The Core

The Core (2003) is a science fiction disaster film very loosely based on the novel Core by Paul Preuss. It concerns a team that has to drill to the center of the Earth and set off a series of nuclear explosions in order to restart the rotation of Earth's core. The Core was directed by Jon Amiel, and starred Aaron Eckhart, Delroy Lindo, Tchéky Karyo, Hilary Swank, DJ Qualls, and Stanley Tucci.

Despite being a big budget sci-fi flick in the vein of Armageddon, The Core flopped at the box office, earning only US$74 million worldwide. It failed to recoup production costs.

Strange things are happening on Earth's surface: A number of people within a 10-block radius in Boston simultaneously drop dead for apparently no reason.

Keyes and Serge are bought together by Gen. Purcell of U.S. government to determine a cause for the deaths in Boston. Keyes deduces that since he is a geologist and Serge a physicist, the people who died had one thing in common - they had artificial pacemakers. Keyes initially believes the cause to be an electromagnetic pulse.

Soon after pigeons in London's Trafalgar Square lose their internal navigational ability and start smashing into windscreens and breaking panes of glass. Upon seeing this news relayed in a webcast, Keyes realizes the cause of these anomalies: Earth's core has stopped rotating. Within a year, the Earth will lose its electromagnetic shield and be fried by solar radiation.

A team of "terranauts" is recruited to drill down to Earth's core and set off a series of nuclear explosions in an attempt to restart the core's rotation. Their $50 billion journey uses a transport made of an indestructible metal dubbed "Unobtainium" equipped with a newly-developed "sonic laser" that can cut through rock.

Meanwhile, police storm an apartment, whose occupant, Rat, a computer hacker, races to destroy his numerous hard drives with a large magnet whilst also microwaving CDs of presumably sensitive material. Aware of Rat's hacking of the FBI database last year, the U.S. government employs him to keep classified information regarding the mission from leaking onto the internet and causing mass hysteria. In return, he asks for an unlimited supply of Hot Pockets as they help him concentrate.

Construction on the vehicle begins in the Utah desert, while lightning superstorms appear above the base and around the world. Rome is devastated by one such incident with the Colosseum and Monument of Vittorio Emanuele II completely obliterated on-screen. Construction of the vehicle continues, with various countries contributing to the effort; flags are shown, including France and Iraq. However while this is going on, Gen. Purcell confronts Zimsky over whether a mysterious Project DESTINI was responsible for the impending disaster; Zimsky vehemently denies this and even states he believes DESTINI can resolve the world's predicament. Eventually the vehicle is launched in the north Pacific ocean, above the Mariana Trench.

Twelve hours into the mission and 700 miles underground, the crew encounter 'static' on the screen. Keyes reacts quickly, stating that he never programmed the guidance system to recognise empty space which is being represented as static. The vehicle drills through the outer shell of a gigantic cavernous amethyst geode, falling under gravity and eventually coming to a stop. The crew then attempts extravehicular activity to free the vehicle from a large crystal embebbed in its sonic laser. They are under pressure however, as magma begins pouring through the entrance they created. One of the crew, Bob, dies when a piece of amethyst falls through his helmet. After resuming the mission, the crew encounters another problem: Keyes' guidance system detects black objects in its path which Zimsky realizes are mountain-sized diamonds. Childs narrowly avoids them but at the last moment, the vehicle is punctured and a hull breach occurs. Unfortunately, Brazzelton is forced to eject the damaged compartment with Serge still inside, who dies after the compartment is crushed under intense pressure.

1700 miles deep, the vehicle begins to pick up speed, increasing from 90 to 130 knots in seconds. Keyes deduces that the outer core's liquid is too thin, with the nuclear detonation unlikely to restart the core's spin. During this revelation, Purcell and Zimsky reveal DESTINI: a secret facility in Alaska with which they can start earthquakes anywhere on the planet. This weapon, standing for Deep Earth Seismic Trigger INItiative, is revealed to be the cause of the stalling of Earth's core.

