Friday, December 21, 2012

Retro Review: Roland Emmerich's 2012

The following is part of a series where I bring back some of my "older" reviews (those written during my 2004-2011 tenure at the now mostly defunct The Cinematheque) and offer them up to a "newer" generation. Appropriately enough, considering the date, and all that silly jazz that has been going on around said date, this particular edition of Retro Reviews, is on the end-of-the-world film 2012, and if the doomsayers are correct, it will be the very last thing I ever write.  Insert maniacal laughter here.


There are certain filmmakers who revel in the CGI-exhaustive filmic destruction of planet Earth and it's major cities and landmarks.  Judging from his oeuvre, which includes both Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, as well as the rather forgettable Godzilla remake of last decade, Roland Emmerich is definitely one of those aforementioned certain filmmakers.  Unfortunately for both we the moviegoers and Emmerich the disaster director du jour, his latest planet-wide deconstruction destruction, the numerically ominous 2012, lacks most of the giddy masochistic fun that ran rampant through the thoroughly more enjoyable Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow.  Instead, we get a tired boilerplate kind of motion picture event with most of its entertaining parts (and we can only assume the possibilities such a film could have) excised through sheer middlebrow filmmaking.  Then again, perhaps we have just become so jaded by such CGI-spectacles, that even the complete destruction of Earth has become passe and run-of-the-mill.

Yes there are a few fun moments in Emmerich's "end-of-the-world-er", such as hapless hero and sad sack ex-hubby and weekend dad John Cusack (paycheck big enough buddy?) weaving his battered limo through the streets of L.A., estranged family in tow, as the city of angels crashes and burns around him, finally slipping back into the mighty Pacific from whence it came and making all those nutcase sidewalk prophets feel vindicated as they too crash and burn and slip back into the mighty Pacific.  At one point Cusack takes his stretch through the window of a falling skyscraper and out the other side before it crashes to the street below as if some sort of hybrid of Evel Knievel and a batmobile-driving caped crusader.  There are other such whack-a-doodle scenes, including a race-for-their-lives plane ride through crumbling cities and the requisite destroyed national monuments, a last ditch escape plan involving driving a car out the back of a plane and the semi-climactic underwater rescue of thousands of wouldbe disaster survivors.  Silly and extremely improbable but isn't that what a disaster movie is supposed to be all about?

Unfortunately though, none of this ridiculous disaster scenario works on the level that equally silly classic films of the genre, like The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, or even Emmerich's own earlier works do.  The ever-important inbetween moments (those scenes not involving cliffhanger-esque danglings but attempted character development instead) fall completely flat here.  We don't get those quieter moments that we did in the aforementioned earlier classics of the genre.  We don't get the emotion inherent with a character's death as we did when poor Shelly Winters saved them all only to succumb to the deadly waters of her own ocean grave.  Then again, perhaps all moviegoers want these days are the improbable CGI effects that inevitably go along with the reborn genre.  They want sheer disaster, and nothing else, and I suppose, that is exactly what they get here.  A disastrous disaster indeed.  No fun, no mirth, no gleeful rage against the dying of the light.  Nothing but disaster.  It is almost enough to make you wish the world really was about to end.  Luckily for us, the movie does end - it just takes waaaay too long to do so.

[Originally published at The Cinematheque on 12/11/09] 

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