2012Synopsis: From Roland Emmerich, director of The Day After Tomorrow and Independence Day, comes the ultimate action-adventure film, exploding with groundbreaking special effects. As the world faces a catastrophe of apocalyptic proportions, cities collapse and continents crumble. 2012 brings an end to the world and tells of the heroic struggle of the survivors. Starring John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Woody Harrelson and Danny Glover.

2012 7.5

eyelights: Oliver Platt. actually decent cgi. mind-blowing destruction sequences. great pacing.
eyesores: Danny Glover. the ridonculous destruction sequences. the clichés. the third act.

“It’s the apocalypse. End of days. The Judgment Day, the end of the world, my friend. Christians called it the rapture, but the Mayans knew about it, the Hopis, the I Ching, the Bible (kind of…).”

‘2012’ is a disaster movie. It’s not a documentary. And it’s not based on reality.

I think that we have to get that out of the way because a friend of mine was disappointed in me for appreciating this film. He thought it was utter nonsense, total garbage, and that it was beneath me.

I will grant him that, from a critical standpoint, it’s not exactly a high watermark in the world of cinema. It’s hardly the worst film I’ve ever seen, however, and it’s definitely not the worst disaster film ever either.

The thing is, disaster films are a genre all of their own. They don’t play by the same rules that the Lawrence of Arabias and Citizen Kanes do. Their escapist fantasies are based on tenuous scientific principles merely inserted in for the sake of supporting the entertainment.

From that perspective alone, ‘2012’ makes the cut: it’s a roller-coaster ride with all the bumps and jumps meticulously placed in perfect position. It is completely insane and doesn’t make any sense at all, admittedly, but neither do video games – and people still flock to them for thrills galore.

The thing is, ‘2012’ also plays up the genre conventions very well: it has a large cast of mostly b-level actors, they’re all connected in some way and/or end up together somehow, they’re all in danger, and many of them will not make it out alive. As with most disaster pictures, it is basically a huge soap opera with lots of death and destruction in it.

And, from that perspective as well, ‘2012’ certainly succeeds.

Where it fails, on that level, is that it follows the disaster movie conventions perhaps all too well. It even goes so far as reuniting two past lovers together, it gives us a self-sacrifice, and we meet an eccentric but loveable character who we all know is not going to make it – and doesn’t. Amongst other things.

And it also gives us a spectacle. Boy, does ‘2012’ ever give us a spectacle!

‘2012’ is so CRAZY in scope that it pretty much destroys the planet for the sake of thrilling audiences. Well, not quite literally, but let’s just say that all civilizations are completely crushed, eradicated, in what amounts to a massive reboot of the Earth’s geographical and geological makeup. That’s fairly intense stuff when you think about it.

But it’s nonetheless played up as fun and games, for gits and shiggles. Somehow, writer-director Roland Emmerich (‘Independence Day’, ‘The Day After Tomorrow’) managed to make the film suspenseful despite its obvious outcome and enjoyable irrespective of its apocalyptic vision. A good thing, too, because this could have been one heck of a depressing movie.

Personally, I was absolutely blown away by the awesomeness of the images that Emmerich put to screen. Sure, people died – tons of them. But they’re not real people and they weren’t even made to feel real; they were afterthoughts, really. I was impressed with just how incredible the picture looked. And sounded, too: the film’s soundtrack was extremely rich with detail.

Basically, ‘2012’ was all about the eye and ear candy.

It wasn’t about the plot, which was pretty much paint-by-numbers, with sketchy science to back it up. It wasn’t about the dialogue, which offered very average exchanges between people you didn’t much care about. And it wasn’t about the cast, which was a decent assortment of b-level actors who didn’t light up the screen in any way, yet who all pulled through nicely.

Except for Danny Glover.

Geezus… he was terrible. I always thought that he was okay in the ‘Lethal Weapon’ movies. Or okay enough, anyway, that he pulled through. But every other time that I’ve seen him since he’s always seemed to sleep his way through his parts with a mouth full of Novocaine. Dammit, Danny, wake the !@#$ up!!!

In ‘2012’, he delivered the most pathetic portrayal of an American President since Bill Pullman in ‘Independence Day’. Pullman, not a great actor by any means (although he was amusing in ‘The Last Seduction’ and ‘Zero Effect’), and far too quirky to be a man of the people, at least was somewhat congenial. Conversely, Glover played the least charismatic President since Nixon.

Oh, he had the right dialogue, which painted him as a patriotic man of faith, leader of the “greatest nation in the world”, but he sounded so out of it that you have to wonder why they didn’t just trot out a lame-duck Vice-President in his place. Or the Secretary of State for the National Paperclip Initiative. Anyone. Anyone would have been better. Anyone could have reassured the people more.