While the team is underground, the world is struck by more disasters. Huge blasts of microwave radiation from the sun break through the atmosphere, melting the Golden Gate Bridge and frying San Francisco. Upon seeing the devastation, Gen. Purcell decides to activate DESTINI in case the vehicle mission fails. Rat notices this and sends a covert message to Keyes, asking him if he can help. Keyes replies they need more time, and to delay DESTINI. Rat attempts to remotely shut down hydroelectric dams in Alaska but is denied by security systems.

Zimsky works out that instead of a single large detonation, a series of smaller ones will achieve wave propagation and restart the core. They split the bomb into fragments, and deposit them around the core inside ejected vehicle compartments. The Virgil can't eject compartments without them being damaged, so Braz goes into the crawlspace at the front of the ship to activate a gear which makes the ship capable of manual overrides. Braz dies, though, because the crawlspace is filled with 9000 degree fluid and his suit can withstand only half that. However, due to some miscalculations, the final bomb needs to have 30% more energy which must be obtained from the plutonium in the vehicle's reactor. Unfortunately, Zimsky becomes trapped inside a compartment along with a bomb and dies as the bomb detonates. The plan eventually works, with the core resuming its spinning. Meanwhile, seconds before activation, Rat manages to gain access to DESTINI and diverts power from the weapon to Coney Island, giving the crew valuable time to fulfill their mission.

As the ship's reactor is completely drained of power, Keyes and Childs are seemingly stranded in the core, however, Keyes remembers a property of unobtainium and discovers that the ship's hull can be used as a "giant solar panel". Implementing this new idea, they return to the surface of the planet riding on currents. Later, Rat sends files on what actually happened and the now-dead "unsung heroes" to many organizations and agencies across the world.

* Commander Robert Iverson: While inside the geode (an air pocket in the mantle formed by crystals), trying to get the Virgil out of the geode, the top of the geode starts to leak magma. A hot splinter pierces Iverson's suit and his head killing him almost instantly. He then falls backwards into the magma.
* Dr. Serge Leveque: The weapons control module on the Virgil gets damaged, loses its ability to withstand the core's enormous pressure, and collapses. Serge gets trapped in it whilst salvaging the detonation system and was crushed to death.
* Dr. Ed "Braz" Brazzleton: He goes on a suicide mission to try to disengage the master hydraulic controller for the compartments emergency release mechanism, accessible only through the ship's impeller "crawl" space trough where the magma flows for propulsion, which also doubles as the access way for The Virgil. He dies when he finishes the mission, not being able to return inside; the extreme heat weakened him too much. Once the impeller is restarted, the magma flow engulfs him.
* Dr. Conrad Zimsky: When the remaining terranauts choose to launch the nukes by placing one in each module on The Virgil, Zimsky becomes trapped in one of the modules due to said module's nuke having rolled onto him (breaking his leg); he is killed when the nuke explodes, at which time he is quite calmly smoking a cigarette and laughing to himself.

* While the movie may have been based on junk science, the reference to the secret government facility in Alaska is real. Project D.E.S.T.I.N.I. is a parody of the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, or HAARP, that some believe uses the Earth's magnetic field to manipulate weather and earthquakes, broadcast signals, and even control minds.

* Several signs in the Alaskan base spell D.E.S.T.I.N.I. as DESTINY.

* If you look closely in the Trafalgar Square scene, just after the double-decker bus crashes, you can see a trout smacking into a window amongst the birds. This was put in as an "in-joke" by the movie's CGI creators.

While Hollywood science fiction films often tend to bend the laws of science in order to create a more compelling plot and keep the audience engaged, The Core did so rather more egregiously than most other big-budget films. Critics and scientists in general have pointed out multiple scientific inaccuracies and plot holes in the film:

* The Mariana Trench was described as being in the South Pacific, but it is actually located in the western North Pacific.
* Much of the Earth from the mantle inward is shown as liquid in the movie; however, the only wholly liquid layer of the Earth's interior is the outer core. Many researchers suspect that much of the Mantle is solid, except for magma that is contained in "pockets" within the lithosphere. It should be noted, however, that little is known about the precise composition of the inner Earth.
* Though most scientists agree that the rotation of the Earth's liquid metal core is key to the Earth's magnetosphere functioning properly, the exact mechanism is not well understood. Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that anything short of a major cosmic impact event could stop the core's rotation completely; in which case, a diminished magnetic field would be the least of human troubles.
* The magma would have filled the giant geode seen in the movie in much less time than it did on screen because of the extreme pressures that are present at that depth.
* At the end of the movie, the ship is said to be rising between two tectonic plates "near Hawaii". Hawaii is in fact in the center of the Pacific plate, well away from any tectonic plate boundaries.
* When the ship is stuck in the geode, it was unneccessary for the crew to stay outside of the ship once they realized that the magma could have melted the crystals. The ship is impervious to the magma while the crystals weren't. The magma would have melted the crystals and left the ship unscathed.

