REVIEW: 2012 (Roland Emmerich, 2009)

After ten minutes of Roland Emmerich's 2012, I was wondering if I may have a film to join Donnie Darko, Chapter 27, National Lampoon's Spring Break and, yes, The Day After Tomorrow on my list of least favorite films. Within these opening moments just about every rotten cliché in Hollywood's disaster book dawdles cross screen, effectively embarrassing the reputable actors involved (a very Orson Welles-looking Oliver Platt and a very Chiwetel Ejiofor-looking Chiwetel Ejiofor, among others). The only element of the formula suspiciously absent is, well, the disaster. It may not always be the case, but I find most effective films of this type open with a precursor catastrophe - an appetizer for the destruction to come - to whet our curiosities and prompt our keesters to the edges of our seats. Here, though, we merely get a character development-lite Cliff's Notes version of Independence Day with solar flares in place of aliens, while Danny Glover (as the President of the United States) grimly yet emptily announces, "It's the end of the world." Cue orchestral stabs!

After the computer-generated wolves and insular familial frivolities of Day After Tomorrow and 10,000 BC's, well, all-around awfulness, I was about ready to give up on Emmerich. I enjoy Stargate and have seen and had a ball with Independence Day countless times. I'm even one of those weirdos who doesn't at all mind the 1998 Godzilla (even though, apparently, Emmerich himself minds it). But post-millennium the director was going down a bad, bad road as far as I was concerned. The main reason I've continued to check out his offerings is that pesky curiosity factor. Like many others, I'm sure, since the marketing campaigns seem hinged on generating just this, I always find myself pondering the whys and wherefores of each film's grand plot, in spite of anticipated quality (or lack thereof). I muscled through the aforementioned ten minutes... and for that matter, the entire first act (superiors of which I've seen branded with - oh yeah, I'm going there - the SyFy Original label)... and you know what? I had a good time. In its middle and end, 2012, contradictorily, is as much an unbelievably ridiculous, leave-your-mind-at-the-door thriller as it is an intriguing and intermittently heartfelt contemplation of potential end times.

The second act, arriving off the tail of a preposterously video-game-like chase between a computer-generated limousine and a very angry, computer-generated earthquake (Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas Fault?), escorts us to Yellowstone National Park. Now, this is where my neutral-on-the-side-of-positive reaction begins to reveal it's more based on my own thoughts and experiences as opposed to those presented. See, I spent almost eight months working out in Yellowstone in 2006. The Park holds very dear meaning for me, so revisiting it as a key location in a blockbuster was a welcome treat. What's more, when out in the Park for an extended span it's near impossible to avoid doomsayers going on about the Yellowstone Caldera - the super volcano. It's quite real and quite harrowing to consider, and I know people who claim they'd love to be at the epicenter when it erupts. You know, the whole if-we're-all-gonna-die-I-wanna-be-the-first-to-go-down-in-a-blaze-of-glory mentality. Motherland! So, all this considered, I marveled seeing a (sure, overdramatized) vision of what the much-foretold eruption might look like. I'm under no illusion the scene was by any means "good", but after a certain point I wasn't really concerned any longer with "good" or "bad"... I was just embracing cinematic escape.

Though act three may yield the most obvious computer-generated wolves of the proceedings (if you take my meaning regarding anticlimactic pratfalls with uncharacteristically curt results in the midst of global devastation), it also presents the most discussion-worthy aspects to be found. Following some interesting plot developments along Dr. Strangelove lines (although without the comedy... well, the purposed comedy, anyway), we find ourselves in a situation dripping with discussion potential. Faulty moralities and faulty logistics of intentional and unintentional varieties... they're all there for conversation fodder, and in my case have already produced two satisfying chin-wags with friends who reacted similarly, if a bit less forgivingly, to the film as I did.

Throughout his career, going back to his 1984 debut feature, Das Arche Noah Prinzip, Emmerich has been fascinated with the apocalypse as brought on by coinciding natural disasters. Discovering Graham Hancock's Earth's Crust Displacement Theory, he finally found the hook he needed to achieve his desired scale. On this inherently epic scale, it's tough to screw up, even when it's more than obvious your actors are standing in a small blue screen studio before being surrounded in post-production by extremely cartoonish destruction. No matter what levels of paint-by-numbers, caramelized melodrama are reached, it's still a movie about the apocalypse (and believe me, it's melodrama... think Deep Impact... then divide the script's emphasis by some large number and use your quotient to multiply the schmaltz). Even if the film itself isn't taking full advantage of its subject matter, my mind is apt to contemplate the various causes and consequences of the events displayed, making for a worthy experience no matter how that worth was achieved.