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Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Little-Late Film Review: 2012

2012, 2009 Columbia Pictures.  Photo Credit:
One positive thing I can say about 2012 is that it isn’t anywhere near as bad as I had expected it to be.  That said, it is a disaster of a disaster movie.  First off, the special effects aren’t half as good as those from the Day After Tomorrow, and seeing as how they weren’t that good then, that says a lot.  Scenes that are meant to seem exciting are overdone, overlong and unintentionally funny at times with occasionally really bad CGI moments that are eye-rollingly bad.  This is all set to a poorly paced film where we are meant to watch in enjoyment as millions of people die horrible deaths.  Yay!  So it’s an entertaining movie!

Roland Emmerich has destroyed the world so many times, that he had to figure out a way to do it bigger and “better” than before.  In The Day After Tomorrow the Earth was destroyed by a devastating meteorological event, so to one-up this, he had to incorporate every possible geological disaster he could think of in a series of ridiculous scenes where the apparently sentient disasters seem to either target and follow our protagonists, or conveniently miss them repeatedly so they can escape.  The first two major scenes involve a massive earthquake that sinks southern California into the Pacific Ocean followed by an absurdly large volcanic eruption that if were real, would have produced a pyroclastic flow possibly hundreds miles in diameter that would have done massive damage to everything and everyone hit by it, but that wouldn’t have let the good guys narrowly escape (Both of the preceding occur in the first hour of this roughly two-hour and forty minute movie).  The eruption does, however, result in a massive cloud of toxic ash that is sweeping across the country which forces the plot to move forward. 

Okay, so what about the positives?  Well… the film has a good cast including John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton and Olver Platt.  When they are actually in the story, some of their scenes are good.  The problem is the screenplay is irrelevant to this movie, and therefore how it is executed has little impact on the scenes.  The really good actors in the film like Platt and Ejiofor are rarely given screen time, and when they are they are spouting out the obligatory clichés that are so common in this genre.  The dialogue scenes are few and far between but when the characters aren’t fleeing the wrath of mother nature the dialogue is contrived and manipulative; a shallow attempt to give the characters the illusion of depth. 

This illusion is irrelevant however, as 2012 is a sadistic exercise.  We are meant to find scenes with buildings toppling and bodies falling from the sky exciting?  This is an action flick right?  Not a Greek tragedy?  I only ask because in scene after scene millions of fictional people are being wiped off the map so that we can focus our cheers on a small cast of characters because their representative actors on screen are near the top of the film’s IMDB page.  The willingness to care about these characters is made even more difficult by the fact that they all fit neatly into a series of convenient clichés.  Cusack’s Jackson is a distant workaholic father, now divorced, struggling to rebuild a relationship with his children (Emmerich used that one in the Day After Tomorrow too), the ex-wife who reestablishes a relationship with the protagonist (from Emmerich’s Godzilla), the crazy scientist guy (played by the likable Woody Harrleson, used in the Day After Tomorrow AND Independence Day AND Godzilla ) who nobody believes until it’s too late and the corrupt politician that willingly kept an important secret until it was too late to save anyone (Emmerich used that in Independence Day).

Aside from the clichés, contrivances and utter impossibilities this movie passes off as plot points, there is just this issue of pacing.  The film, despite being almost three hours long seems rushed and scenes are recycled.  Characters arrive at a destination and are chased by the disaster and the debris as they narrowly escape in a vehicle.  This pattern occurs multiple times in the film until the start of the third act where the main characters arrive at a series of ships that are scheduled to take the wealthy and influential to a safery so they can return to safely populate the world with the optimal gene pool.  Pretty offensive, but the offensiveness of the eugenic approach here is negated by how stupid it is.  Let’s analyze this.  So they do not have to train for the years that astronauts and cosmonauts do to prepare their bodies for the rigors of space flight because the ships are “special” or something?  Well, it turns out, despite all plot points saying otherwise that the ships are actually just that, ships.  Arks to be exact.  Cool.  So that was... explained.  What about the flaw where the ship is crashing through icebergs to get to safety.  Those big hunks of ice aren't made of Styrofoam.  This scene is just silly.

That flaw, however, is not the biggest problem I had with 2012.  The overlying problem is it is a “Big-Budget Blockbuster” produced to entertain with flashy special effects yet it is a hateful film, as we watch millions die over and over.  The film pretends to have a heart by showing some characters upset by the fact that people are dying and being left behind.  This is a weak cop out, however, because the movie doesn’t give a crap about any of the victims the CG lava, earthquakes and tidal waves have claimed.  We are expected to be in awe of the effects as we witness the death of families as the camera sickeningly lingers on their final huddle as a massive wave rushes in from the background.  This is not entertaining if you aren’t a psychopath and I try to think of myself rational, and able to suspend belief, but there is nothing entertaining about millions upon millions, ultimately billions of deaths, all for my entertainment.  Roland Emmerich has done this time and again, however never before have we been forced to stare named characters in the eyes as they meet a horrible fate, especially when those eyes belong to children.  On a production level, 2012 is not a bad movie, on an entertainment level it is an insufferable mistake that should be ignored if you haven’t already seen it.

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