Director : Roland Emmerich
Screenplay : Roland Emmerich & Harald Kloser
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2009
Stars : John Cusack (Jackson Curtis), Amanda Peet (Kate Curtis), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Adrian Helmsley), Thandie Newton (Laura Wilson), Oliver Platt (Carl Anheuser), Thomas McCarthy (Gordon Silberman), Woody Harrelson (Charlie Frost), Danny Glover (President Thomas Wilson), Liam James (Noah Curtis), Morgan Lily (Lilly Curtis), Zlatko Buric (Yuri Karpov), Beatrice Rosen (Tamara), Alexandre Haussmann (Alec), Philippe Haussmann (Oleg), Johann Urb (Sasha)
As Kim Newman noted so forthrightly in his book Apocalypse Movies: End of the World Cinema, “The more complicated a civilization becomes, the more fun it is to imagine the whole works going up in flames.” Director Roland Emmerich has clearly taken this sentiment to heart, as he has built his career over the past 15 years almost exclusively on disaster scenarios that allow us to vicariously experience the destruction of our world, whether it be via alien invasion (1996’s Independence Day), an atomic-spawned monstrosity (1998’s Godzilla), or nature herself (2004’s The Day After Tomorrow). Each of these films, in its own way, explores and tests our capacity for disaster fantasy (always followed by some form of cathartic redemption--the future holds promise even if the past is embers), something that is as old as human imagination itself. Why we fantasize about our own destruction is a question best left for theologians and psychologists, but Emmerich is clearly in tune with it and knows how to exploit it to the nth degree.
His latest opus, 2012, ups the ante considerably by imagining a true end-of-the-world scenario in which Earth, after being pelting by intensifying radioactive particles from the sun as the result of a rare alignment of the universe, starts to heat up from within, causing the planet’s crust to break apart and shift. This causes all manner of catastrophic destruction, from massive earthquakes, to exploding volcanoes, to continent-engulfing tsunamis. Emmerich and cowriter Harald Kloser, a music composer with whom he also penned the supremely silly 10,000 B.C. (2007), pelt us with a combination of pseudo-mystical blather (apparently, the Mayans predicted this catastrophe thousands of years ago) and stabs of hard science that, on the surface, seems convincing enough but probably wouldn’t pass muster in a high school earth science course. The justification is just smoke and mirrors anyway, since the money is in the grandiosity of the disaster, and 2012 has plenty to offer.
Of course, post-9/11 there are still some shaken souls who question whether it is right, or even possible, for audiences to revel in digitally produced mayhem of this order, a question that was seemingly answered by Emmerich himself when he engulfed New York City in snow and ice in The Day After Tomorrow, the first film since the terrorist attacks to straight-up ask the viewer to un-self-consciously enjoy the spectacle of mass annihilation. Steven Spielberg had approached this terrain a year later with War of the Worlds (2005), but he infused his blockbuster violence with an air of genuine trauma that suggested a permanent connection between actual and recreated shock. 2012 shifts the other way, taking the baton from The Day After Tomorrow and unapologetically immersing us in spectacle of utter destruction that dwarfs anything that has been previously imagined on a movie screen. The scope and scale of devastation in 2012 often verges on the abstract; it is not hard to imagine earthquakes toppling buildings and giant waves flooding cities, but to see entire chunks of our continent rising up and falling into the ocean is mind-boggling.
Yet, there it is, in pristine digital glory. So much happens with such ferocity in the scenes of destruction that much of the potentially disturbing imagery, such as office workers clinging desperately to the shattered edges of a bisected skyscraper, will register only tangentially, or perhaps subconsciously. The film’s availability on home video will now allow viewers to examine just how much detail has gone into all that terrible grandeur, and it may provoke a different response, one that makes it more difficult to ignore the fact that the film presents us with the deaths of millions--no, billions--but constantly directs our attention and emotions to a small group of potential survivors, otherwise known as the first rule of Disaster Movies 101.
Narratively speaking, Emmerich and Kloser hew close to the ’70s-era Irwin Allen style of disaster movies by giving us a broad array of characters whose lives are brought together by the impending doom of the world. The representative Everyman is Jackson Curtis (John Cusack), a fledgling novelist whose ex-wife, Kate (Amanda Peet), is currently living with a successful and somewhat shallow plastic surgeon named Gordon (Thomas McCarthy). And, to add insult to injury, his two young children (Liam James and Morgan Lilly) seem to like Gordon more than him. Such films always have earnest professionals who are the first to discover the impending doom, and here it is Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a government geologist who is also the film’s resident conscience in his incessant desire to weigh the needs of the many against the needs of the few, the latter of which is represented by Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt), the White House chief of staff whose practicality has a certain level of merit, but not in the venomous way he exerts it. Appropriate for the Age of Obama we get a noble--perhaps too noble--President played by Danny Glover, as opposed to the clueless Bush impersonator we saw in The Day After Tomorrow. And, for good measure, we also get a pirate-radio crackpot (Woody Harrelson) whose conspiracy theories wind up being absolutely and completely true.
