Nov. 18, 2009 12:00

Familiar disasters plague 2012

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Familiar disasters plague 2012

I could spill a lot of ink trashing 2012 — and I intend to — but if you want to save a little time, here’s all you really need to know: At by Glen Baity one crucial movie junkie moment in this film, a tsunami hurls an aircraft carrier into the White House.

Yes, you read that right.

A tsunami. Hurls an aircraft carrier. Into the White House. Whether or not you think this is awesome, stupid or awesomely stupid will accurately predict your reaction to the rest of the film.

Regardless, it’s certainly a new peak for disaster movie excess, and it’s only one ridiculous moment among many in Roland Emmerich’s new film. In these paths 2012, the director of Independence Day and more converge, the and The Day After Tomorrow manages larger plot is revealed: The world’s major to roll up every catastrophe movie trope, governments have known since 2009 that from Armageddon to Dante’s Peak all the the planet’s days are numbered, owing to way to the decks of the Titanic, into one a nasty series of solar flares. Anticipating bloated, overserious package. Your move, destruction of biblical proportions, they Michael Bay. make several “arks” on which the global For his latest, Emmerich has graduated power brokers can wait out the worst of from trivializing issues that are actually the calamities to come. The bulk of the important (global warming) to trivializing film involves the characters’ struggle issues that are transparently unimportant to get to these arks while the world is (the end of the world as foretold by those overcome by chaos. reliable prognosticators, the Mayans). As if that main plot line weren’t The film follows a group of survivors on enough, the glut of characters and their the eve of the apocalypse (well, maybe attendant backstories conspire to inflate not the apocalypse, but definitely an the film to more than two and a half apocalypse). There’s Adrian (Chiwetel hours. Emmerich could have trimmed Ejiofor), a geologist who notices that the that length by excising one of the three — earth’s core seems to be heating up at an three! — scenes in which an airplane just alarming rate; Jackson (John Cusack), an barely makes it off the runway before the average joe who must save his ex-wife earth literally crumbles beneath it. This is (Amanda Peet), their two children and a filmmaker who is out of ideas, if he ever her new husband from certain death; a had any to begin with. boxer turned billionaire (Zlatko Buric); If you’ve followed Emmerich’s career, a conspiracy-theorizin’ radio personality you’ve already seen him destroy every (Woody Harrelson); the list goes on. As highlight in the Fodor’s guidebook, and he continues here by laying waste to the Washington Monument, Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer and the White House again, because hey, why not? This is all meant to be awesome (or tragic, perhaps — the film can never make up its mind). But there’s a cumulative numbing effect to so many ruined landmarks, not to mention all the improbable near misses our heroes experience.

Of course, Emmerich’s films demand more than the usual suspension of disbelief — The Day After Tomorrow features a scene in which its characters outrun cold. That’s right: The worldwide temperature is dropping rapidly, and they survive by running away and locking the door.

It’s one of the most famously idiotic sequences in film history, and while nothing in 2012 is quite that moronic, the film does feature plenty of races against CGI earthquakes, falling skyscrapers and fireballs. It’s all very pretty and nonsensical.

The only reason the film is remotely watchable is Emmerich’s knack for assembling a good cast. Cusack and Harrelson are huggable as always, Peet does a fine job and supporting players like Thandie Newton and Danny Glover elevate the film above the worst of the worst. That’s a small achievement when you consider 2012’s grand scale and its paradoxically limited vision. Time and again, the film cheers the survival of one character while literally billions drown off-screen. And of course, one of the characters has a dog, which survives, which makes the wholesale death and destruction go down smooth.

That’s just one example, but the entire film is soaked in bathos and anti-intellectual hogwash (“All our fancy machines,” one character laments, “the Mayans saw this coming a thousand years ago”). For all that, 2012’s biggest failing is that it brings virtually nothing new (the aircraft carrier-as-projectile sequence excepted). From the tearful goodbye speeches to the cheeseball power ballad over the end credits, this has all been done to death in shorter films. Couldn’t the Mayans have also warned us how boring this would be?

To comment on this article, send your e-mail to glen.baity@gmail.com.

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