Thursday, December 3, 2009

Review: 2012


There's a lot of flash bang in Roland Emmerich's latest "look at the USA being destroyed" movie, but it simply doesn't deliver enough of that to be a truly memorable spectacle, nor enough heart to be truly involving.

All this movie's problems are summed up in the choice of last line.

If you recall your Deep Impact, that film ends with a dignified yet rousing speech from Morgan Freeman's President character and we go away thinking mankind is battered but unbowed by the events of that film. 2012 by way of contrast ends on the note "Well, billions of people are dead, but at least a little girl has stopped wetting the bed!"

What a wonderful message of hope.

Spoilers start below.

You know, it's a sad day when the best performance in a film is from Woody Harrelson playing a batshit crazy pseudo-religious conspiracy theorist disk jockey. John Cusack is walking through the movie playing the Tom Cruise role from War Of The Worlds - I think Spielberg's central broken family from his version WOTW has been copied almost verbatim here, by the way. The boy & girl kids, the boy disliking his father more than the girl does. The quest to prove himself to his ex. All that.

The kids are OK, Amanda Peet plays that Amanda Peet role and no awards will be on the shelf for acting, come the season.

But you don't call Emmerich in when you want Oscars for acting!

Nah - his bag is blowing stuff up, and having obviously done Wind and Water in his last apocalypse (the Dennis Quaid / Jake Gyllenhall starring The Day After Tomorrow), he moves on to Earth and Fire in 2012, thus completing his "Elements Cycle". I just made that up. He didn't think it through that much. Especially since there's a whole bunch of Tsunamis here as well...

Right, quick plot. In 2009 a nice scientist called Adrian finds out that the world's core is heating up and will essentially melt the earth from below, meaning the thin crust will just move about freely, with catastrophic results for the people and buildings on top of it, who had really banked on the ground staying in one place.

Now - two things I like about the central concept:
  1. It's no-one's fault.
  2. There's absolutely nothing anyone can do to stop it.
Usually one of those factors is fudged (as in lame ass turkey The Core) so props to Mr E for keeping to his concept and following through.

The downside is, where the destruction of the human world as we know it is something you'd think was a large scale event we see it mainly through the eyes of one or two characters, one of whom simply potters about a bit before going off to safety and the other becomes an action hero immediately, jumping about and becoming an expert underwater swimmer at will.

While the former of these two is peppered through the movie to hammer home the political decisions and morality issues that, for example, deciding which 400,000 people will be rescued from certain death bring up (answer - if they're rich, they're in) the other storyline is more linear and is basically a chase movie where the thing chasing you is in fact Armageddon.

I've got nothing against the fact that a film like this simplifies and dumbs down a lot of things. It doesn't try and solve the moral dilemma (in fact Oliver Platt's character points out that the rescue wouldn't happen without the ticket money from the rich) or maintain a reality outside what is necessary to get the heroes to where they need to be.

Actually, it often makes outrageous manoeuvres to keep the heroes alive, moving an entire continent just enough at one point.

A couple more examples will illustrate that this movie has a real tendency to "do something cool" where it's not really necessary, which discards any sense of gritty realism from view.
  • It's not enough that the White House is destroyed by a tsunami. It has to have the aircraft carrier USS John F Kennedy land right on it.
  • Similarly, if a bit of debris needs to hit the rescue ship at just the wrong moment - why bloody not make that bit of debris Air Force One?
  • I counted about 6 times that vehicles clearly incapable of jumping (like stretch limos and Camper Vans) got some mad air because at just the right moment the ground shifted to form a perfect ramp.
I could go on, but I'd be listing 50 things or more. You get the idea.

So realism isn't part of the deal.

I did like some things in the film - the destruction is well shown, if a little callous since in one shot at least 500,000 people are dying but we're only made to care at all about three of them.

"Wow look at all those people falling out of buildings! Isn't it terrible that this little girl has to see that?"

Effects like the whole of Las Vegas collapsing are fairly exciting and silly - probably hitting a good balance between the sort of visceral smashing of landmarks we adults enjoy and the fairly bloodless nature needed to avoid traumatising your kids.

The most annoying thing though is the treatment of poor old Gordon - the estranged wife's new fella. Not only does he miraculously become an ace pilot instantly despite claiming to only have two hours in the cockpit or something (he manages to fly a giant multi engine jet between two collapsing buildings for God's sake!) but as soon as the plot wants Cusack and Peet to get back together (hardly a spoiler since it's telegraphed pretty much straight away) he's chucked to a ghastly death and is immediately forgotten. Poor sod.

So, should you go out of your way to see this?

Check the rating guys. No.

It's better than The Day After Tomorrow, but that ain't saying an awful lot. That being said, it's not one to avoid like the plague either. If your date or family member is dragging you to see it, you won't need therapy afterwards.

Unless you like Gordon, that is.

I welcome your comments below - and please spread the word to your friends. Wall Shadows is back baby!


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