Film review by: Witney Seibold
Roland Emmerich, the disaster master behind “Independence Day” and “The Day After Tomorrow,” outdoes himself with “2012.” The world took a beating in his previous films, but now it gets an unbridled savage pummeling. It is loaded with soe of the more spectacular disaster movie set pieces I’ve ever seen in a movie, including the following:
– A plane soars between two collapsing buildings. We can see the chaos inside those buildings as they fall.
– Great swaths of earth lurch up in front of, and fall away behind, a fleeing limousine.
– Yellowstone national park erupts in a flood of lava.
– An aircraft carrier, The U.S.S. Kennedy, is blown out of the water, and lands on top of the White House.
– Most of the world fills with water.
This is movie mayhem of the highest order, in a film that could only be described as SubGenius porn. All the scenes of destruction are spectacular and thrilling, and Emmerich manages to fill a 158-minute film with chaos, and still keep us interested for the next bout of destruction. What’s more, this doesn’t feel like a cynical need to sate our bloodlust; he actually manages to infuse his pure spectacle with an iota of seriousness.
This is not augmented, mind you, by the human characters in this film, or any of the film’s dialogue. This dialogue and the acting are melodramatic and cheesy and thuddingly preachy in the worst possible way. Indeed, there is a weepy speech given during the film’s climax that had me thinking of the most horrid moments of Michael By’s films. If a film makes me think of Michael Bay, that’s no good thing.
The players: John Cusack plays a divorced, failed novelist who makes ends meet as a limo driver. His kids (Liam James and Morgan Lily) seem to like him, but prefer their new stepdad (Tom McCarthy) and mom (Amanda Peet).
Woody Harrelson plays a conspiracy theorist who seems to know that the end is night. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays a geologist who, with the help of some colleagues, finds that the Earth’s core is heating up, and we only have three years to do something about it. Oliver Platt plays the White House spinman who comes up the plan to save humanity. Danny Glover plays the president. Thandie Newton plays the president’s daughter. Zlatko Buric plays a Russian billionaire with special knowledge. Most painfully of all these broad characters is a pair of elderly jazz musicians (George Segal and Blu Mankuma) who are boarding a doomed ship.
It seems cruelt to introduce so many characters, as we know so many of them are marked for death. When the teary farewell speeches start coming (as they inevitably will), it’s Hollywood manipulation of the worst sort.
Once we’ve spent entirely too much time in 2009 setting up these characters, we learn that by 2012, the Earth will have a great polar shift, causing earthquakes, tidal waves, volcanic eruptions, and essentially a wipeout of life as we know it. Fast-forward a few years, and that’s exactly what starts happening. The government, luckily, has a plan to save upwards of 400,000 people in great ships they are secretly building in China. Much of the film is a race to China to find the ships, or a mad dash to geton them in time.
The Ejiofor character is supposed to serve as the film’s conscience, and indeed begins berating people for not letting thousands of people on the arks when they could easily fit. How is it that he, the government advisor, has not been made savvy to the details of the ships? Why keep such an endeavor secret? Clearly the film thinks a lottery should have been played, but even then, only 400,000 would survive. And how can a film in which the world essentially ends, try to end on a high note?
But never mind. All of the drama and especially all of the morals take a backseat to the set pieces, and boy are they something. We’ve come not to expect any sort of real drama from Emmerich, and can only hope for something exciting. I am here to report that “2012” is actually exciting.