“I always wanted to do a biblical flood movie, but I never felt I had the hook. I first read about the Earth’s Crust Displacement Theory in Graham Hancock’s “Fingerprints of the Gods”. When I discussed it with (co-writer) Harald (Kloser), I said we need a “plausible” reason, not a scientific one. Show this film to a scientist and they would probably laugh.” – Roland Emmerich talking about 2012.
It’s impossible to pinpoint exactly when it happened – or even if it was there from the beginning, lurking, beckoning, hungry for oxygen, whispering gently for attention in the dead of the night – but at some point in his career German-born director Roland Emmerich’s affection for obliterating famous international locations moved beyond desire, beyond lust, beyond a signature or a trademark to something approaching the fetishistic. No filmmaker has torn apart the modern world with such insatiable aplomb. He zapped the White House to smithereens in Independence Day, trampled Manhattan in Godzilla and tormented the globe with hailstones, floods and tornadoes in The Day After Tomorrow – trashing the Hollywood Sign, the Stature of Liberty, the Capital Records building and plenty of others.
Unsatisfied and clearly craving another round of die hard disaster porn, this time with a more international flavour, Emmerich returns to swing the CGI wrecking ball once again in 2012, his loudest and angriest movie yet, the big momma of disaster pics stuffed so full of money shots it’s probably easier to count the moments in which something isn’t destroyed. Targets include The White House (again), the Eiffel Tower, Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue, the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican and more. Many more. Like, the whole world more.
Emmerich licks his chops, strums his fingers, strokes the proverbial cat and serves up a screen-buckling cranked-to-11 guilty pleasure sprinkled with rubbishy dramatic moments and drenched in narrative implausibility. No surprises there, but it also happens to be rip snortin’ hoot-n-holler stuff: fast-moving, audacious and bursting with visual detail. Watching 2012 is like sitting window-side on a plane and watching with wide stunned eyes the world go to hell in a SFX-stitched hand basket.
Rest assured this is full-blown cinematic sadism: enjoyment that comes from plonking your caboose on a comfortable seat in an air conditioned cinema and witnessing the spectacularly horrible demise of eons of helpless lemmings doomed to spend eternity rotting in the recycle bins of CGI expenditure. As far as stoopid disaster movies go 2012 takes the cake, stuffs it with C4, lights the fuse and zooms in on every flake of icing as it splatters into oblivion.
The plot that ties together Emmerich’s innumerable moments of unfettered carnage is clunky in structure but surprisingly quick to its feet. There is an obligatory period in which the “science” is breezed over and the players on the board briskly moved into place but the cheese factor is minimal and the storyline is sporadically dotted with moments that endeavour in Emmerich’s loud and screwy way to explore the human condition, or if not to explore it then certainly to blow it to pieces. Take 2012 too seriously you cannot – but, crucially, Emmerich sustains a brisk pace throughout most of his 158 minutes running time. It is slow only in small, forgettable splotches; it’s the human dramas that distract us from Mother Nature’s indomitable wrath.
The premise is simply that the Mayans were right and the world goes to buggery in 2012, the year the Mayan calendar ends. Adrian (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is the American scientist who convinces the powers that be that the end is nigh; a stickler might note that the admirable swiftness with which he achieves this is tough to believe, though, cuz in our two party preferred politically hampered reality the Opposition would no doubt refute every slither of evidence of an impending apocalypse – no matter how peer-reviewed or scientifically legitimised – to the point at which the earth’s surface would be vomiting water and belching lava and the ground crumbling into sawdust while the sceptics fold their arms and say “nup, we’re not doing anything until after Copenhagen.”
Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) is for no particular reason an author who becomes entwined in the whole sordid end of the world process. He’s got a couple of kids and a divorced wife to reconnect with and, of course, he will. Within minutes Jackson is driving his family through LA like a wild-eyed amphetamine powered Stig, careening down streets as the ground and buildings collapse, bedlam a-plenty, hundreds of close shaves stuffed into every shot, howls of laughter and hoots of deranged pleasure emanating from this reviewer’s seat. Jackson learns of ships being made to store humans who can afford a ticket (RRP: one billion Euros) and endeavours to find them and get his fam on board.
At the time of writing, and in strictly visual terms, 2012 is simply the most spectacular disaster picture ever made – find another that can match it in terms of eye candy, cutting edge detail, glorious long range SFX shots etcetera and I’ll chop up my hat and snort it. That might sound like a big call, but special effects technology is linked to the disaster picture like no other genre, because the importance of visualising ambitious concepts is paramount. Though the trophy currently sits on Emmerich’s shelf it won’t stay there for long. 2012 simply could not have been made a couple of decades ago and would have looked supremely dodgy if it had been created in the 90s.
There are lots of irresistable tongue in cheek small touches: deliciously, “the circle is unbroken” plays on a car stereo moments before apocalyptic furore hits; when the Sistine Chapel gets totalled Michelangelo’s God and Adam are split apart just where their fingers touch; Danny Glover is the last President of the USA; Woody Harrelson is the scruffy lookin’ basket case who was right all along, hollering a last minute sermon from the mount while the earth implodes around him; the South Pole relocates to Wisconsin; Cusack delivers the Jaws-saluting quip “we’re gonna need a bigger plane” and the dialogue has an uncanny ability to get away with lines like “do you want to be responsible for the extinction of the human race? Can you handle that Adrian?”
For the record, yes he can. And so can Roland Emmerich. In terms of blowing up the world and bringing about the end of civilisation, his bona fides are second to none.
2012’s Australian theatrical release date: November 12, 2009.