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Film | 2012 (2009)

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2012 movie posterThe Ancient Greek pantheon of gods was rife with tussles for preeminence between the immortals. And quite often the mere mortals were Sim-like pawns in these wars of might.

After watching 2012, I can’t help but think that God and Roland Emmerich are two such immortals pitched in a battle over who can play out the best disaster on the world stage. Emmerich’s thrown everything at it for his latest pitch.

For those who’ve escaped the epic promos, 2012 is a movie about the end of the world. It is the final year of the Mesoamerican calendar and, as legend has it, the final year of existence too. And this is the basic premise of the movie — surviving apocalypse.

In 2009, a group of scientists discover the world will indeed end in 2012. World leaders listen and act, collaboratively setting in motion plans for nothing less than the survival of the human species (remember, this is fiction). Of course, the citizenry are not informed, else anarchy break loose.

Flash forward to 2012, and cracks are appearing in cities and supermarkets around the globe. The complete and utter destruction of human civilisation is just around the corner.

In the eye of the storm is a broken Curtis family – science-fiction writer Jackson Curtis (John Cusack), his ex-wife Kate (Amanda Peet) and their kids. Disaster movies classically involve a broken family (and manhood) that’s restored through surviving natural disaster.

With the help of a conspiracy theorist cum social media “expert” (Woody Harrelson), Jackson cottons on to the impending doom and secret government plans to save just 400,000 humans (along with a few giraffes, rhinos, Republicans and wotnot).


Emmerich’s CV is a trail of destruction: The Day After Tomorrow, Godzilla, Independence Day, Mel Gibson … So, how does 2012 stack up in the disaster movie stakes?

First, forget about acting, plot, originality, hyperbole — this is a disaster movie, folks. The less we have to focus on these things the more we can enjoy the ride.

One useful KPI for disaster movies is how long it takes for the disasters to set in. Some disaster movies fail because they spend too much time on set up and drama, leaving a short time for the disaster itself to unfold and thus disappointing audiences. By 2009, we’re all used to the cliches so we don’t need all this time on set-up — we know the drill. 2012 just scrapes through on this point, though could shed a few moments of drama later on.

This man does not save the planet.

This man does not save the planet.

A second KPI is the sheer volume of disaster. Most disaster films have one main disaster — tornado, monster, aliens, earthquakes, sinking ship, climate change, Helen Hunt. 2012 has not one but 3 main disasters: super impressive earthquakes, gigantic tsunamis and volcanoes. As if this wasn’t enough, cities crumble into the ocean like the top of a creme brûlée.

Third KPI: landmarks. The White House, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, St Peter’s Basilica, the Mona Lisa and India all get a spectacular showing. Not even the highest point of human existence (both physical and spiritual) is spared – with what looks like the Dalai Lama being submerged by the world’s gnarliest wave. New York was strangely, but perhaps sensitively, absent. I would’ve like to have seen a few more international landmarks meet their demise (I always hope Sydney gets a showing *sigh*). So this was a little disappointing.

My final KPI is how the disaster is sustained. The movie rates well on this count. It is genuinely gripping, edge-of-the-seat and fun viewing — you will not be bored. Some, thought, might find the excess cataclysm a little wearying. But if you are a fan of action movies and disaster cinema, then this will be enjoyed.

Disaster movies are always pretty transparent in reflecting the current zeitgeist. Day After Tomorrow certainly reflected this with its focus on climate change and a Donnie Darko protagonist.

The zeitgeist is plain as day in 2012. I joked to a friend that it was the first disaster movie of the post-racial age. There’s a black US president (Danny Glover), a multi-racial family straight out of an Ikea catalogue, an aged black and white cabaret duo and Tibetans. There’s also a lap-dog-carrying chick modelled on Paris Hilton dating a Russian oligarch. Even blogging is featured with a social media expert who actually has a blog on the non-filmic, real world internet. Boy oh boy!

Ultimately, while 2012 delivers, and in full CGI splendor, it still falls short of The Day After Tomorrow, which had a tight focus, semi-good plot and the resonance of a catastrophe not too removed from reality.

Emmerich has packed a lot into this lunchbox, and probably too much. But, the business of making disaster movies must get hard when real life throws up its own. The same year The Day After Tomorrow was released, a massive tsunami hit coastlines in the Indian Ocean, killing over 300,000 people. More recently, we’ve seen more tsunamis, this time in the Pacific, and an overall increase in extreme weather conditions like bushfires and floods.

Where does Hollywood go after all this destruction? How can you top super-size destruction? The answer, I imagine, is that the technology will delivers the destruction.

As for Emmerich, his next step is Asimov’s Foundation trilogy. Notice a theme?


Related links

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Written by Darren Smith

14 November 2009 at 3:56 pm

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  1. […] disaster movie, movie, movies « Film | 2012 (or, Three Years’ Away From Doom) Film | 2012 (2009) […]

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