* The rotational momentum of a closed system is conserved. If the Earth's core were suddenly to stop rotating (or suddenly start rotating), the enormous change in rotational momentum would have to be balanced by a corresponding increase (decrease) in the rotational momentum of the Earth's crust, i.e. the length of day would change dramatically. The transfer of momentum would also result in earthquakes massive enough to render the Earth's surface uninhabitable, and internal heating of the planet which would likely produce the same result.
* The Earth's seasons would be dramatically changed as the bombs may not be placed in a straight order. The axis would change and seasons would differ. Changing of seasons and axis would also affect the magnetic field even more.
* Moving closer to the center of the Earth should result in a change in the force of gravity, but no such effect is shown in the movie.
* In the movie scientists say that microwaves emitted by the sun will fry the earth. A yellow star like the sun emits a very small proportion of microwaves compared to its visible light output, and this radiation is largely unaffected by the geomagnetic field, or the "electromagnetic energy field" as it is called in the movie. Solar flares and coronal mass ejections would pose a much greater threat with the magnetic field absent, however.
* The same beam of microwaves destroys the Golden Gate Bridge. The main cables snap, the center span collapses, and the two towers are shown leaning inward. The towers would lean outward from the break due to the tension of the remaining cable at the ends. This is an engineering design principle of a suspension bridge.
* The cars on the Golden Gate bridge seem to be unaffected by the microwaves, while these same waves easily melt the bridge. In fact, it is likely that most metal structures would either reflect the microwaves or become electrically charged, not melt.
* The connection between ship's crew and the mission control center is maintained almost instantaneously throughout the entire operation by unspecified means, though electromagnetic radiation that could be used for real-time transmission at relatively short distances (outside of the Earth) would not reach the ship. Transmitting the signals using sonic waves would require much greater time. The control center keeps tracking the ship in the same real-time manner, though losing it in final stage of the operation when it seems to be captured between tectonic plates.
* A swarm of pigeons collides into buildings, cars, statues and people in London, with the ostensible explanation that birds navigate via the Earth's now-malfunctioning magnetic field. Such a magnetic sense, while indeed theorized, couldn't possibly guide birds around buildings, vehicles and people, a task for which they use their eyes (their eyesight was not affected), though some could argue that the pigeons were confused.
* The same pigeons are seen breaking windows in office buildings, shops, and vehicles by flying into them. It is highly unlikely that a normal pigeon, flying at its normal speed, would have enough momentum for this to actually happen.
* When Braz ventures into the crawlspace where the ambient temperature is "9000 degrees", nothing around him is glowing (but this could be due to the metal that Braz created called "unobtainium"). Anything at 9000 degrees (either Fahrenheit or Celsius) would be white-hot. Additionally, he would have died almost instantly as the gases he was breathing would have heated to unbearable levels; also, his composite suit could never maintain its cohesion at temperatures that would melt virtually all known materials. [Though the suit could have been made of the same "Unobtainium" to a slight degree with a weave, the face mask of the suit obviously did not and would have been the first to melt and expose him to the high temperatures.] Furthermore, the match Braz lights in the chamber would've incinerated from the ambient temperature, as wood and phosphorus have autoignition temperatures of only a couple hundred degrees, far less than the geode's 9000 degrees.
* Braz's glasses crack under the intense heat. He would have died before the glass was hot enough to crack.
* When the Space Shuttle Endeavour crash lands towards the start of the movie, sonic booms can be heard as it approaches, but at this point the vehicle would be traveling at subsonic speeds Also, its touchdown vertical speed appears to be 50 or 60 metres per second, which would severely damage if not destroy the orbiter. A vertical speed of 1 or 2 m/s would be more appropriate.
* The Space Shuttle should not have been able to raise its landing gear when on the ground - the landing gear on most aircraft is equipped with a microswitch that detects pressure on the gear (i.e. it detects when the wheel is on the ground), and prevents it from retracting.
* When the ship pierces the geode's surface and begins to fall, the crew are thrown forward in their seats. In reality, the crew would experience momentary weightlessness, similar to the "Vomit Comet".