I don’t want to smother Glover with hatred, but this is one sad performance. A lot of people are quick to claim that George Dubya Bush was the worst President ever. Some even claim that Obama is. Wrong: Danny Glover is by far the WORST PRESIDENT EVER!!! As per ‘2012’, this big hunk of styrofoam would be the last President the United States would ever see! What a depressing thought…

But the film makes up for it by showing us the whole California coast crumble, topple and tumble into the ocean – amongst countless other sights so ginormous that words escape me. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t dislike California… I just thought it was amazing to see this scale of destruction. It’s awe-inspiring what is possible nowadays with cgi effects; this would not have been possible back in the ’70s, in the heyday of disaster films.

On the flip side, having access to cgi effects means that filmmakers often do stupid crap like having characters get chased by earthquakes! I mean, this is nothing new (I’ve seen this in other films before) but, when the ground opens up, it usually doesn’t go after specific targets or conveniently go in the same direction as the people that are trying to escape. Either this is a joke or the filmmakers think we’re idiots.

I pick the latter.

In ‘2012’, we get to see a plane speeding down a runway with a crack in tow, with the ground rumbling and crumbling below – and it barely escapes. But it does! Oh my! And that’s nothing! Wait ’til you see the plane actually dodge falling buildings and other debris – and with an amateur pilot at the helm, no less! It’s such nutter (sic) nonsense that I would usually just lose my composure at the mere thought of it.

Which is why I respect my buddy’s opinion. It is silly.

Still, I found that ‘2012’ does a decent job of putting the pieces together (before tearing everything to pieces, of course!) that it’s a lot of fun to watch the skill with which the elements are contrived together. They even managed to pace the whole convoluted mess perfectly, giving us a smooth ride throughout. Well… in the first two thirds of the film, at least.

‘2012’ is broken down into three parts: 1) set-up and disaster strikes, 2) impact and consequences, 3) survival.

That last part consists of the remains of Earth’s human and non-human denizens being brought aboard these giant, high-tech arks that were built for the occasion, and their last-ditch attempt at survival. People were flown to China, where the arks were constructed, after paying untold fortunes to get on board or after being picked for their genes and/or knowledge.

This is the point when everything starts to lag.

Firstly, boats are sloooooooow (especially at this ungodly size!), so it’s not exactly an exciting ride. Also, there was a lot of waiting around before getting on board, there were various lengthy delays (including a ridiculous last-minute technical glitch) before going out, and there’s far too much trite speeches about the value of human life. Yeah, yeah, yeah… whatever.

Again, my argument is that it’s a disaster movie. They are meant to be large-scale extravaganzas with mild attempts at human drama as connective tissue. If they served up realistic accounts of disasters, they would be devastatingly depressing. Let’s face it: it’s hard making a human tragedy appealing and fun. Heck, I can’t even fathom how that would work.

Disaster movies succeed by taking superficial looks at tragedies. They glimpse at the consequences of uncontrollable situations (meteors, plane crashes, earthquakes, volcanoes, …etc) on human lives and attempt to connect us with the characters by offering brief overviews of their personal lives – enough so that we understand their situations, their motives, their hopes and dreams.

Above all that, though, disaster films are about the show.

The show is why we are there. We don’t actually want to see people die (well, some people do, perhaps, but most don’t). What we seek in these films is to be blown away by the awesomeness of circumstances that we will likely never experience – circumstances taken to their extremes and (il)logical conclusions. We long to see the eye of the storm without actually being in it.

‘2012’ does exactly that.

Sure, it’s total rubbish and it doesn’t hold up to any scrutiny. Characters do stupid crap that nobody in their right minds would do (ex: Cusack brings his kids to a desolate lake that has been cordoned off by authorities, unconcerned by the possible health hazards), and there are plenty of illogical moments (ex: even after disaster strikes, the President can broadcast to all of New York on massive downtown displays – no satellite issues, no power outages!).

But it does hold up from a purely escapist point of view: it’s an actually decent popcorn movie.

And on this day, on December 21, 2012, the day the Mayans predicted the world would end, one might as well take the piss out of it all and have a blast instead of worrying if there’s any truth to the prediction. So why not invite some friends, pop some corn, put the sound system up to the max, and sit down with no small amount of suspension of disbelief to watch ‘2012’?

Oh, granted, it’s not grand cinema – if anything, it’s the Grand Guignol of summer movies. But it would be easy to have a few laughs on its account -or even at its expense- with the right frame of mind. So why the heck not? After all, it’s only two and half hours of your life – that’s really not the end of the world.

“It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it
and I feel fine.”

Date of viewing: December 15, 2012

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