I love disaster movies. I have a celluloid fetish for all things catastrophic and cataclysmic. Like many people I get a thrill from seeing things explode, implode and generally disintegrate in fiery mayhem – at least on the silver screen.
Roland Emmerich, who has a history of wreaking devastation on the world (Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow), brings us the granddaddy of all disaster movies, based on the mythical Mayan prediction that we’ll all come to a sticky end in 2012. In this particular Hollywood scenario the apocalypse is sparked off by massive solar flares that start to cook the inside of the planet causing super volcanoes to erupt across the globe and the earth’s crust to turn to jelly.
The result is the most spectacular devastation ever depicted on film; entire cities go up in flames, peninsulas slide into the seas, gigantic tsunamis smash into the Himalayas and, most humorously, St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican collapses on top of the Pope in mid-prayer. It’s all presented in loving detail with the best and most spectacular special effects that money can buy.
The computer graphics, the film’s undoubted greatest achievement, are impressive, but they are also strangely cartoon-like. Our characters defy physics by flying underneath toppling skyscrapers and outrunning exploding volcanoes. It’s typically Hollywood, and, while it will have you on the edge of your seat, so will a good rollercoaster ride. And that’s what 2012 really is – a 158 minute long multimedia carnival ride.
The problem is, after an hour, I started to get bored. Strip away the awesome explosions and raging seas and there’s very little left. The seven billion or so characters are mere props to be moved about the devastation and I never really got a sense of the horror of the scenario. Much like Transformers 2, the initial excitement of the onscreen mayhem becomes repetitive, dull and noisy. Also, in much the same way that the more recent New Moon is a teen girl’s fantasy, 2012 is a middle-aged, disillusioned, heterosexual American everyman’s fantasy.
John Cusack plays our lead, the down-and-out divorced father who is estranged from his ex-wife (Amanda Peet), who is now, of course, on the arm of another more stable, reliable and invariably smug man. To add to his woes, his every attempt to engage his disinterested kids ends in disaster.
Thankfully, the end of the world is the perfect opportunity to outshine the ex-wife’s new husband and to impress the kids. The apocalypse is, in essence, a final chance for our hero to redeem himself, reclaim his masculinity and, finally, to reaffirm the prime importance of the heterosexual nuclear family in the world.
While some have suggested that there’s a hint of campness and parodying of the disaster genre in 2012, I never felt this at all. I suspect that the filmmakers quite genuinely believed that they were producing a dramatic piece devoid of any irony.
Emmerich is a filmmaker that works by formula and there’s something quite insulting about his approach to engaging his audiences. It’s that juvenile paint-by-numbers predictability that is so annoying. There can, however, be no dispute that it works. The film has to-date earned over $592 million around the world in the last three weeks.
I was, I must admit, entertained by 2012, despite ultimately tiring of the overlong and predictable plot and endless destruction. I just wish that I could have seen it in 3D, complete with smell-o-rama and vibrating seats. Now that would have been a wild ride!
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