Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Finally watched this movie, and on balance, I'm very, very glad we missed it in the theater. My big TV is quite big enough for it, and being at home gave us the leisure to laugh as loud as we wanted, and even pause it to talk about the things we're laughing about.

What do you mean, it wasn't a comedy? Did anyone tell Roland Emmerich that? I hope not. This is the only possible explanation I can find for John Cusack being in it, other than him needing money: he's done great work with dry comedy before, and that's what this was. Very dry (and I'm not going to make a pun on that). Very funny. He's essentially reprising his role from Con Air (though I feel sure that Simon West was aware he was making a comedy).

It must be liberating to be Roland Emmerich. There is never a time when an idea comes to you and you have to say "no" to it, or anyone else says "no" to you. No matter how over-the-top, how corny, how laughable, he's just carried along by his enthusiasm, which is apparently limitless. It's a constant stream of "can we do this?" always answered with a resounding "why not?"

One possible exception: at no point during the movie did an asteroid crash into the earth. I can't for the life of me figure out why not. It seems like the kind of thing that would have occurred to Roland Emmerich, and it would have been far less ridiculous than a lot of the thing that happened. And it's about the only disaster movie premise that we didn't get somewhere in this hodgepodge. (Roland himself said this was his last disaster movie so he made a point of getting everything into it, but somehow he missed the meteor.)

The Day After Tomorrow flirted with the line a lot, and crossed over it firmly during one lengthy sequence in the middle (involving a Russian ship in Manhattan), but it stayed within my tolerance. I sniggered at the science here and there, and there were any number of bits where the implausability tugged at me, but rarely so bad that it pulled me out. 2012 was like a parody of The Day After Tomorrow, cranking everything right over that line and then continuing to crank.

(Spoilers follow, nothing too big, and really, you don't need to worry about spoilers: you already know what's going to happen. But just to be safe, I warn you.)

The scenery-chewing expostulation about the proper way of choosing who will live through the end of the world was particularly awful. They had only so much room, so much food and energy and medical supplies, etc. The methods they'd employed to decide who would be saved were never discussed much (apart from the obligatory rant that some people got saved because they could afford to pay -- which Oliver Platt's character graciously pointed out is the only reason they could afford to save anyone). There was some vague notions that they'd chosen to preserve the people who could best repopulate the human species, but how they chose that isn't clear -- we only know that it included some scientists, some artists, some military, and some politicians. Presumably the methods were imperfect. And yet one of the scientists argued that they needed to open the gates to let in every random person who by chance happened to be there at the key moment, despite the fact that they didn't have room or supplies for them, because "that's what makes us human"; and we were clearly intended to agree. But the reasons against were far more sensible, and casually brushed off with vague emotional claptrap. It was abominable, so you had to take it -- like almost everything else -- as comedy. But it does raise interesting questions about how it should be done.

The end of The Day After Tomorrow left the fate of the world ambiguous: having trashed half the world, Roland's content to let us see a few survivors crossing the receding icefields with the assumption that they're going to rebuild somehow. In 2012 the ending is even more vague and more absurd. The people who were in the arks are now left to rebuild a world that has been totally devastated by tectonic activity. Somehow, the entire world has flooded (it's better not to even try to think of how to make it make sense that tsunamis caused the entire world to end up underwater simultaneously) except for one small part of southern Africa, and that's where the world will rebuild from (I think Roland intends us to find it amusing that this constitutes a second "out of Africa" biogenesis for humanity, but I doubt most people will even notice).

Whatever you do, don't expect to care about anyone in this movie. Roland loves to play the Noble Sacrifice card, but between making the characters such cardboard cutouts (not only are they the same people as in The Day After Tomorrow, they make those versions seem fleshed out), and undermining every moment of potential pathos with clunky timing, he can't even get a rise out of us with that one.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is really trying to show off his considerable acting chops despite the awful dialogue and self-contradictory role he's given, where John Cusack seems to have realized that all he needs is a slight sprinkling of his characteristic deadpan delivery to achieve just about as much. Which is sad. They're both excellent actors, and one of them is really trying and the other one really isn't, but the material drags them both down to almost the same level. Hurray for John Cusack for phoning it in and cashing his check. And sorry, Chiwetel, for all that effort you wasted. At least we could tell you were trying.

I will say one good thing for the movie. The references to the bunk about the Mayan calendar were a tiny detail in the movie and largely glossed over; when we did hear it, it was usually cited from people who were admittedly crazy (though in that "and they happen to be right!" way). There was one allusion to the (fictional) "planetary alignment" tossed in, but ultimately, the cause of the disaster was an unprecedented solar event (combined with the neutrinos "mutating" on the way to Earth -- I kid you not, though I hope Roland Emmerich does), and at best, the implication is that the Mayans "just happened" to get the year right.

Do I recommend the movie? Yes, with this caveat, in the words of Abraham Lincoln: "People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like."

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