DVD Review : 2012 (2009)
by Daniel G. Keohane
OK, well, this is a big movie, so let’s get right to it. 2012 is a good old-fashioned disaster movie – a disaster of Epic Proportions, yes, but still a disaster movie. Was it a good one? If I told you that in the first paragraph, you’d stop reading, so on we go:
Directed by today’s disaster master Roland Emmerich (who also gave us INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996), GODZILLA (1998) and DAY AFTER TOMORROW (2004), this film delivers what his movies usually offer: a lot of screaming people dying in disturbingly large numbers, a cast of hundreds doing a good day’s work and eye-popping special effects.
I popped this movie into the player not expecting anything more than to be entertained, and maybe a little depressed. Do that, this movie will blow you away.
2012 opens as all well-behaved End of World stories open, showing the earth from space with the planets aligning. Racing through 2009, 2010 and 2011 in the first five minutes, the stage is set for the coming carnage. The governments of Earth learn that its core is being microwaved by a new kind of neutrino from the sun. No special drill-ship is going to dig to the center of the planet and save us this time. In fact, nothing is. What follows are quick scenes taking place over the next couple of years. The world’s most beloved artworks are being replaced with perfect replicas. The richest people in the world are being asked for a lot of money to fund Something Big.
With the appropriate Ba-Doom of music, the year 2012 arrives, and we meet our characters and learn the status of the sun’s flares and weird neutrinos via background news broadcasts (a method which works well because we can actually hear what they’re saying without having to use subtitles)
From here on in, the End of the World (sorry, those words need appropriate Capitalization) is told through two distinct groups (with a million extras looking skyward and screaming in between): The White House, spearheading a secret project aimed at saving vestiges of the human race before it’s wiped out, and a fractured family thrown back into each others’ arms (there’s always a fractured family thrown back into each others’ arms in these stories) as they try to find this fabled salvation before they’re sucked into the bowels of the dying earth with everyone else.
Everyone playing a part in this film did a superb job. They took their roles seriously, seemed to put everything they had into their roles. More so than some of Emmerich’s earlier films. I enjoyed INDEPENDENCE DAY, but it felt a little campy at times. In 2012, everyone played it straight, and did so really, really well.
The best: tough call, but I’d have to say from the opening scene, I was very impressed with Chiwetel Ejiofor. He played science advisor Adrian Helmsley with such an understated intensity I immediately wanted more of him in the film, and was happy to learn he was the main character in the White House storyline. His co-lead, in the Hapless Family storyline, was John Cusak - also excellent as writer and estranged dad Jackson Curtis. Oddly In the two scenes where these actors shared the screen, however, it didn’t work. Not sure why, and I won’t waste your time trying to figure it out. No chemistry, or maybe it was simply two great actors dimming when their respective lights shone… sorry, it’s National Poetry Month as I write this. The best White House scenes were between Ejiofor’s Adrian and the Secretary of State, played by one of my favorites Oliver Platt. Platt’s Carl Anheuser is the no-nonsense, tunnel-vision leader of the project. The fate of humanity rests on him being as cold (and secretive) as possible. Against this, Adrian’s passion for the individual’s Right To Know constantly battled. Neither is wrong, and I appreciated that neither was elevated to the Noble Right Thing… until the end, which I was a little disappointed in.
Honorable Mentions: Thomas McCarthy as the hapless boyfriend of the ex-wife, a stereotype always thrown into the Fractured Family storyline as the scapegoat for the male lead’s angst. He was played as a nice guy. I enjoyed that about this movie – the filmmakers had a large canvas, and used it to full force on the Big Things, but took the time to throw in smaller plot elements, like spice to a stew, enough to add color and depth to what could have otherwise been a flat plot with nothing but a series of progressions toward the inevitable end.
Woody Harrelson is a major presence in any movie he’s in. He plays an over-the-top radio personality who points the Curtis family in the right direction with perfectly crazed flair. He’s in only three scenes, but steals them when he does (another nod to Cusak: he keeps up). Hell, I could list everyone, from Blu Mankuma’s aged lounge singer stuck on a cruise ship with buddy George Segal, to the small but memorable role of bodyguard played by Johann Urb. Everyone was peachy, and this facet elevates this movie above the more two-dimensional DAY AFTER TOMORROW.
And there’s the End of the World, itself. All we can do is sit back, watch it happen, and hope someone survives.
It begins in a supermarket being ripped in half and falling into the earth. Most of this scene looked shot on a full set which was then torn in half, illustrating just how big a budget this movie had. The special effects in this film really, really impressed me. I think they did a lot with the old “mix & match” approach Peter Jackson used in the LORD OF THE RINGS, fooling the eye before it got used to seeing the “strings.” For example, Las Vegas’ destruction was a combination of CGI and modeling like the old masters used. As you probably read in the papers, however, the filmmakers actually destroyed the city of Malibu so you wouldn’t be able to tell what was real and what was not.
