Guilty Pleasures: Meg Gardiner

Guilty Pleasures: THE CORE

I’m a massive fan of disaster movies. I grew up in the ’70s, the decade that gave us Earthquake and The Poseidon Adventure. A love of catastrophe is in my blood. And disaster movies are about who dies, who survives, and why—courage, cowardice, smarts, muscle, pluck, or dumb luck. We watch to figure out how to avoid doom, and because we imagine that we’ll be among the hardy few who survive the apocalypse, unlike that annoying boss and the snippy girls who teased us in high school.

My almost guilty pleasure is The Towering Inferno. Because: Steve McQueen. And Paul Newman. And towering flames, in a ballroom full of people wearing polyester gowns. At Bouchercon 2010 I nearly dropped to my knees in the atrium of the convention hotel, awed by the sight of the actual glass-enclosed elevators used in the movie. I posed my daughter in one and snapped a photo. It was a tender moment.

But a guilty pleasure had better make me feel seriously remorseful. It can’t merely be tasteless or dumb. It needs to have bad consequences in the real world. Like eating a bucket of Cheetos, dipped in ranch dressing. Or giving my newborn niece a Labrador puppy, without telling my brother.

And The Towering Inferno has redeeming virtues (fire safety lessons; a message of self-sacrifice; Steve McQueen and Paul Newman). The Core doesn’t.

The Core is my favorite so-bad-it’s-good apocalyptic film thanks to one comically awful scene. Granted, it’s not meant to be funny. In the movie, the earth’s core stops spinning, which disrupts the planet’s magnetic field. A team of superstar astronauts and scientists must bore to the center of the planet in a drilling vessel to restart the core’s rotation. They do this by placing giant microphones in molten magma and blasting “Start Me Up” until the core spins back to life.

Just kidding. They plant nuclear bombs. Of course they do. Nukes are Nature’s cure-all. (See also: Armageddon.)

Meanwhile, on the surface, pacemakers quit working. Microwave radiation destroys the Golden Gate Bridge. And birds’ migration instinct goes haywire, which causes thousands of pigeons in London’s Trafalgar Square to panic and burst into crazed flight. They smash their way through the windows of a doubledecker bus filled entirely – as is the square and possibly the entire city – with American tourists.

And does the bus driver brake? Does he pull to the side of the road? No. He jams the pedal to the floor and careens screaming through traffic, smashing aside taxis and Mini Coopers, until he crashes the bus through the display windows of Waterstone’s Books. Whereupon the demented pigeons fly into the bookstore and attack the hapless tourists from Nebraska who have sought refuge inside. At that point in the scene it’s all feathers and shrieking, and I am generally laughing so hard that I don’t see what comes next. But I like to think that the bus gets a few of my books as it plows through the crime section.

The cast of the movie is top-notch. Hilary Swank looks spunky. Stanley Tucci is wonderfully oleaginous as a celebrity geologist with delusions of world domination. Delroy Lindo makes an adorable absentminded scientist. And Aaron Eckhart went to the same high school as my kids, so he automatically gets high marks.

So why do I feel so guilty about loving this movie?

Because NASA has rated it one of the most scientifically illiterate films ever made. And because, by taking my kids to see it, I infected them with such a love for stupid science fiction movies that they now eagerly watch anything, including 2012 and Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus. But I guess that’s called payback.

Meg Gardiner was born in Oklahoma and raised in Santa Barbara, California. She graduated from Stanford University and Stanford law school.
She practiced law in Los Angeles and taught writing at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She lives with her family near London. You may visit her website at www.meggardiner.com