* Several large H-bombs are used to restart core rotation, each with a 200 megaton yield. The largest H-bomb ever built, the Tsar Bomba, had a 50 megaton yield. It weighed 25 tons and was 8 meters long and 3 meters in diameter. The bombs shown in the movie are roughly human-sized and can be pushed around by one or two people.
* The last bomb had to be 30% larger, or another 60 megatons had to be added to its yield. The fuel rods from the nuclear reactor (seven kilograms of plutonium) are used as additional fissile material. Such an amount of plutonium (Keyes lifted it around, and it was only the size of his torso) could not generate that much explosive force. The Fat Man bomb used roughly this amount of plutonium and had a 20 kiloton yield. Later improved bombs using this amount of plutonium still yielded less than 50 kilotons, less than a tenth of a percent of what was required.
* Furthermore, Keyes's approach of just leaning the plutonium reactor core against the bomb would have done nothing for yield. For fissile material to affect yield, it must be part of the weapon's physics package, not placed nearby. Since the weapons in the movie were ostensibly French, the implication would be that these would be implosion-type thermonuclear weapons. Ergo, unless the nuclear material was shaped perfectly and was within the explosive "crush sphere" in the bomb's physics package, there would be no effect on yield. The reactor core would merely be vaporized.
* The nuclear explosions depicted in the movie were roughly spherical. A spherical explosion would produce no torque on the Earth's core, and thus would be unable to start its rotation.
* Even with a total yield of one gigaton, the explosions would not be nearly powerful enough to start or even influence rotation in the outer core, which is roughly the size of Mars. The effect would be akin to attempting to impart a current into a swimming pool using small fireworks.
* During the preparation, it is made clear that the calculations upon which success or failure hinged were based on 'guesses' about core density. This being so, a lot of fuss could have been saved had the obvious scientific precaution of taking a few spare bombs been taken.

* Even when the reactor core is removed, depriving the ship of power, the interior heats up far too slowly.
* Heat was used to form the hull together, even though the ship is supposed to be heat-resistant.
* There is a lengthy explanation about sections of the ship being designed to detach when the hull is compromised, which works for the plot as long as only the end section is damaged, but doesn't take into account the possibility that a middle section would be damaged, which would mean ejecting all subsequent sections.
* Each compartment houses a different function of the mission, rather than each designed with redundancies so that ejection of one compartment (the one with the bomb, for example), won't ruin the mission.
* This name also a small attempted joke by whoever did the "science" for this film; unobtainium is term used for a "magic" material, used whenever something impossible is being referred to. Hence, a material that converts heat into energy, withstands thousands of degrees and hundreds of atmospheres over long periods of time, and is a perfect thermal insulator, is something which does not, and possibly cannot, exist in the real world.
* "Unobtainium" in the film was the nickname of the element used, which Dr. Braz said had so many syllables (37) it was unpronounceable. Traditionally, however, a material is named after its discoverer (Person or Group); as Dr. Braz was the independent inventor, it would have most likely been named "Brazzeltonium" or, in more accordance to the material being heavy on syllables, "Edwardbrazzeltonium".
* Another inconsistency of the ship, is that Dr. Braz had designed the crew cockpit to be gyroscopic to gravity so the occupants would always have their feet facing the direction of gravity no matter how the terra-ship was orientated towards the center of gravity. As they are heading for the earth’s core, the center of earth's gravity, they should be for most part vertical towards it. A minor scene has Dr. Braz showing a model of the cockpit with this feature, and another major scene has the crew doing badly in a simulation cockpit to work as a team. However, this feature is not played properly through most of the journey aboard the terra-ship as the orientation of the ship is horizontal and not vertical. This includes nothing to say about the other chambers which there were apparently no gyroscopic consideration to orientation of the center of gravity within the movie scenes. Throughout the show, they are horizontal with the ship, not vertical!Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

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