Roland Emmerich has quite the destructive pedigree under his belt. He beat up the planet with aliens in Independence Day. He took a few shots at New York City in Godzilla (1998). He then fired his warning shots across the bow of the planet with The Day After Tomorrow. I guess he felt a little bad, as Emmerich took us back in time for a rebuilding of sorts in 10,000 BC. Now he gives us his definitive attack on planet Earth with 2012. Believe me, no one is safe, least of all the audience.
Emmerich is one of those directors who can do a lot of things well. Unfortunately, there are an equal number of things that he does not do so well. He is a very similar filmmaker to Michael Bay. Both of these men know how to craft an over-the-top spectacle that will wow the eyes and dull the brain. Therein lies the problem with many of his films. While the effects are always first rate, while the visual splendor is more than enough to draw you in, his ability to craft characters and create compelling stories falls flat.
Can I be considered a fan? Sure, I guess so. Like a lot of people, I can be a sucker for a cool scene or a wild ride. However, I also like a little substance to go along with it. In the case of 2012, as destruction-laden as it is, it lacks that emotional core required to bring me along for the ride. Well, alright, it was able to keep my attention for the entire, if slightly bloated, ride but it could not make me care for the people.
2012 is based on a mash-up of Mayan science and Western cultural interpretations. The current Mayan calendar cycle is set to end on the equivalent of December 12, 2012. Many people believe that predicts an apocalypse of sorts, the end of the world as we know it. In fact, it is merely the end of a calendar cycle. Yes, there is other information that could lead to a variety of interpretations, but what it ultimately comes down to is a some real world information being twisted into one possibility and fictionally dosed into a film whose primary ambition is to entertain. Way to take the intelligence of others and dumb down for the sake of a movie.
I would love to be able to speak on the truth behind the calendar's importance or what else it may mean, but I am scarcely qualified to speak on it. Instead, let's take a look at how successful this film is as the the date is merely a tool to allow Emmerich and his team take the world down a notch or two.
Early on the film sets up strange happenings around the globe, discovered by a government geologist, Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), along with an Indian friend. They recognize the world is going to end in a cataclysmic event in 2012 (this takes place in the present). We speed through the next few years getting glimpses of government meetings and secret plans before slowing down again in 2012. This is where the fun begins.
For the everyman, we get Jackson Curtis (John Cusack). He is a divorced writer who misses his family and dislikes his ex's new beau. He is also the first man outside of the government to realize that something big is happening. Well, first outside a crazy talk radio host who is broadcasting from Yellowstone.
What follows is Curtis with his extended family and Russian employer in tow, attempting to outrun the crumbling world behind them. We also get to see arguments among the rich and powerful and the government officials as they discuss possibilities for being saved. Toss these sequences in a blender, add in a healthy dose of other random non-essential characters, top with special effects, and mix well. Serves as many as will buy a ticket.
2012 runs north of two and a half hours, with a good chunk of that running time devoted to destruction of as many landmarks as possible. It does not matter if they directly affect any of your characters or not, wreck it all! Yes, the movie excels at that. I cannot say enough how cool it was seeing all that stuff crumble crack, fall, and explode.
I could probably ramble on about the effects for awhile longer, but why bother? You know how it goes. Things fall down and the crowd gasps in delight. Our characters have a series of near escapes and the crowd gasps with joy. Our heroes live to see another day and the crowd cheers. What? I spoiled it? Come on now, this is a big Hollywood blockbuster disaster movie, it's all rather predictable from the beginning. Frankly, if you saw Emmerich's The Day After Tomorrow, you saw this.
The problem with the story is focus. It is all over the place. They could have cut a number of side characters to tighten it up a little bit, maybe even cut down on the government stuff. Haven't we already seen that before? What I would have liked is a story that focused on a small group trying to survive. Guess what? In the midst of cinematic bloat we have that! John Cusack and his cadre would have been perfect to center everything around. Take away the extra characters, government stuff, and extraneous destruction and you could cut the running time down while tightening up the whole project and making it easier to relate to and emotionally involving at the same time. Potentially.
The movie is fun and exciting, there is no denying that. Was I expecting a masterpiece? No, not at all. I essentially got what I was expecting, which is a visual extravaganza with some melodrama to string it along.
One day, perhaps, we will get that disaster movie that gets the character portion right. While this may be the best looking one ever made, it is not likely to be remembered as a classic aside from home theater junkies who are destined to pull it out to show off their systems.
Bottom line. Go see it. Don't let anyone stop you. It is an entertaining movie that benefits from the big screen experience. Just do not be surprised if you don't find yourself really caring about anyone outside of the emotionally manipulative surface. I am not really sure anyone has ever done as thorough a job of destroying the world as has been done here.
I am also curious to see if the proposed sequel-by-way-of-television series gets off the ground. I think I could be down for checking it out.