Go figure, Roland Emmerich actually didn’t bore me to death with his latest disaster porn flick, ominously titled 2012. Oh he tried, padding this beast to over two and a half hours, that’s for sure, but for some reason—I can’t believe I’m saying this—it wasn’t horrible. Please don’t expect any critical acclaim or awards coming in, no, I didn’t say it was good, however, if you saw the trailer and thought it would be a successful choice to sit back and stuff your face with popcorn to, you won’t be disappointed. The contrivances are there, the introduction to meaningless characters only to have them come into play later is there, the over-acting is there, and those computers of Roland’s were definitely working overtime. Truly, the second best character in the film was the destruction itself—as long as real people weren’t in front of it to show how green-screened it was—doing what I had hoped the apocalyptic carnage would have done in The Day After Tomorrow. In a nutshell: fun, entertaining, end of the world fluff. If you wanted more, you’re deductive reasoning skills when watching a film trailer are sorely lacking.
Like all these films, it all begins with the scientists discovering how the disaster will play out. The interesting twist here, however, is that the governments of the world can’t find some hillbillies out in the desert to hire and solve the problem, thus saving the world while they wisecrack and sacrifice themselves for the heroic welcome back. Instead, it is up to the powers that be to create a timeline for survival. Noah was told to build an Ark before the flood and the world was asked to do the same as the Mayan calendar comes to a close. There is nothing like imminent extinction to put global animosity aside. I mean, come on, only a handful of countries have the financial backing to weather the end of days, you third world nations with chips on their shoulders better buddy up to be picked for the team. Science this and thermal crust temperatures that, jargon that even the President needs dumbing down aside, (honestly, Danny Glover? Seriously? Should have had Morgan Freeman play the role … again), it is the personal, human touch that’s needed to sustain such a long runtime.
But, who do we have on the civilian, “I need to care about them”, front? Oh, it’s John Cusack, and his selfish, failed, yet published, writer who needs the prospect of death to finally see that his love for his kids should have been the only thing mattering to him. Throw in the ex-wife and her new, rich boyfriend and we have us the making of a fun family road trip. Do we have a pilot? How about a former employer with the financial clout to allow some piggybacking to safety? And let’s not forget the necessity of a high ranking official in the government knowing our name enough to forget that we almost caused the deaths of thousands of people before we risked our lives to try and save the day. Yeah, we definitely need us one of those … just in case.
Seriously, though, who thought Shakespeare wrote this thing? The script serves one purpose and one purpose alone, to allow for the annihilation of an entire planet. There is nothing like watching the Sistine Chapel topple and roll over Italians in prayer; nothing like the Washington Monument severing into three pieces as it falls amidst the dust clouds from a volcanic eruption all the way in Yellowstone; and nothing like seeing California swallowed by the Pacific to get your adrenaline pumping. Thankfully, doing what Emmerich does best ever since Independence Day, most of the money shots are done in moments devoid of plot or central characters, allowing the visuals freedom to be as big as possible. Once people were placed in the vicinity—real people I mean, because those computer ones getting squished and falling from high rises are great—the whole illusion is shattered, making what looked three-dimensional starkly flat behind them. The water looked pretty real, the fault lines opening impressive, and the full-scale stuff at a far enough distance to be plausible didn’t have its detail ruin the façade.
So, kudos to the special effects team for sure. But let’s not forget the acting crew, because for something like this, Emmerich somehow got a talented bunch. Amanda Peet, Cusack, and the underused Stephen McHattie always seem to get the job done, even if they don’t always go above and beyond the call of duty and I really liked Jimi Mistry as the scientist that discovered it all. Thandie Newton is great, but unfortunately asked to do very little, and Oliver Platt is at his conniving best, a pleasure to see and a reason I enjoyed “Bored to Death” so much on HBO. However, I did say that the special effects were the second best character overall, (let’s say tied with a riotously funny Woody Harrelson—he hit that one out of the park), so I therefore need a top dog. The victor is one Chiwetel Ejiofor, granting this blockbuster way too much professionalism than it deserves. I’ve been a fan ever since seeing him in Dirty Pretty Things many years ago, but watching him vault a genre flick like this to resonating emotional heights just proves his worth. I hope 2012 makes some nice bank if only to get this guy a few more high profile roles, although I’d never want him to shy away from his indie roots. Maybe even co-star Thomas McCarthy can fit him in the next time he steps behind the camera.