By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on November 14, 2009)
Prime beachfront property! Low, low prices! Going fast!
Day after day, more people come to L.A.
Ssh! Don’t you tell anybody-the whole place is slipping away.
Where can we go-when there’s no San Francisco?
Ssh! Better get ready to tie up the boat in Idaho.
–from Day After Day (It’s Slippin’ Away) by Shango
Depending on who you talk to, the numbers 12/21/12 signify either a) The Day the Earth Gets Hosed, or b) A day in 2012 that will be preceded by December 20th and immediately followed by December 22nd, in the course of which we will all go about our daily business as per usual. According to 2012 director Roland Emmerich, when Winter Solstice, 2012 rolls around, we better get ready to not only tie up the boat in Idaho, but to hang ten in the Himalayas as well. It’s gonna be a doozy (best get your affairs in order).
Taking full advantage of all the ballyhoo surrounding the upcoming terminus of the ancient Mayan calendar, the Master of Disaster has once again assembled a critic-proof, populist spectacle, unencumbered by complex narrative or character development (then again, one doesn’t board a roller coaster for the express purpose of engaging one’s mind).
So…it’s been, gosh, what…at least 12,012 years since his last film (10,000 B.C.) Let’s see if we can catch up. For one thing, in the Future, loincloths and spears are no longer de rigueur. However, I have some good news, and some bad news.
Good News first? Humans are now much less likely to suffer getting crushed by mammoths and/or mauled by saber-toothed tigers, since both of those species are now extinct (yay!). The Bad News is, humans are now in imminent danger of becoming extinct themselves, because the sun is bombarding the planet with neutrinos, seriously compromising the stability of the Earth’s crust-or some kind of pseudo-scientific gobbledygook to that effect.
At any rate, any and all pending natural disasters you could envision are now likely to all come at once. And that can’t be good. An international consortium of scientists and world leaders are in the loop, but in compliance with Rules and Regulations Regarding Mandatory Plot Points for End of the World Movies (rev. 2007), it’s kept strictly off the record, on the Q.T., and very hush-hush.
After the obligatory prologue set in a remote corner of the world, where we are given an inkling that a global threat might be brewing and/or a cosmic mystery is afoot (a requisite since Close Encounters of the Third Kind) the scene shifts to the good ol’ USA, where the Concerned Preznit (Danny Glover) receives grim counsel and furrows his brow (just like Concerned Preznits Bill Pullman and Perry King did in Emmerich’s two previous end of the world epics, Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, respectively).
And no such doomsday narrative is quite complete without its rumpled Everyman protagonist, embodied here by John Cusack, divorced father of two who still sorta has a thing for his ex-wife (even though she’s now married to a smarmy yuppie), and who happens to have custody of the kids on the very weekend that the Apocalypse is scheduled for kickoff (see: Tom Cruise in The War of the Worlds). And guess where Dad is taking us all camping this weekend, kids? Why, Yellowstone Park…Ground Zero for the caldera of one of the largest super-volcanoes in the world (I don’t want to spoil anything for you…but I think Yogi and Boo-Boo are fucked).
What ensues is a mash-up of Dante’s Peak, The Poseidon Adventure and When Worlds Collide, peppered with every disaster movie cliché extant. The special effects are quite spectacular, and there is a pulse-pounding, show-stopping (if highly improbable) escape sequence early on (as L.A. experiences the mother of all earthquakes).
However, by the time the third, fourth, or fifth pulse-pounding, show-stopping, highly improbable escape sequence rolls around, with no substantive narrative sandwiched in to give you a breather in its two and a half hour running time, it becomes a case of mind-numbing overkill. Maybe a mystery angle involving the Mayan prophecies would have added something?
The cast slogs through as best they can, considering that most are relegated to cardboard caricatures taking a back seat to the CGI wizardry. Cusack has his moments, but you definitely get the sense that this is only a paycheck gig. Woody Harrelson briefly livens up things a bit, as a conspiracy nut talk show host (most likely modeled after Art Bell), but talented players like Oliver Platt, Thandie Newton and Chiwetel Ejiofor are wasted.
If you enjoyed the director’s previous films, I suppose this one is no better or no worse; you will want to see it no matter what critics say. If you are intrigued by the premise, but not about parting with your ten bucks, I’d say wait for the DVD. Or- just hold out until 12/21/12.
Who knows? It could be more entertaining than the film.