"2012" (2009) REVIEW
Once more, I found myself desperate to see any movie during this dismal Fall/Winter movie season. The opportunity to see a possibly entertaining movie arose last week when two of them - ”PIRATE RADIO” and ”2012” - were released in theaters. I had intended to see ”PIRATE RADIO” first. But it was not playing at the theater that we found ourselves attending. And we settled upon watching ”2012”.
”2012” turned out to be another one of those science-fiction oriented disaster films directed and co-written by Roland Emerich. This is the same man who had directed such films as (1996) “INDEPENDENCE DAY”, (1998) “GODZILLA”, (1999) “THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR” and (2004) “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW”. Now ”2012” centered around a myth about the Mayan calendar, in which certain Western scholars claimed that the world will face a cataclysmic disaster in the year 2012. Mind you, I suspect that the whole world will end in 2012” scenario may have been misinterpreted. There are other beliefs regarding the Mayan calendar. Some believe that the Mayan calendar is supposed to interpret a positive physical or spiritual transformation for the planet, marking the beginning of a new era. And there are modern Mayan scholars who believe that 2012 is largely irrelevant, claiming that classic Maya sources on the subject are scarce and contradictory, suggesting that there was little if any universal agreement among them about what, if anything, the date might mean. Apparently Emmerich and fellow screenwriter, Harald Klaser, decided to explore the disaster scenario.
The story began in 2009 with a visit to India by American scientist Adrian Hemlsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who learns from his friend and colleague Satnam Tsurutani (Jimi Mistry) that neutrinos from a solar flare were causing the temperature of the Earth’s core to rapidly increase. This discovery set off a chain of events in which the world’s leaders – including U.S. President Thomas Wilson (Danny Glover) – to collaborate upon a secret project that will ensure the continuity of humanity by choosing 400,000 people for admission aboard a series of large ships or hydraulic arks being constructed in the Himalayas. To help fund the venture, additional individuals were allowed to purchase passage aboard these arks for one billion euros apiece.
By the time the secret project near completion in 2012, a Los Angeles writer and part-time driver for a Russian billionaire named Jackson Curtis (John Cusak) learned about the Mayan myth and the possibility of the world’s future, along with the secret project from a hermit and conspiracy theorist named Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson), while vacationing with his kids at Yellowstone National Park. After Jackson returned his kids to his ex-wife Kate (Amanda Peet) and her live-in boyfriend Gordon Silberman (Thomas McCarthy), Jackson realized that Frost might be right about an upcoming apocalypse when he drove his employer’s twin sons to the airport. Jackson purchased a small plane and convinced Kate and Gordon to get the kids and escape from Los Angeles with him. Fortunately, Gordon turned out to be an amateur pilot and they escaped from a California sliding into the Pacific following a series of devastating earthquakes. The group returned to the Yellowstone Park in order to learn about the location of the secret project from Frost. After learning that particular information, Jackson and the others barely escape the destruction of Yellowstone and made tracks for Las Vegas and later, China and the Himalayans. Meanwhile, Adrian learned that the Earth’s destruction may come a lot sooner than he and Satnam had surmised. The world leaders and certain members of the population also head for China.
What can I say about ”2010”? Come on. It is a Roland Emmerich disaster film. Which meant that it had disasters of epic proportions, slightly cheesy dialogue and science that was probably more fiction than fact. A Roland Emmerich disaster film also insured a cast of . . . well, many roles in various subplots, including one that featured a fractured American family. And considering that I have seen these very same aspects in other Emmerich films, I should have been bored with ”2012”. Hell, I have read some posts and reviews on the Web that the movie lacked originality. And yet . . . I enjoyed ”2012” very much.
