(2009) Enormous solar flares in 2009 begin releasing a rush of neutrinos into the solar system (previous occurrence 640,000 years ago), which pass through the Earth, raising the temperature of the core to a critical degree. From a deep copper mine (11,000 feet below the surface) in India, Dr Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a US geologist, and his colleague Dr Satnam Tsurutani realize from their measurements that the Earth will soon experience cataclysmic events: the crust will become unstable, allowing severe shifts of the tectonic plates along with a reversal of the magnetic poles (the South Pole will relocate to Wisconsin). Most of life on the planet faces extinction in 2012.
Inspired by Graham Hancock's Fingerprints of the Gods, director Roland Emmerich, co-screenwriter with Haralf Kloser, has devised an apocalyptic movie that attempts to devour all previous disaster movies along with the Earth. Huge cracks open in pavement and structures split apart, preceding widespread earthquakes, swallowing up cities, and the California coast slides into the Pacific Ocean; Yellowstone National Park becomes a gigantic volcano; tsunamis swell the seas, which come crashing over the continents.
The long-count (1,870,000 days) Mayan calendar's conclusion on December 12th, 2012, gets mention by Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson) over his guerrilla-radio broadcasts from Yellowstone. (Curiously, I Am Legend with Will Smith takes place in 2012.) The refutation of the science in all this - just consider where all the water needed to flood the planet would come from followed by how the Earth's core could cool in just 27 days after heating up for three years - as well as the improbable sequence of favorable coincidences through all of the chaos, delivering a family from LA to China, isn't worth the effort because the spectacular visual special effects are why this movie is worth watching.
Freeways and skyscrapers collapsing with vehicles and people falling through the debris-filled air appear in realistic detail (bringing to mind San Francisco's Embarcadero and New York City's World Trade Center); beginning with the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel separating like the Red Sea, the fingers of God and Adam pulled apart, the Vatican and St Peter's Cathedral are turned to rubble as the Pope addresses thousands of terrified worshippers in the courtyard; the landscape ripples and explodes into fiery plumes of lava; the oceans roil, turning over cruise ships and oil tankers (mini-versions of Titanic) - Washington, DC, is washed away as the White House is bowled over by the USS John F. Kennedy aircraft carrier; repeatedly the tarmac of airstrips gives way just as the aircraft carrying Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) and his family lifts off.
Human interest stories include Jackson - the author of a minor novel, who drives a limousine for Russian oligarch Yuri Karpov (Zlatko Buric), his mistress Tamara (Beatrice Rosen), and his twin boys - and Jackson's wife Kate (Amanda Peet) from whom he's legally separated, their two children, Noah (note the significance of this name) and Lilly, along with Kate's boyfriend Gordon Silberman (Tom McCarthy), who just happens to be an amateur pilot.
Billionaire Karpov has secretly purchased tickets for boarding specially designed vessels, on which only 400,000 people are to be saved from the world catastrophe, being prepared in China under cover of an enormous dam project.
The noble Thomas Wilson (Danny Glover), the President of the United States, who decides against joining the other world leaders (Queen Elizabeth II is shown with her two dogs getting aboard) during the evacuation (as does Italy's chief of state) isn't quite Barack Obama, but the governor of California appears to be Arnold Schwarzenegger; the president's daughter, Laura (Thandie Newton), is a young woman with a doctorate degree.
Having met Jackson with his children at Yellowstone, Dr Helmsley has brought along a copy of the author's novel, Farewell Atlantis (which sold fewer than 500 copies); he explodes with outrage at White House Chief of Staff Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt), who takes charge after not one of the US's elected representatives manages to make the trip, when he learns that in addition to those who were selected for their genetic and scientific attributes to replenish the human race the world's wealthiest people were sold seats (as a means of paying for the project's costs), instead of holding a worldwide lottery (as the late Mrs Wilson had suggested).
Helmsley (who makes a farewell call to his father, performing in a jazz duo on a cruise ship) is also enraged that the authorities not only waited too long to inform everyone else of the impending doom, they eradicated anyone who knew about the rescue project and attempted to publicize it - though crazy Charlie figured this out on his own.
Also figuring into the plot, along with the Himalayan Mountains, is Tenzin (Osric Chau), who has made arrangements for his younger brother Nima, a disciple of Lama Rinpoche, and his grandparents in Tibet to get aboard.
There are deft touches of humor from the screenwriters, such as Gordon's saying to Kate, "I feel like there's something separating us," as the floor of the supermarket cracks open between them, and Helmsley's father Harry (Blu Mankuma) with his partner Tony Delgatto (George Segal) singing "It Ain't the End of the World."
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