Speaking of Malibu… this was the first Oh WOW That’s An Amazing Scene! scene. If it wouldn’t be in very poor taste, it’d be a cool Islands of Adventure ride. Now, there’s only one way to watch this movie and still come out with a smile on your face – and not because the revolver is pressing too hard against the roof of your mouth:
By the time the End of the World begins with the Malibu scene, you need to have been watching the first 20 minutes carefully and with an open mind. The filmmakers added many winks and nods to get you ready for the sheer impossibility of our Hapless Family’s escape from mortal danger without making the film seem annoyingly cute. There are subtle nods to other disaster movies and disaster movie stereotypes, both in dialogue and in quick background images. The first scene between Cusak and Harrelson is a good example. By the time the Curtis family take off through Malibu airspace in a plane (freshly refueled by a Union actor whose character seemed to have died before their arrival from nothing more than fear) you’re not mumbling to yourself, “Oh, please, there’s NO way they could have done that…” These characters are simply anatomically-correct human cameras through whose lenses we see the apocalyptic events and how they contrast to the We Have All Information and Know We’re Screwed view of the scientists and government. You expect these people will see it all, so sit back and try to think happy thoughts as they do. Even so, I found myself gripping the arms of my couch in a scene where Yellowstone Park explodes and our Hapless Dad races to make it back to the plane in time. Gotta give kudos to the crew for making me do that.
Time for a sidebar, before we skip quickly through the remaining carnage.
I wouldn’t let my 12-year old daughter watch this movie. Why? She already got her “Don’t Open Till Doomsday” scare a few months back when I let her watch KNOWING (2009), another end-of-the-world flick. When the latter was over, she was as quietly terrified as any Innocent Young Thing would be after seeing such devastation. Could that happen, she asked? Is the end of the world going to be like that? When I was her age, two things scared me like that: the above-referenced Outer Limits episode, and the movie WHEN WORLD’S COLLIDE (1951). I was probably younger than twelve when I saw that OL episode, “Don’t Open Till Doomsday” (which first aired in 1964), but remember asking Mom, “Is Doomsday real?” The same question Youngest Daughter asked, in so many words. Mom gave the same “Um”-filled half-answer I offered to YD, including the requisite “Oh, but it won’t happen in your lifetime” wrap-up. We’re so clever, we parents. Still, it’s either say that, or stare in horror and shout, “Is that a spider in your hair?” Either method effectively ends the conversation. Seeing Earth completely destroyed in WHEN WORLD’S COLLIDE hit my younger self the way a film like that is intended: Some fates cannot be escaped, so you may as well see it all unfold now with popcorn, because when it really happens you’ll probably have no head. Unless, of course, you build a ship and save the remnants of humanity like both films offer.
So: Malibu, toast. Las Vegas, toast and now Hapless Family is in a bigger plane crossing the Pacific Ocean. Via the frenzied-announcements-of-news-anchors trope we witness the terrible events across the world, and see most of the scenes we’d become inured to from the trailers. The Vatican, toast. Washington DC, toast. It was during this barrage of destruction when my psyche began to take a bruising from watching billions of people – fictitious as they are – die swift and terrible deaths. It was akin to the horrific sinking scene in TITANIC (1997), where most characters we’d gotten to know throughout the film meet a brutal end. I remember watching the James Cameron’s opus and, when the back of the ship rose and so many frightened people fell into the water, closing my eyes. Couldn’t watch any more. Since I watched 2012 at home, I simply looked left and gave my dog Molly a scratch. She appreciated it.
The White House crew (now Air Force One en route to the escape plan) gets word: all communication on the ground has ceased. The carnage has mostly ended. Quiet falls. Now, we simply have to deal with saving the Remnant on modern day arks. Much like a novel I wrote a few years back and haven’t sold yet and probably never will now.. sigh….
Welcome to Tibet, a mountaintop retreat in this mysterious (and high elevation) country. Nice scene, calm, until a little later when we get the infamous bell ringing / oceans drowning the world scene which graces the DVD cover.
Through a series of impossibly lucky breaks (like a near-immediate Continental Shift), our heroes reach their destination – a few characters lighter. By now you’re either swearing off disaster movies for another few years or, like me, have been more than happy with how they carried this movie off and simply want to see which of our heroes survive. The final survivor list will not surprise you – at all – which I found a little disappointing.
One last point and I’ll wrap this puppy up: The soundtrack was great. Composed by Harald Kloser (who also co-wrote the script) and Thomas Wanker (snicker) it wove non-stop throughout the film, but subtly. The score played to the mood of each scene, fell silent when required to and when it did, its absence was strong enough for an effect. Never overbearing. Good stuff. First time I’ve noticed how good a soundtrack was since SIGNS (2002). I also liked the closing credits song. Can’t remember the lyrics, but it had a general theme of, “Everything’s OK, life is really good, honest, don’t go doing anything rash on the way home. Have a nice day.”
I gave this movie 4 out of 5 stars because I’m a Movie Reviewer and we like to give stars to movies. Though 2012 isn’t much of a date movie, for what it is, it’s terrific. The Special Effects are mind-boggling; the actors took their jobs seriously and played their roles with enough gusto and vigor to make this over-the-top ride of a movie, human enough to make diehards like myself occasionally grip the arm of my couch.
-THE END…………(of the WORLD!)-
© Copyright 2010 by Daniel G. Keohane