Bad Science

Bad (Geo)Science Movies: The Core by Adeene Denton

Why is The Core (2003) such a bad movie?

The other tagline is "The Only Way Out is In." I'll let you think about the implications of that for a moment.

Several reasons, really. It clearly, blatantly disregards physics. It has all the stereotypes, archetypes, you name it - "strong female character" (but only one, of course), only two people of color in the entire movie, and clearly does not know how the internet works either.  This blog post is a diatribe (in list form) of things that I find particularly terrible about this movie, in no particular order. Heeeeeeeere we go!

1. Aaron Eckhart is a terrible geophysicist. 

No, really, he is. It's like they googled "cool geology words" and geophysics sounds like a cool thing to do so that's what they made Aaron Eckhart do in this film.  At the beginning of the movie he's trying to demonstrate how sound moves through rocks using a trumpet, several slabs of rocks, and an oscilloscope. This is a terrible demonstration, largely because it shouldn't work, at least from my (slight scientifically trained) point of view. If you want to demonstrate how sound travels through different rocks, wouldn't you want to play the same sound continuously, as steadily as possible, to make the difference clear? Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart's character, who I refuse to believe has a PhD) does not do this - he plays a bunch of crappy notes instead.  This shows the audience he is quirky and cute, but also not good with physics.

Later, he is the only one on Earth who has realized that the Earth's core has stopped spinning, and the magnetic field is disintegrating.  Leaving aside the scientific implications of that, really? This guy, who unethically bribes his grad students with early graduation, runs a few models and figures this out with luck, and he's the only one? If this was real science there would be quite a few people on this.  AND THEN, he goes to Famous Science Guy (Stanley Tucci) with a folder saying he has information about the end of the world, and Tucci ACTUALLY TAKES IT.  This rando with no credentials asks him for help proving an insane theory, and Tucci, who is like Neal DeGrasse Tyson famous, is down for it. I guess this proves that Josh Keyes is a really good geophysicist that famous scientists can't keep up or whatever. YOU'RE NOT FOOLING ME, JOSH. YOU JUST READ THE SCRIPT AND MADE YOUR GRAD STUDENTS RUN THE MODELS.

2. No one understands how the internet works

It's like they didn't learn from Hackers (1995) or any of the either cyberthrillers of the 1990s. This movie doesn't even try to pretend it understands the Internet.  This movie admits that, in something approximating actual reality, someone would probably notice the magnetic field falling apart OR the massive amounts of world money put towards building a ship made of unobtanium and post it on the Internet.  So of course, they get ONE HACKER to serve as their security system

Rat (DJ Qualls) is the most stereotypical hacker ever. He doesn't shower, eats only hot pockets, and performs feat of "hacking" that are either movie magic or not hacking at all.  His name is Rat! He says things like "You want me to hack... the 'Net?!" He has to block things like the destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge by UV rays (also not really possible on that scale) or the annihilation of Rome by lightening. ONE GUY. 

Most importantly, Rat's one visible moment of hacking in the movie - he has to stop Project Destiny, the super evil military earthquake weapon that runs through "deep fault lines" or something. The explanation is terrible, but it'll kill the terranauts so Rat has to stop it. So, like any good hacker he GOOGLES IT (which doesn't sound that bad, but seriously, a top secret weapons facility?!). And finds the covert weapon's special website instantly. Then hacks the American power grid instantly, rerouting the weapon (which is in Alaska) to Coney Island (in New York). HOW DID YOU DO THIS. But who cares, we have Aaron Eckhart to watch flail around.

3. The main characters are awful/"Strong Female Character" Syndrome

The Core (shockingly) breaks no ground in terms of its characters. But to start off - Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart) is clearly the most useless terranaut on the ship, and the worst scientist.  He wanders around, freaks out a lot, and yells at people. The movie kills off all the likable, useful characters to save the two attractive people, and it is so blatantly obvious that the combination of this tactic with the bad physics causes me actual physical pain.  The weapons specialist (I still have no idea why he's friends with a schlub like Josh Keyes), the brilliant inventor, experienced pilot and the famous scientist all die because of REASONS, leaving Aaron Eckhart and Hillary Swank alive because this movie also needs a hint of love story, and screw the potentially interesting characters that could do back of the envelope calculations better than Mr. Bad Trumpet Player over here. Let's be honest, Stanley Tucci's dirtbag yet charismatic scientist was a way more interesting character. So obviously, he had to die.