Both Emmerich and Klaser had created a solid script that provided detailed accounts of the three-year countdown to 2012, the disasters that unfolded and the major characters’ experiences in dealing with those same disasters. They also did an exceptional job in detailing the journey that took Jackson, his family and Gordon from Los Angeles to the Himalayas. I also enjoyed the clashes between Adrian and President Wilson’s ruthless and self-serving Chief of Staff Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt). Their quarrels focused upon one of the movie’s main themes that centered on humanity’s willingness for compassion toward others. One aspect of the movie that I really enjoyed was the scenes that featured intimate moments between some of the characters. These scenes provided some excellent acting from the likes of John Cusak, Amanda Peet, Thandie Newton, Thomas McCarthy, Blu Mankuma, George Segal, Woody Harrelson, Osric Chau, Oliver Platt and especially Chiwetel Ejiofor. They included:
*Ejiofor and Mankuma gave wonderfully poignant performances as Adrian Helmsley and his father Harry, when the pair have their last conversation via telephone.
*Both Cusak and Harrelson were hilarious in a funny scene that featured Jackson’s attempt to acquire the location of the special project from an excited Charlie Frost.
*Another poignant scene featured performances from Osric Chau and Henry O as Tibetan monk Nima and his mentor Lama Rinpoche, as the former failed to convince the latter about the upcoming apocalypse.
*Danny Glover gave an excellent performance as President Wilson giving his last televised speech. Wilson’s last conversation with his daughter Laura provided as scene that allowed not only Glover to shine, but Thandie Newton as well.
*George Segal was solid as Tony Delgatto, Harry Helmsley’s singing partner, agonizing over the fate of his estranged son and family in Japan.
*Amanda Peet shone in an emotional scene in which her character, Kate Curtis, revealed the angst she had to endure during the Curtis’ marriage.
*And once more, Cusak had another wonderful scene . . . this time with Thomas McCarthy, as former rivals Jackson and Gordon finally make their peace with one another.
*And Ejiofor was superb in a scene in which Adrian attempted to convince the other G8 world leaders to allow those people left behind at the Himalayan dock to board the ship.
Emmerich and Klaser’s script also provided plenty of opportunity for cinematographer Dean Semler, production designer Barry Chusid and the special effects team supervised by Mike Vézina to provide some astounding visuals of world locations being destroyed by natural disasters brought about by the apocalypse. I found the scenes that featured the destruction of Rio de Janeiro, Las Vegas, Rome, a cruise ship in the Pacific Ocean and Washington D.C. astounding. But there were two sequences that nearly blew my mind. One featured the Curtis family and Gordon’s spectacular escape from the Yellowstone National Park after Jackson had acquired the information he needed from Frost. The other, which I believe proved to be the piece de resistance, featured Jackson, his family and Gordon’s initial escape from Southern California. Not only did I find it breathtaking, but also a little creepy. I happened to be from that particular area.
Did I have any complaints about ”2012”? Well, I have already mentioned a few. I agree with those critics who had complained about the movie’s lack of originality. There were many traits in the plot that I have seen in other Roland Emmerich films – traits that included cheesy dialogue, the role of the selfish and uncompassionate Presidential aide (this time being portrayed by Oliver Platt), the noble scientist (Ejiofor), a fractured American family pulled together by a natural disaster (the Curtises), the friendly non-American colleague/ally of noble scientist. Yes, I have seen them all in previous Emmerich movies. One day, perhaps the director/writer might be a little more original in any future disaster movie. Who knows? I was also annoyed by the movie’s big finale. It featured the series of incidents (including being struck by a wave from a tsunami) that left the hydraulic ark with the Curtises, Adrian Helmsley and Laura Wilson on board drifting helplessly toward a fatal collision with a half-sunk Mount Everest. Frankly, I found the entire sequence somewhat contrived and annoying. It was just a bit too much.
I suspect that many movie critics will continue to complain that ”2012” lacked originality. And they would be right to do so. And they are also right to complain about the questionable science featured in the movie. But you know what? I do not care. I thought that despite its flaws, ”2012” was a pretty damn good movie with an entertaining and nail-biting plot. The movie can also boast some solid acting by its cast – especially a first-rate performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor – exciting action sequences and superb visual effects. In other words, I enjoyed ”2012” so much that I hope to see it again. Oh . . . and I do plan to finally see "PIRATE RADIO" as soon as I can.