons specialist. I'm not sure how they got to be friends. But he does stuff with weapons. And they drink a lot in a bar. Enter FBI agents, who have "no sense of humor" and off they all go to the Pentagon, where Keyes takes an aresol can and a lighter to a peach on a fork to demonstrate what's gonna happen to the earth. Some fancy-dancy general (Gen. Thomas Purcell, played by Richard Jenkins of Miami Vice fame. Okay, so he played "Goodman" in episode 5.8, "Hard Knocks" aired 20 January 1989. That's fame, right?) asks for solutions, Keyes plays dumb, Zimsky has some snide comments, and all the wealth of all the nations is dedicated to the guy with the peach and the aresol can flame thrower.

Off we go to the desert, where some guy Zimsky used to work with, Dr. Ed 'Braz' Brazzleton (brought to life by Delroy Lindo) has created some bizarro laser system that can drill through rock and iron and stuff really quickly, as well as a metal that is not affected by the beams, which he calls "unobtainium." Hilarity ensues:

Keyes: How long will it take you to build a ship?
Braz: Fifteen--no, twel...ten years. I can do it in ten years.
Purcell: How much would it cost to get it done in three months?
Braz: *laughter* 15 billion dollars!
Purcell: Will you take a check?
Keyes: Why don't you use a credit card? You get miles.

Warp speed ahead! Build the ship, hire a geek, Taz "Rat" Finch, played by DJ Qualls (when asked what languages he knows, he responds with this pearl: "I speak one. One Zero One Zero Zero. 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.") to "hack the planet" so the information doesn't get out to the public (as we all know, WE couldn't handle something like that), and drop the worm-like vessel into the ocean to descend the hundreds of miles down to the core of the earth.

One by one, each of the members of the team are killed off in formulaic ways. Step one of any great excursion is to have the commander of the vessel (Iverson) die so Hilary can pick up the reigns of control--drop the ship into a geode the size of Colorado, get it stuck, drop some lava on the poor commander's head. Have some heroics and crying.

Step two, get rid of the weapons specialist, who would be controlling the dropping of nuclear weapons into the core to "jump-start." During the initial testing of the weapons and setting of timers, Swank pilots the ship into a field of diamonds the size of Coney Island, and one strikes the ship, crippling the last compartment (who puts "weapons control" units on the furthest, apparently least-protected areas?). Serge is trapped inside and expires. Uh oh!

Step three, reach the core and find that the process by which they had planned to restart the spinning of the liquid core will not work, because their best guesses as to the density were totally and utterly wrong. Develop new plan. Require one step involve someone dying to open doors. Bye bye, Braz.

Step four, place the nukes into the correct places (apparently the ship is going so fast that in a few minutes they can place 5 nuclear warheads equidistant from each other across the apparently-two-dimensional core of the Earth (which they say at the beginning of the movie is the size of Mars). Uh oh, they hit a some sort of bizarre solar-wave-esque burst of something that upsets the trajectory of the ship, Zimsky is pinned under a nuke, and is ejected with the compartment, to experience a painless and morbidly humorous death.

Step five, after realizing there's no way to get back out of the core, have Swank and Keyes do some kissy-kissy, hotwire the ship, and ride the wave of the 5 nuclear warhead explosions out of the core, out of the mantle, and drop it on the seabed near Hawaii. Decide they're doomed.

Step six, get discovered. End the movie with Rat connecting to his "Rat Network" to give everyone on the planet the top secret classified files about the mission, so those who died would not do so without being called "unsung heroes."

If the story and dialog can't keep your attention, though, the special effects were really quite impressive. As a hole in the atmosphere over San Francisco allows the unfiltered sunlight to run some tracks around the city, it really is quite impressive. Besides, if you're actually into disaster films, this fits the ticket.

Biographical information and quotations taken from and from the movie itself, which I have watched in its entirety..