If anyone’s read the excellent Graham Hancock book Fingerprints Of The Gods, then they’ll understand where Roland Emmerich’s latest movie is coming from. 2012 paints a picture of ancient Mayan predictions coming true and a rare planetary alignment causing the crust of the Earth to soften and displace.
As per previous Emmerich disaster movies, this one features a disparate cast, all facing calamity as the Earth starts to swallow up whole cities and civilisation is all but destroyed.
The story begins with the discovery that solar activity is causing a new kind of nuclear reaction within the core of the Earth. As the core heats up, it destabilises the tectonic plates in new and catastrophic ways – as you can see from the movie poster, the San Andreas Fault finally gives way and pitches California into the sea. Suddenly, beachfront property doesn’t seem like such a wise investment…
As you might expect, the world leaders get wind of this development and start making plans to save humanity (or at least the ones who can afford billion Euro tickets, and the occassional scientist/welder/useful person). They create a series of arcs (in the Noah sense of the word), massive ships that will withstand the inevitable flooding that will follow the eruptions. Obviously, this raises the ethical question of who has a ‘right’ to be saved – Helmsley’s bleeding heart optimism versus Anheuser’s callous but pragmatic approach: “Without billions of dollars of investment from the private sector, do you think this project would even have been possible?” Fair point, but you’ve got to wonder what sort of life awaits the rich when the world economy has totally collapsed, money means nothing and the post-apocalypse survivors have to create a new world.
The meat of the story follows John Cusack’s character Jackson Curtis (isn’t that 50 Cent’s real name backwards? Does that point to a Emmerich-led hip-hop conspiracy?) and his estranged family, who he saves when the quakes first hit LA. They make their escape, first in a limo, then in a small plane, managing to survive wacky building collapses and a seemingly sentient chasm that chases them around the city, only pausing to allow them to swap from limo to plane.
For these little set pieces, I found myself simultaneously laughing at the director’s self-parody while still being on the edge of my seat. It was ludicrous – this tiny plane flying between two collapsing buildings, then emerging out the other side, utterly unscathed.
A small shout-out for Woody Harrelson’s mad conspiracy theorist – who just happens to be right about the ships the government have been building. In fact, Harrelson is responsible for kind-of making us believe that the ships were the space variety, not the floating kind. However, watching his manic expression as Yellowstone erupted in an explosion of magma was brilliant, especially when he got obliterated by a huge chunk of earth.
And back to Jackson Curtis…following the template established in Independence and DayThe Day After Tomorrow, this estranged father pulls out all the stops to rescue his family from peril, even taking his wife’s new boyfriend along for the ride. Of course, poor Gordon didn’t stand a chance really, and rather than let this plastic surgeon cum amateur pilot get in the way of a happy ending, Curtis fails to save him. Yes, poor Gordon gets crushed in the cogs of the massive arc, no longer an obstacle to Curtis and his wife reuniting their little nuclear family.
I thought an interesting (and probably unintended) contrast in the movie was how scientist Adrian Helmsley wanted compassion for the people outside the arc, and how Curtis and his family virtually trampled on people to save their own skins. I mean, Curtis stole a limo, overtook those two old ladies (just before their car crashed into a huge piece of earth that had jutted up from the road), seemed completely unconcerned about the dead pilot he’d spoken at the airport, stole that plane, then left Woody Harrelson to die on a mountaintop while he sped off in his camper van with the map to China, then left a ton of people to die in Las Vegas airport while they escaped with Curtis’s selfish and ill-fated Russian boss. All while people are hanging out of crumbling buildings and dying horrible deaths.
All the same, 2012 was a total thrill-a-minute adventure, and as I read in a review of it last week, far more tongue in cheek than I expected. Unlike The Day After Tomorrow, in which humankind brought on its own demise, this catastrophe was inevitable, but the wholesale slaughter of entire cities seemed not to matter, it was merely a backdrop to this broken little family saving itself.
I loved the little sub-plot of the two old jazz musicians on the ship, having a final chance to say goodbye to their loved ones. They just seemed like such a lovable old pair. And Danny Glover’s President was compassionate and noble, but I still kind of expected him to mutter “I’m too old for this shit…” when he got up after an earthquake, covered in dust.
The verdict? You need to go and see this – even when you fail to connect with the characters, the special effects and outrageous disaster scenes will have you on the edge of your seat.