Movie Review: 2012, starring John Cusack, Oliver Platt and Amanda Peet


I should say up front that the plot of 2012 is absolute horseshit, but that fact doesn't matter one iota. Loosely based on rampant misreading of ancient astrological calculations, 2012 posits that the Mayan's ended their calendar precisely on Dec. 21, 2012 because they knew that the planets were going to align, the sun was going to go wonky, and solar flares were going to lead to something called "Earth Crust Displacement." Cut to 2009: a smart American geologist (Chiwetel Ejiofor) working with a smart Indian geologist (Jimi Mistry) realizes that the Earth's core is heating up and soon the tectonic plates that form the ground beneath our feet will begin violently shifting — destroying all remnants of civilization in the process. He tells his boss, a prickish government bureaucrat played by the always great Oliver Platt, about the impending planetary doom and soon a secret plan is launched to save the species.

The set-up of 2012 follows a remarkably similar pattern to Emmerich's other disaster epics. Introduce a wide swath of humanity (including people of all races, sexes and nationalities to up the international grosses), force them to confront hostile aliens/a rampaging lizard/weather run amok, destroy everything in sight, then end as the newly-united remaining population begins picking up the pieces. In the case of 2012, that wide swath of humans includes:

  • Danny Glover as our nation's third black president (after Barack Obama and Morgan Freeman in Deep Impact)

  • Woody Harrelson as a crazy-eyed, Art Bell-type radio broadcaster reporting on-location from Yellowstone

These characters will be put through the story's paces, and many will not survive — not that you'll actually care. Cusack is the nominal lead, and though he is an actor of great charm and distinct charisma, here he comes off as kind of bland. Of course, his character's primary trait seems to be the ability to always be standing/running/driving/flying right in front of a major CGI catastrophe, so maybe it's not all his fault. Of the other actors, only Chiwetel Ejiofor and Oliver Platt make any kind of impression, with everyone else seemingly interchangeable death-bait.

In the end, 2012 feels like an imperfect exclamation point to the modern era of disaster movies. I'm not saying there will never be another one (hell, Emmerich is probably shooting The Day After The Day After Tomorrow right now), but where else is there to go with this material? Will the Earth explode and throw off one of those energy rings they added to the Death Star's destruction in Star Wars? Or how about an "end of the universe" movie where filmmakers spend the GDP of New Zealand on a CGI rendering of the Big Bang in reverse?

Or here's an idea: Why not depict humanity building something amazing instead of blowing it up real good? Now that would be some groundbreaking cinema.

Walking out of 2012, the latest disaster epic by Independence Day directer Roland Emmerich, I couldn't help but feel that the Hollywood Industrial Complex has painted itself into a corner. Make no mistake: 2012 is the disaster movie to end all disaster movies. In the film, almost all of Earth's continents are destroyed by a combination of massive earthquakes, explosions and huge fireballs that can only be extinguished by massive tsunamis. Cars are flung around like billiard balls, skyscrapers crumble into dust, and famous landmarks are crushed beneath overturned aircraft carriers. Give credit to Emmerich and his special effects team; 2012 looks terrific. If all you're looking for is some mindless, high-testosterone action on a Saturday night, I highly recommend this movie.

But for the non-adrenaline junkies in the audience, 2012 suffers from all the same flaws as most of the disaster genre: weak characterizations, preposterous plot and story, and a length (2 hours, 40 minutes) that makes the film ideal for screening on flights to Australia.


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