November 14, 2009 -- Most comedies can't generate as many laughs as the “2012” movie trailer did. I laughed heartily through the trailer the first time I saw it, and there were plenty of laughs in the movie as well. This is a ridiculous combination of all the disaster movies ever made, from the earthquake, volcano, tsunami and “Poseidon Adventure” movies. Not only is this a compilation of previous disaster movies, it also retains the disaster movie clichés, like the cute little dog being saved while humans die. Remember how the dog was saved in “Dante's Peak”? Well, “2012” does that in spades, with several dogs being saved, including two of Queen Elizabeth's dogs. There should have been a PETA disclaimer in the film to the effect of “no animals were harmed by the destruction of the earth.” There are scenes in this movie that are so overblown, so over-the-top, so stupid, so ridiculous, so hackneyed that it is hard to believe that director Roland Emmerich is not in on the very same jokes I was laughing at.
The film is about “the end of the world as we know it,” caused by a heating of the earth's core by neutrinos from the sun. The movie couldn't have picked a more scientifically unsound foundation. Neutrinos are fundamentally inactive. A neutrino could pass through a piece of solid lead millions of miles thick without hitting any atoms in that lead or reacting with anything. A huge torrent of neutrinos from the sun would have an impact of zero in practical terms. In the movie, the heating of the earth's core causes the earth's surface to become unstable, the magnetic poles to shift and causes the continents to drift over a thousand miles in a few hours. This is also preposterous. The earth's magnetic poles do shift, sometimes they even quickly reverse polarity, but this has nothing to do with continental drift, which is very slow. Simple inertia, Newton's first law of motion, would prevent such rapid continental drift as that depicted in the movie (Oh, and by the way, Sir Isaac Newton said the earth would not end before 2060, and he was a genius of the first order, smarter than any Mayan, or anyone involved with this movie, or anybody who really believes the earth is going to end on 2012). The Mayan long-count calendar is said to predict the end of the world in 2012. That is one possible interpretation of the calendar. But if you believe that, then the world should have also ended a little over 3,000 years ago, at the end of the previous Mayan long-count calendar cycle, and it did not. Another interpretation of the Mayan calendar sets the end of the world at a much later date, many billions of years into the future. The film's scientific basis is nonsense. Compared to it, Emmerich's “Independence Day” is a marvel of scientific accuracy and plausibility.
So we have a film that is sheer nonsense. That does not mean we can't enjoy it. For one thing, it has spectacle. The destruction of California, the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano (witnessed by the comic character of Charlie Frost played in a deliciously demented manner by Woody Harrelson in his second apocalyptic movie of the year. His first was “Zombieland.”), the destruction of the Vatican, the destruction of the Christ The Redeemer Statue near Rio, tidal waves washing over the Himalayan mountains, an aircraft carrier destroying the White House. This film has got a lot of spectacle. It combines these with a lot of little funny touches. In one scene, Kate Curtis (played by Amanda Peet) discusses her relationship with Gordon Silberman (Thomas McCarthy), who complains that something is coming between them. On cue, the earth splits open and the two are separated by a chasm. In another scene, a crack appears in the ceiling of the Cistine Chapel, and naturally, the crack runs exactly between God's finger and man's hand.
One of the main reasons I went to see this movie is John Cusack, who plays movie's central role of Jackson Curtis, author and limo driver. I'll watch any movie with John Cusack in it. He's always worth watching. He is the glue that holds this film together, although Thomas McCarthy is also very good in a thankless, disposable role, as is Chiwetel Ejiofor, who does a good job in the weak role of Adrian Helmsley, geologist (he gives the equivalent of the disappointing president's speech in “Independence Day,” but this one is even weaker than that one was). Danny Glover plays the helpless, but kindly, President of the United States. Veteran actors Blu Mankuma and George Segal are good as a couple of old musicians performing on this movie's version of “The Love Boat” and trying to reconnect with loved ones on shore before the end of the world. Woody Harrelson has a memorable role as a conspiracy nut who just happens to be right. Young Liam James is effective as Curtis' son, Noah.
The story has the divorced Curtis (Cusack) picking up his two kids for a camping trip in Yellowstone, where he happens across a secret government volcanic monitoring station manned by Helmsley. He finds out about the end of the world from Charlie Frost (Harrelson), who just happens to be camping next to him and just happens have a very important survival map in his RV/radio studio. Curtis' ex-wife (Peet) asks him to bring the kids home right away after the supermarket split incident. Curtis almost immediately speeds away with the whole family, including Gordon Silberman, in his limo, where they just barely avoid catastrophe, driving through disintigrating buildings and flying over chasms to arrive at the airport and take off in a small plane just before the runway crumbles into a huge rift caused by an earthquake. Emmerich liked this scene so much, he repeats it two more times in the movie. Each time, the airplane takes off just in time to avoid cracks in the runway. The planes also dodge falling buildings in two different takeoff scenes. In one scene, the airplane flies underneath a flying subway train, unbelievable. The family ends up racing around the world to find a way to escape the massive destruction that is killing billions of people.
The film swings wildly between big scale action and small-scale drama. The drama is mostly muted because the most emotional conversations take place not face-to-face, but via telephones. As with the airplane escape scenes, these farewell conversations are repeated three times, between the President (Glover) and his daughter (Thandie Newton), between Harry Helmsley (Mankuma) and his son (Ejiofor) and between Tony Delgatto (Segal) and his grandson. Most of the deaths are seen at long range and are impersonal, but a few are up close. The movie takes a bunch of disaster movie plots, combines them, turns up the volume and amplifies the destruction by a factor of at least three. The characters and human relationships in the film are superficial and underdeveloped. Better disaster films are usually centered on strong characters, such as those in the original “The Poseidon Adventure,” directed by the late Irwin Allen. The plot itself is loaded with coincidences and last-minute escapes that range from wildly improbable to downright impossible. It isn't a bad movie if you hold your nose, turn off your brain and have a few beers, otherwise, it just barely rises above mediocrity, thanks mainly to Cusack and huge spectacles. If you're the kind of person who watches car races for the crashes, this is your kind of movie. It would have been interesting to see what Irwin Allen, the “master of disaster,” could have done with this film if he was still alive. It rates a C+.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.