The Core (2003) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • The only way to save Earth from catastrophe is to drill down to the core and set it spinning again.

  • The Earth's core has stopped spinning. Disasters are happening around the globe, including; animals acting in bizarre ways, monstrous thunderstorms. Dr. Josh Keyes and his crew of 5 go down to the centre to set off a nuclear device, hoping to make the core start spinning again, or humanity will cease.

  • For reasons unknown, the earth's inner core has stopped rotating, causing the planet's electromagnetic field to rapidly deteriorate. Instantly, life around the globe begins to change dramatically. In Boston, 32 people with pacemakers, all within a 10-block radius, suddenly drop dead. In San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge collapses, sending hundreds of people plunging to their deaths. In London's Trafalgar Square, flocks of pigeons lose their ability to navigate, flying into panicked crowds, slamming into windshields and causing drivers to lose control of their cars. And in Rome, as thousands of tourists watch helplessly, an electrical superstorm reduces the ancient Roman Colosseum to rubble. Scrambling to resolve the crisis, government and military officials call upon geophysicist Dr. Josh Keyes and a team of the world's most gifted scientists to travel into the earth's core in a subterranean craft piloted by "terranauts" Major Rebecca "Beck" Childs and Commander Robert Iverson. Their mission: Detonate a nuclear device that will reactivate the core and save the world from sure destruction.

  • Scientists discover that the Earth's core is about to stop spinning. This will cause tremendous natural disasters, wiping out life as we know it. A team of scientists are recruited in a crash project to send a ship and bomb into the center of the Earth to prevent the catastrophe.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • After a series of strange events around the world connected by variances in the Earth's electromagnetic field, scientists, led by Dr. Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart), a geology professor, and Conrad Zimsky (Stanley Tucci) an egotistical researcher, discover that the Earth's rotating molten core is slowly coming to a stop; without its movement, the electromagnetic field around the earth will disappear, exposing the surface to unfiltered solar radiation and will incinerate anything or anyone exposed to it. Keyes and Zimsky are charged to find a way to restart the core, which requires traveling deep into the Earth and setting off nuclear charges to induce rotational force.

    The story opens with a small group of people at a business meeting. One of the group, a younger man, suddenly passes out on the board room table. Outside the building, flocks of birds begin to crash into nearby buildings and other stationary objects. At the University of Chicago, Dr Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart), a geology professor, is teaching his class about how sound waves move through solid rock when he's approached by two government officials and asked to leave with them, no questions asked. He's taken to a government facility where he meets a friend, Dr. Serge Leveque (Tchéky Karyo), a nuclear weapons expert. The two are shown into a large hangar where they're astonished to see the room is full of bodies draped in white sheets. An Army general, Purcell (Richard Jenkins) tells them that everyone in the room suddenly died at the exact same moment. After a few seconds of speculation, Keyes and Leveque conclude that all the victims had pacemakers. Purcell is impressed, telling them they figured out the mystery faster than anyone else he'd spoken to.

    While in it's re-entry procedure, the crew of the space shuttle Endeavor find themselves several miles off course. Instead of being aligned with Edwards Air Force Base, they are heading directly for downtown Los Angeles. The shuttle makes an emergency landing in the L.A. River, avoiding a catastrophic accident. Major Rebecca "Beck" Childs (Hilary Swank) was the navigator for the mission and is nearly court-martialed before it's determined that she performed her duties perfectly and that the strange magnetic anomalies around the world were responsible

    Keyes, Leveque, Purcell and Zimsky seek the help of Ed "Braz" Brazzelton (Delroy Lindo). Brazzelton reveals a means of not only drilling through the Earth at high speeds using a series of high-powered lasers, but also has devised a material, "unobtainium", which is capable of withstanding the pressures deep inside the planet as well as generating energy from them. Braz also reveals that he and Zimsky have a checkered past: Zimsky stole a few research ideas from Braz and it led to a falling out between the two. Braz is willing to work with Zimsky again if it means saving the Earth. Though funding for his research has been hard to find, Purcell tells him he'll give him all the money he needs to complete work on a ship made of his compound in a few short months.