Now, the problem with Major Rebecca Childs (Hillary Swank). I'll try to be brief, though this post is not - she is a Strong Female Character. She's introduced as this ultra-capable pilot who has "never had to make the hard choice" or something.  She fixes Keyes' laser viewing machine, lands a space shuttle in the middle of Los Angeles without casualties, and tells Keyes she's better than him. It's great! Then, when they're actually in the ship, every time science is done we cut to all the rest of the ship (the menfolk) trying to science, while she is left piloting the ship. While this is technically correct, since someone needs to pilot the thing, but this frequently sidelines her, while Josh Keyes saves the day (largely accidentally) time and again.  She leaves the cockpit of the ship several times to worry over Keyes when he's injured (and who is driving the ship at this moments? Did they build autopilot in??) and be The Girl.  At the end of the movie, Keyes finally Wins The Girl by showing his Science Skills are superior to her Piloting Skills (which are rarely shown after that establishing shot in the beginning).  Maj. Childs deserved better than this movie gave her. 

4. Terrible science and no geological knowledge

This part could really go on ad infinitum, because this movie is awful. It's like they didn't even buy a geology textbook, just looked at one of those idealized cut-outs of the Earth and went off that. The bad science is so bad it's funny, and then it cycles right back around to being depressing. A few select examples:

"These suits are only designed to withstand 5,000 degrees!" Oh reaaaaaaaally? And then they send Inventor Man into a duct/crawlspace that's 9,000 degrees and a) he does not immediately catch fire/explode and b) nothing in the crawlspace is even melted or anything.  Also, do these suits also protect against overburden pressure? The terranauts walk around inside a giant geode in the mantle (with a huge air pocket, no less) and are completely fine, when they should really be squished flat. Did Inventor Man design these suits too? Give that dude a raise.

The "void space." More on that giant mantle geode - this is one of the many ways I know that no geologist/geochemist/geophysicist was consulted to make this movie.  The ship senses a void (i.e., empty space) as it travels through the Earth, and our intrepid crew of terranauts crashes into a giant geode (which looks like it is made of amethyst, not olivine or something realistic, but I digress).  There can't be voids in the mantle - in order for something like an air space to exist, the air/gas/whatever inside would have to pressurized to the extent that could it withstand being crushed by the massive amount of rock on top/around it. Pretty sure that entering a superpressurized environment like that wouldn't be good for our terranauts either, but they walk around outside the ship just fine. And then, magma starts pouring in the hole that the ship made in the top of the geode. This movie is terrible. 

Mission Control tracks the ship the entire time. It's true! There's a little blip on the monitor, and Keyes and Rat can communicate even while Keyes is in the Outer Core. It's radio communication, I think. I have no idea how this is possible or even kind of accurate. Even over 10 years after this movie was made, our imaging of the Earth is nowhere close to finely resolved to pick up the multitude of variations. We can pick up obvious boundaries (the Moho, 440, 660, etc.) but our resolution gets terrible with depth. And radio waves would NOT penetrate that much rock - rocks are dense, not to mention conductive. There is no way to sense this ship, and no way for Keyes to IM Rat and tell him to google "evil secret weapons."

"They're coming up in a gap between two tectonic plates!" OH MY GOD NO. Nope nope nope. If you learn nothing else about the planet on which you stand, learn this: there are no gaps between the plates.  There is rock, and rock, and at the places where the plates are spreading apart (i.e., mid-ocean ridges) there is an upwelling of magma being erupted. There is no space. What do these people think would happen if there was space between the plates? I don't know. Also, they're supposed to be north of Hawaii, which is smack dab in the middle of the Pacific Plate. They're not even near a plate boundary! They didn't even look at a map of plate boundaries! This is lazy and terrible and the script should be burned.

Everything else. The ship hits a "house-sized diamond" and doesn't explode from the hole in its side. Whales can swim to the Marianas Trench. Keyes grabs a bunch of plutonium without his helmet on and doesn't die. They don't have enough bombs, even though they supposedly planned for every contingency (Keyes was in charge, so I'm blaming him). The ship gets built in 3 months instead of 12 years - there's no way funding makes science go that fast. NO WAY.

5. I'm done. That's all.

In conclusion, this movie is bad. Really, really bad. In fact, I would argue that this is one of the most scientifically inaccurate and terrible movies of all time.  Armageddon is more plausible.  And we should all watch it, so we can go out and expect more of our science movies. HEY HOLLYWOOD. Give me an accurate geophysics movie! Full of staring at computer screens going through data and staring at squiggles. Call me. I know people.