|Emergency landing site||Cardboard, and the sets are too||But it has a certain style|
Up front: this is not a good film. In fact it's a very bad film. But it has a sense of fun, and that conquers most of the problems. It's an unashamed B-movie; if you can watch and enjoy Flash Gordon, you can enjoy this.
Characters? Purest cardboard. Brave Noble Young Scientist; Hot Pilot; Heroic Doomed Black Guy; Sinister Military Type; you get the idea. Aaron Eckhart desperately wants to be Robert Redford circa The Sting or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and he doesn't do a completely dire job of it; there are certainly worse people to imitate. He's almost plausible as a scientist, too... similarly, Bruce Greenwood would really like to be Clint Eastwood, at least in his early scenes, but doesn't quite have the chops for it. Maybe in a few years.
Hilary Swank is something of a cipher here; I can't tell whether she can't act or whether the script and characterisation held her back. But she's nothing special. Tcheky Karyo does his usual sterling job as the father-figure of vaguely foreign habits, though he could probably manage that one while sleepwalking to the bank to cash his cheque. He only seems to play one role these days, but it's one he knows inside-out. Scenery gets chewed all round, and that's all right, because this isn't a worthy film about the death penalty or lesbians or a mentally-handicapped child or the Holocaust; it's a film about our heroes travelling the the centre of the Earth in order to start the core spinning again.
The effects are, to my mind, not bad; the CGI pigeons (and trout) work quite well, but the CGI destruction of Rome falls down badly. (When you blow something up in real life, guys, you don't get just a few distinct sizes of particle.) As for the "Earth's core" - well, nothing that's visible is going to be realistic, so you might as well go with it and have fun. The film-makers did. The stock footage aircraft carrier towards the end is a bit blatant, though.
The "Rat" subplot seems entirely irrelevant, and could easily have been dropped; the film does drag a bit at over two hours. Clearly with more money the crew could have made a Big Disaster Movie; as it is, the majority of the film takes place in the ship, and more or less works, though oddly we never get a real sense of the layout of the thing - a sure sign of small sets with lots of open walls for cameras.
Overall, it's silly and it's enjoyable. A good rental when you have a few friends round and a few beers.