    Keyes himself works to create a means to visualize their path through rock structures via x-rays. To avoid creating a worldwide panic, an expert hacker, Theodore Donald Finch (DJ Qualls), known by his hacking handle "Rat", is found by an FBI agent (John Shaw) and is brought to monitor the Internet and erase any rumors to the potential fate of the planet. However, there is a hint that the Army is hiding the real reason of the impending catastrophe.

    Braz' ship becomes a snake-like vessel named Virgil. It is made up of several compartments and will be launched over the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean, the deepest such area on Earth. If any compartment of the ship is damaged, the operating system will eject that compartment to avoid risk to the rest of the ship. Keyes, Zimsky, Leveque, and Brazzelton are joined by Commander Robert Iverson (Bruce Greenwood) and Beck, who will pilot the ship.

    The launch goes successfully and the team finds their equipment is working to expectations as they begin their descent. After successful descent, they run into a snag when they breach a gigantic geode-like structure. The ship falls through the open space, crash-landing and damaging the laser drilling device. Keyes and Zimsky find out that they are in fact inside a cobalt cocoon full of amethyst. During the repairs, Iverson is killed by falling crystal shards leaving Beck to pilot the ship to the Earth's core. They repair the ship and escape just before the geode collapses and magma pours in.

    As they dive further, a large diamond breaches the hull of the last compartment where Leveque is preparing the nuclear devices for activation; he sacrifices himself to make sure that Keyes has the launch codes as the compartment, no longer able to withstand the pressure, is ejected and crushed. When they finally breach the molten core, the team performs a series of calculations and find that their original plan would fail to restart the core due to unexpected physical property differences concerning density of the fluid. The team calculates that they can still restart the core by decoupling each compartment of Virgil at precise positions, timing the nuclear devices in each to go off to obtain the best force they can impart to the core. However, in order to separate the individual compartments, one member will have to enter the open area at the front of Virgil, which is exposed directly to the heat of the molten core and likely will not survive. Brazzelton offers to do so and sacrifices himself to the cause, successfully throwing the switch.

    Meanwhile, on the surface, the public become aware of problems after a lightning superstorm appears over Rome and destroys the Colosseum and a patch of unfiltered sunlight over San Francisco melts the Golden Gate Bridge. Rat is unable to stop the release of the news, but learns of a device called "D.E.S.T.I.N.I." (Deep Earth Seismic Trigger Initiative), the news of which he relays to Keyes. Keyes learns that the DESTINI project was an attempt to propagate earthquakes through Earth's core as a weapon, but instead was the cause for stopping its rotation, and that Zimsky was a critical figure behind its design. Zimsky reveals that the government will attempt to use the device again to try to restart the core, which could have disastrous results.

    Keyes gets Rat to disable the power to the device while they attempt to plot the proper locations for the detonations, long enough for the Virgil team to detach each compartment, planting the nuclear devices at key points in the molten core. While Keyes and Zimsky activate the bombs, they realise that the blast won't be effective enough so they decide to restart the timers. While they do so, Zimsky is trapped in one of the compartments and must be left behind by Keyes and Childs. Before the compartment with Zimsky is disconnected, he reveals to Keyes that the explosion can be effective only if he uses the Virgil's plutonium fuel core to increase the blast power of the last bomb. While the timer for the nuclear explosions ticks down, the two find they are within the blast radius of the devices, and are forced to rig the ship, using the power generated by the unobtainium, to move themselves out of the way in time.

    As they speed out of the core, the series of nuclear explosions goes off successfully restarting the core's rotation. Keyes and Childs are able to safely make it to the ocean floor in Virgil but without heat, they are unable to get to the surface. However, their position is found by the military by tracking whalesong singing over their ship. Shortly after they are recovered, Rat, through Keyes' directive, releases full information of Project DESTINI and of their mission to the Internet, which reveals the truth to all, and ensures that Iverson, Serge, Braz, and Zimsky are not forgotten, but rather lauded as heroes.

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