Friday, November 13, 2009
Movie review: 2012
Damn the neutrinos, full speed ahead!
In writing about 2012, director Roland Emmerich's latest picture, I feel that I really ought to be using ALL CAPS FOR THE ENTIRE REVIEW! NOT TO MENTION LOTS OF EXCLAMATION POINTS!!! (!!!!!) BECAUSE IT'S JUST THAT KIND OF A FILM!
And by that, I mean bombastic.
I'm not going to kid you, there's a great deal of fun to be had from watching:
- Southern California (and all its residents) slide into the sea
- Woody Harrelson consumed by fire
- The Sistine Chapel collapsing in on itself (and all its residents) -- although, perhaps significantly, the Kaaba in Mecca remains intact
- The aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy making a surprise appearance on the lawn of the White House
- Air Force One crashing into one of the escape ships poised to flee the apocalyptic terrestrial melee (though not in the manner one might expect)
But, if you've ever seen a disaster movie by Irwin Allen -- better yet, if you've seen all of them (The Poseidon Adventure; The Towering Inferno; Flood!; Fire!; Hanging by a Thread (particularly resonant); When Time Ran Out; The Night the Bridge Fell Down) -- then there'll be nothing unexpected happening for you here in terms of plot: It's all about everything on Earth going to geological Hell in a landmark-destroying handcart.
And boy, does it.
[NOTE that I tried to work The Swarm into the above listing, but surprisingly there were no scenes involving deadly bees in 2012. Although there were giraffes and elephants in play.]
Anyway, the big difference here is that director Emmerich presumably had a gazillion dollars in his budget for the special effects, and thus when Yellowstone blows up in the world's biggest volcanic eruption (which our heroes -- some of 'em, anyway -- somehow manage to outrun in a Winnebago), it all looks remarkably real.
Two underlying themes emerge as we experience this 158 minutes of epic, butt-chapping, non-character driven destruction (valid unless we consider Gaia to be a character): 1) our lead players become yogi-level adepts at keeping one step (but only one step) away from disaster; and 2) the most outlandish coincidences one can imagine can -- and will -- happen.
Perhaps the second point above results from the coincidental linear alignment of the sun and planets: This event may have acted as a trigger for other vasty synchronicities, such as the same few characters constantly running into each other across near infinities of space and time.
Chief among these characters (there is, of course, a cast of billions, if you buy into the subtext) is John Cusack as Jackson Curtis, the limo driver and erstwhile novelist whose destiny is all caught up in saving humanity from annihilation. Curtis' literary output amounted to a single volume of improbable apocalyptic disaster fiction; I'd refer to it as "popular" fiction but for the fact that only 400 some-odd copies of his book actually made it into print.
Curtis, through a series of coincidental encounters, becomes aware of the impending destruction of all places human-inhabited through his contact with maverick late night radio DJ Charlie Frost (long-haired and bearded Woody Harrelson), whose broadcasting lifeblood is swarming with all this government-shrouded, end-of-world conspiracy stuff. (Which, of course, turns out to be real after all: Art Bell, eat your heart out.)
Curtis also comes to the attention of geology researcher Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), though he remains entirely unaware of it until late in the play. Turns out Helmsley was one of the couple hundred individuals who bought a copy of Curtis' book -- and one of a presumably smaller subset who found it significant. In any case, Helmsley has discovered that gigantic solar flares are shooting nasty neutrinos into the Earth's core and the core is overheating and the continental plates are crumbling and ... ah, whatever.
In the course of traveling from their home in SoCal to the place where the escape ships are preparing to launch (HINT: not SoCal), Curtis and his extended family unit (including ex-wife, two kids, ex-wife's new husband-who-happens-to-be-a-pilot, and the Russkie billionaire they pick up along the way) go through not one but TWO episodes like the one you've seen in the trailer where they take off in a plane and continue dodging collapsing buildings and freeways when they might otherwise have just gained a couple hundred feet in altitude and avoided the whole thing.
And speaking of repeats, Curtis gets to perform two Evel Knievels in non-standard jumping apparatuses: 1) a stretch limo, and 2) the aforementioned Winnebago.
If this whole movie is starting to sound like a three ring circus, then I've failed utterly in describing it: The number of rings involved exceeds this by a couple of factors of ten.
Notable for trying to inject some human drama into the events are Amanda Peet as Curtis' ex, Kate; Tom McCarthy as Kate's new hubby; Oliver Platt as the White House aide with a heart of stone; Danny Glover as the U.S. president who determines to go down with his ship of state (oops - spoiler); and Thandie Newton as the president's daughter Laura, who happens to be a scientist on his staff, and also happens to take a romantic shine to fellow scientist Helmsley.
Poo-poo it all you want (and I just have), 2012 provides a great cathartic experience for those who are world-weary or otherwise disaffected with society. Thus, it'll probably burn up the box office.
TIDAL FORCES, MAYBE?: "There's something pulling us apart." - Kate, to Gordon (Tom McCarthy)
DID ANYONE EVER DOUBT IT?: "The nutbags with the cardboard signs had it right all along." - Carl (Oliver Platt)