(2009) dir. Roland Emmerich
When you direct films like Independence Day (1996), Godzilla (1998), and The Day After Tomorrow (2004), you develop a reputation for liking to destroy major world monuments onscreen. You have done “the end of the world” thing, by alien invasion, mutant dinosaur/iguana, and global warming. What’s left for you? The ultimate end of the world film, the “end of the world” film to end all “end of the world” films, and with that, you unleash 2012.
Which was unleashed last summer, and now is unleased on DVD.
I recall the trailers for it, thinking to myself, how overtly ridiculous this film felt, how over-the-top the destruction of Los Angeles and super-silly escapes from near death. I thought to myself, “Now that is one to miss.” But then the reviews began to turn a bit more positive, seeing the film as a pretty fun, super-silly “end of the world” movie. And, as time played out, I got interested in seeing it in the theater. And while I missed it there, I now kind of regret it.
I like to note from time to time that if you’re going to see a big summer blockbuster with lots of special effects and crazy visuals and action, the big screen is the place to see it. And I think that this film would have benefited there.
In the film, cataclysms of all kinds convene to destroy the Earth. And while government scientists figure this out, the government decides to build giant ships for the rich to escape doubtless death. And while everyone is on-board with this, when the clock suddenly jumps and the predictions go awry, all hell is going to break loose pretty all-of-a-sudden.
The Earth, effected by solar eruptions, decides to suddenly reshape the phsyical surface of the planet and all those little ants on its surface will go the way of the dinosaurs (but in a quick couple of days). Earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanos…see this film has several other films all pulled into it. This one has every disaster you can imagine. And if it hasn’t been destroyed enough yet, then let’s destroy it.
John Cusack helms the film as the ex-husband father of two who is down on his luck and still trying to score with the kids. The film has a multitude of characters, too many to mention, trying to give us a cross-section of the Earth’s populace, while giving us the small band to root for. Woody Harrelson shows up as a Timothy Treadwell-like conspiracy theorist nut job who is actually right. Danny Glover is our president. Thandie Newton is his daughter.
There are no out-and-out baddies. A couple of characters show selfishness but are not seen as total villains. This film is about the world coming together and uniting, the human race, building “arks” to protect the future of the species, as well as other species. And in the end, mother Africa rises from the sea, more highly elevated than before and the symbolic and literal home for life to re-new itself, for humanity to re-grow.
The best sequence is the film’s silliest. The initial escape by limosine and small airplane through the apocalyptical Los Angeles, seething and crumbling in “the big one”, the long predicted California version of the End of Days. Heck, just like a lot of people joke, and perhaps some would like to see, the whole West Coast gets dumped into the Pacific with gaping holes in the surface of the Earth and death by the millions.
The escape is so ridiculous, so over-the-top, so unbelievable, that it becomes totally more comic. And the filmmakers know this, throwing in visual gags, making the near-misses even nearer, the explosions and the destruction so much more extreme than one can imagine. It is quite entertaining and really ups the ante of hope for the film. Sadly, the rest of the film doesn’t live up to that one sequence, but it stays pretty close. It’s silly but entertaining fun.
While the film manages its emotional core with a story about the familial connections, the heart of the film. And that works at the level it’s intended to, not perhaps much more than that, but at least it hangs in there.
It’s interesting, really, the way that Hollywood tries to tap into the cultural Id, pulling from the fears of the world. In this case, the Mayan calendar-inspired prediction of the end of the world in 2012. But really, what is striking, even in the hilariously outsized vision of disaster, is that the world is indeed beset by earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic activity. These stories, these truths, spur the fear and the urge to see this visualization of our collective doom, joked about, commented upon, discussed casually, but felt somewhere quite deep down.