Because there are so many characters and the scenario is of such vast proportions, Emmerich takes his time stringing everything together, resulting in a film that runs extremely long (158 minutes), but thankfully never feels that long. Part of this may be because, despite the inherent gravity of the circumstances, Emmerich never wants us to take 2012 too seriously, so he throws in plenty of silly humor, borderline ridiculous action sequences (the scene in which Jackson drives his family through a toppling building reaches new heights of sublime absurdity), and a save-the-dog sequence that can’t be anything other than a self-conscious nod to the golden retriever scene in Independence Day, which for me has always been the sine qua non of the movies’ ability to manipulate our emotions (as hundreds of people die horrible, fiery deaths, all we care about is the dog getting to safety!).
Despite some of the silliness, Emmerich also asks us to take the characters seriously and care deeply about their various relationships, and it is here that the film crashes on rocky shoals. Emmerich is working with good actors, but the film’s stabs at humanity are too ham-handed, not to mention in jaw-dropping contrast to the otherwise gleeful disregard for human life (not that so many people are killed, but that Emmerich treats it with the gravity of a rollercoaster ride). Thus, 2012 works best when it immerses us in the vulgar mayhem, rather than when it’s asking us to care too deeply.
|2012 Two-Disc Special Edition Blu-Ray|
|This multi-disc set includes two Blu-Ray discs, one with the film and one with supplements, plus a third disc with a Digital Copy of the film.|
|Distributor||Sony Pictures Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||March 2, 2010|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|No big surprise that 2012 looks quite stunning in full 1080p high-definition glory. The image is sharp and extremely well detailed, which allows you to soak in all the finer aspects of the end of the world that may have flashed by too quickly while watching it in theaters. Colors are bold and strong, and the darker scenes boast excellent black levels and strong shadow detail. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround soundtrack is pretty much everything you could ask for, with a bombastic, rumbling low end to give the mayhem plenty of weight and great distribution in the surround channels to draw you into the action.|
|Although it is labeled on the cover as a “Two-Disc Special Edition,” there are actually three discs in this set: one with the film, one with supplements, and a third with a downloadable digital copy. As 2012 is quite a lengthy film, director Roland Emmerich and co-writer Harold Kloser have plenty of time to kill on their audio commentary on the first disc, and they do an admirable job of talking through the film and discussing the complexities of its production. There is also an on-screen commentary option called “Picture-in-Picture: Roland’s Vision,” which allows you to watch interview clips with cast and crew while watching the film. The second disc features a wide array of supplements, beginning with the Interactive Mayan Calendar, which you can use to determine your personality profile according to the Mayans (for the record, mine was only partially accurate while my wife’s was pretty much dead-on) and your horoscope for the day. There is also a 4-minute featurette titled “Mysteries of the Mayan Calendar” that helps explain the history of the Mayan calendar and its various purposes. In terms of background on the film’s production, there is the 26-minute feaurette titled “Designing the End of the World,” which includes interviews with Emmerich, producer Mark Gordon, co-producers Volker Engel and Mark Weigert, production design Barry Chusid, and most of the cast, among others. They talk primarily about the production and the special effects, which included more practical effects (e.g., launching actual cars out of a cannon to crash around the speeding limo) than I had previously thought, although there is also plenty of discussion about the computer-generated effects, which relied heavily on so-called “physics-based software” to simulate all the destruction. “The End of the World: The Actor’s Perspective” is a 7-minute featurette about how the cast approached their roles, and “Science Behind the Destruction” is a 13-minute featurette that includes interviews with a host of very serious survivalists and academics, including USC professor of earth sciences John Platt, How to Survive 2012 author Patrick Geryl, Apocalypse 2012 author Lawrence Joseph, and 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl author Daniel Pinchbeck. “Countdown to the Future,” a 22-minute episode of what appears to be a Canadian television series, covers much of the same ground and features many of the same interview subjects (how seriously you take their assertions will significantly affect how well you sleep that night). The title of the 10-minute featurette “Roland Emmerich: Master of the Modern Epic” is pretty self-explanatory and needs no further comment. Other supplements on the disc include a music video for Adam Lambert’s “Time for Miracles” and accompanying 3-minute “making of” featurette, five deleted scenes (each runs about 1 minute in length), and a sappy alternate ending that was wisely dropped. And, as with several other recent Sony Blu-Ray releases, this one features movieIQ, which uses your player’s BD-Live connection to offer real-time information and trivia about the film while you’re watching it.|
Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick
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