2012 (Sony Pictures Releasing, PG-13)

film_2012_sm.jpgIt’s disaster porn at its finest.








Here’s a few things I learned while watching 2012, that theme-park ride packaged as a motion picture:

  • A few lessons qualify you to fly almost any plane under almost any conditions.
  • Untrained people can hold their breath underwater for amazing amounts of time.
  • You’d be surprised how much light there is in the bowels of a ship, even when it’s flooded with water.
  • Throwing rocks at people is a good way to make them want to help you.
  • Even while the world is literally splitting from the inside out, telephones will still work.
  • White shirts stay remarkably clean under water, even the grubbiest of circumstances.
  • Women are only useful as breeders and love interests (except in Germany where they get to be Chancellor), but they’re tolerable when they’re not nagging.
  • It’s really OK if most of the world’s population gets wiped out in a disaster as long as it brings one family back together.

OK, now that we’ve got that out of the way (and I’m not even going to get into the physical science of this latest doomsday offering from Roland Emmerich, who also brought us Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow), 2012 is enjoyable enough if you go for this type of film, and the special effects are impressive. It’s amazing what they can do with CGI these days.

The basic setup is that the Mayan calendar predicts the earth will come to an end in the year 2012 C.E. Painstaking research—meaning that I looked it up on Wikipedia—says this interpretation is nonsense. But never mind, the Mayans and their calendar are just devices to set the plot in motion. And this one has everything you’d expect in a disaster flick: an unhappy but attractive middle-class family, an idealistic scientist, a jerk in a suit, plausible-sounding pseudo-science, intrusive product placements, paranoia, megalomania, and lots of multi-culti feel-good moments and noble speeches delivered against a crescendo of death and destruction.

Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) is a semi-employed writer and limousine driver who is estranged from Kate (Amanda Peet). They have two adorable children (Liam James and Morgan Lily) and Kate is living with plastic surgeon Gordon (Thomas McCarthy), who’s been taking flying lessons. Jackson takes the kids camping in Yellowstone National Park, where they encounter crazy radio prophet Charlie Frost (played scene-chewingly by Woody Harrelson) and his improbably well-equipped home broadcasting studio. Frost not only knows that a massive flood is coming, but he has a map showing the location of the arks.

Meanwhile, Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), scientific advisor to the President of the United States (Danny Glover), receives indications that the catastrophe he knew was forthcoming will arrive sooner than expected. But it turns out there’s an escape plan for some people: The rich, important and well-connected will wait out the expected floods on giant ships called arks, along with representatives of exotic species (giraffes, rhinos) as pictured in Children’s Illustrated Bible versions of Noah’s Ark. Most of the movie involves the characters trying to get to, and then on, the arks while the earth cracks and erupts all around them. It’s disaster porn at its finest.

The main problems are the first 50 minutes or so before we start getting the really good CGI and the extended sequence once everyone we care about gets on the ark. The first is beyond ponderous, while the second goes on so long it starts to feel like the fifth piece of chocolate cake when two or three would have been more enjoyable. But you certainly get your money’s worth: 2012 runs 158 minutes, and a good percentage of that time (and no doubt a hefty percentage of the film’s budget) is spent on some fairly spectacular effects. Ever wonder what it might look like if California fell into the ocean? Or if a tidal wave washed over the Himalayas? Here’s your chance to find out.

For those who like noble sentiments along with their thrill ride, Ejiofor gets several impassioned speeches about how we must all act like brothers and sisters and Danny Glover gets his share of inspiring Christian moments, as well. This creates a compare-and-contrast setup between them and the film’s Big Bad, the selfish and power-hungry Presidential Chief of Staff Carl Anheuser (played with relish by Oliver Platt). In fact, Christianity is pervasive in this film, which I suspect is a ploy to capture the fundamentalist market but it can be ignored almost as easily as one can overlook the plot’s many improbabilities.

There are some excellent characterizations in minor roles, including Zlatko Buric as a Russian oligarch, Beatrice Rosen as his mistress, Thandie Newton as the President’s daughter, and George Segal and Blu Makumuna as a pair of geriatric cruise-ship musicians. All in all, 2012 works pretty well if you don’t take it too seriously. Or seriously at all. | Sarah Boslaugh

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