Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Watching his movies, I can't help but wonder if Roland Emmerich would have been better suited if he was born about 20 years earlier. That way, his success in disaster movies would have coincided nicely with the 1970s epidemic of disaster movies. To his name, he already has Godzilla, Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, and now 2012, all dealing with some sort of disaster of epic proportions. Of course, all of these movies use CGI heavily so where would the German actor be?
I feel the need to point this out so I don't come across too critical, but Emmerich's movies are awful. (How could that be construed as critical?). Even his good ones like The Patriot, Stargate, and the ones mentioned before are awful movies. Just about all of them qualify in the always entertaining 'so bad they're good' category and count me among the moviegoers who enjoyed these schlock fests. But with his most recent outing, last fall's 2012, I think Emmerich finally hit rock bottom. It's beyond 'bad but good' and produces so many unintentional -- I hope -- laughs that I'd recommend it for the comedy, not the drama.
Now as the year 2012 draws closer, more and more is being made of the ancient Mayan calendar predicting the end of the world, the apocalypse. Emmerich takes the idea and runs with it, going from zero to 60 like nobody's business. An American geologist (Chiwetel Ejiofor, one of the few bright spots in the movie) working with a friend in India finds out the Earth's core is beginning to heat up. He informs his government superior (Oliver Platt in prime a-hole mode) who then passes it along to the president (Danny Glover). Fast forward three years to 2012, and the predicted cataclysmic events come earlier than expected.
A divorced dad (John Cusack) works to save his family as the Earth starts to tear itself apart with volcanoes, tsunamis, and earthquakes all starting at once. It's while vacationing in Yellowstone with his two kids that Cusack's all-American dad starts to catch wind of the coming disaster, but he shrugs off the warnings of a conspiracy theorist (Woody Harrelson) spouting off about the coming disasters. The crazy guy is of course, correct, forcing divorcee dad to keep his family alive...somehow....some way. From the theorist, he heard of a government plan to continue mankind, spaceships outfitted to handle 400,000 people each. The only problem? These ships are in China. Oh, but good news, the new dad in the family has taken flying lessons! Now let's all find a plane!
Yeah, yeah, I know no one goes to these big budget disaster movies for the story, but come on, Roland Emmerich. That's all you've got? More so than most disaster movies, this one depends on coincidence and huge strokes of luck more than it should. It's also pretty lazy with four different instances of characters having to outrun deadly death clouds/earthquakes/tsunamis/asteroids, like THIS ONE. Some of those moments do provide the story's funniest scenes with Cusack scrambling around and looking worried, screaming at anyone who will listen. I typically like Cusack as an actor, but he was not the right guy for this part.
The cast is full of big names -- as is required in a disaster movie -- who are forced to play cardboard cutouts of characters. Anyone with half a brain cell can figure out within 30 seconds of a character's introduction if they will or will not survive the disaster. Divorced dad making up for lost time? He'll make it, especially cause he's got a cute daughter. New dad who is an all-around douchebag? Don't hold your breath. That's the problem with the whole movie, you can tell where it's going before the movie probably even knew. Also worth mentioning are Amanda Peet as Cusack's ex, and Thandie Newton as the President's daughter destined to end up with Ejiofor's scientist. One other observation, do disaster movies require a black president? Just wondering.
Now on to the good stuff, the CGI. A sign of good CGI -- for me at least -- is that it doesn't produce groans from audiences when it appears, so basically anything even remotely fake-looking. Emmerich spares no expense (okay, maybe the story) to produce some top notch CGI action. The apocalypse never looked so good as when Emmerich is directing the story. Not surprisingly, watch this one for the special effects. Your viewing experience will almost certainly be more enjoyable with friends and beer too. Brace yourself though, it's a long movie at 159 minutes. And don't trick yourself into thinking it'll fly by, there are times (basically any dialogue scene) that are painfully slow.
Saving the best for last though, the ending. Cusack saves the day and helps one of the spaceships -- they're actually arks -- survive. A title cards reads 'Day 27....Year 01' (pretentious much?) as the three remaining arcs sail around the world, or at least what's left of it. We learn that Africa, the whole damn continent, wasn't affected at all by the natural disasters. Not even a little bit, none, zilch, nada. So actually, the end of the world was only sorta the end of the world. It's one of the stupidest endings ever...only topped by the alternate ending on the DVD. No spoilers here, I'll force you to rent/buy it.
A truly awful movie that seems to object to its status as a truly awful movie. Lots of overacting from some typically talented people, cliched and boring story, and some cool, well-done CGI to balance things out.
2012 <----trailer (2009): */****