Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Film Review | 2012
by Thomas Delapa
One more time, it’s the end of the world as we know it, and Roland Emmerich feels fine.
In 2012, the director of Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow calls in the ancient Mayan calendar, instead of alien invaders or global warming, as the portent of Earth’s doomsday. As the calamities pile up during Emmerich’s Apocalypse Soon (Redux), the only soul-searching question I had was, “Gee, why couldn’t the end be nearer?”
In place of previous regular guys Jeff Goldblum or Dennis Quaid, Emmerich plugs in John Cusack’s Jackson Curtis, a failed Los Angeles writer laboring as a limo driver for a porky Russian tycoon (Zlatko Buric). Estranged from his wife (Amanda Peet) and two kids, Curtis at least will have the chance to win back his fractured family, even while his world crumbles—literally—around him.
In the name of box-office internationalism, Emmerich and co-writer Harald Kloser span the globe for a U.N. of rice-paper-thin supporting roles, starting with a scientist (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who discovers that the Earth is on the verge of a cataclysmic meltdown. It seems the sun’s neutrinos are heating up the planet’s core like a giant microwave. No scientist, not even Bill Nye, ever explains why the only the core is boiling over, somehow leaving the surface obliviously temperate.
As Emmerich and Kloser recycle junk science, they also clone the usual sci-fi bad guys. Big governments East and West conspire to keep the earth-shaking inconvenient truth from their citizens. As the U.S. president’s chief-of-staff, a feverish Oliver Platt is the whipping boy for government’s autocratic double-dealings to keep the people out in the cold. Next to a weepy Obama-ish president (Danny Glover), Platt is a one-man Hurricane Katrina, leaving everyone else gasping for air.
A retro B-movie with above-average special effects, 2012 plunders from several decades of disaster flicks, from Earthquake to The Poseidon Adventure (even Jaws). In California, the “Big One” finally hits, sending L.A. cascading into the ocean. Emmerich dips into the computer-generated well with abandon, repeating cliffhanger escapes for Curtis and his family, who flee each catastrophe in airplanes piloted by a plastic surgeon (Thomas McCarthy)—and family usurper—who happens to have had a few flying lessons.
The movie (now on DVD) pays lip service to global populism, giving us sprawling crowd scenes served up with Riefenstahl-like relish. But just as quickly, Emmerich gets out his digital eraser and gleefully wipes the masses out. Of the blur of random supporting roles and zillions of victims—plucked from China, India and a Pacific ocean liner—Emmerich gushes his attention on one American nuclear family, come hell or high water.
When they’re not running for their lives, characters punctuate scenes with a drippy litany of exclamations, ranging from the trite to the meekly tongue-in-cheek (“Something like this could only happen in Hollywood”). In Yellowstone National Park, Woody Harrelson erupts regularly as a wild-eyed survivalist who’s discovered the government’s fishy, neo-biblical plans to save humanity.
Clock watchers take note that 2012 adds up to 145 minutes of lumbering, fatuous sci-fi. It’s not the end of the world, just another nail in the coffin of cinema as we used to know it.