By Robert Mann.
The end of the world – It is something that no one wants to come to pass in real life yet when it comes to films moviegoers don’t seem to be able to get enough of seeing the world being brought to an end, each time in new, bigger and more epic ways. And no one shows the world ending better than Roland Emmerich. While, in general, Roland Emmerich isn’t all that great a movie director, his films frequently lacking in things such as story and believability, when it comes to showing the world being destroyed, particularly famous landmarks, he is the undisputed master. Films such as Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow have already shown off his prowess with special effects and now with 2012 he has delivered his biggest film yet. Inspired by the (alleged) Mayan prophecy that the world will end on 21st December, 2012, Emmerich has been provided the perfect opportunity to show the world being annihilated all over again, delivering a film that delivers visuals quite unlike anything you will ever have seen before.
The ominous date of 21 December 2012 is approaching and, just as the ancient Mayan civilisation predicted, the world is in peril. Scientist Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) has uncovered a disaster in the making, one that threatens to destroy the entire world, and along with Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt) he has worked at the very highest reaches of government to develop a plan to save at least some of the population. However, President Thomas Wilson (Danny Glover) is determined to prevent mass hysteria by keeping it secret, not even revealing the truth to his own daughter Laura (Thandie Newton). The only civilian with a clue about what’s happening is prophet-like radio host Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson), who broadcasts his predictions to anyone who will listen. As the earth’s plates start to shift, setting off a series of natural disasters – earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis – failed writer Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) begins a desperate journey of survival, along with his children Lily (Morgan Lily) and Noah (Liam James), ex-wife Kate (Amanda Peet) and her boyfriend Gordon (Thomas McCarthy). With the world literally being ripped to pieces, the question is how will six billion people survive the end of the world?
2012 is officially one of the most expensive movies ever made. For the estimated $260 million production budget (rumours suggest it may even be as high as $325 million) you would expect something pretty special. So, do you get this? Yes and no. This being a Roland Emmerich film you should know better than to expect a good – or even logical – story, and in this way the film entirely lives up to expectations. For the most part, the film has very little resembling plot, mostly sticking to the generic disaster movie story template, and what little plot that does exist only really does so to provide a loose link between the film’s many effects sequences. Of course, it is these that people will really see the film for and by and large these sequences do deliver. Emmerich has really upped the ante over his previous film, no longer just content to destroy parts of the world, this time destroying the whole thing. While most film directors would settle to have earthquakes, volcanoes OR tsunamis as the focus of a disaster movie, Emmerich throws in the lot, creating his most epic blockbuster yet in the process. The visual effects are truly earth shattering – pardon the pun – and while the interaction between the actors and the computer generated environments isn’t entirely seamless, the effects are nonetheless impressive with scenes of devastation taking place in Los Angeles (one character states that the end of the world will begin in Hollywood – a nod to apocalyptic film Southland Tales perhaps?), Yellowstone National Park, Washington D.C. – Emmerich destroying the White House for the second time in his directing career, Las Vegas, Hawaii, The Vatican, Rio De Janeiro, India and Tibet and even a cruise ship (Poseidon anyone?).
While the devastation is undoubtedly impressive (and really must be seen in a cinema to get the full impact), however, some of the scenes don’t quite make the necessary impact, lacking the sense of terror that really should come with such disasters and lightened a bit too much by humorous lines of dialogue. This doesn’t mean that the sequences aren’t entertaining but they certainly aren’t as hard hitting as they could, and should, be. In the last hour, though, as the film reaches its Noah’s Ark style climax, the film does improve considerably, becoming both more thrilling and more interesting, as well as delivering some of the most impressive sequences of the film. Alas, though, this late improvement in quality does not change the fact that, while the visuals are impressive, the film is sorely lacking in some areas. The potential intrigue of the Mayan Prophecy aspect is completely ignored, the Prophecy only being referenced in passing, and not having any notable role in any of the film’s events. Also, much of the plot and back story is done away in the first fifteen minutes and considering the potential it is a complete waste. Showing events from 2009-2011, the obligatory – nonsensical yet plausible sounding – scientific explanation – solar flares causing the Earth’s core to superheat – is done away with quickly, and we are only really given a brief insight into the development of the plan to save humanity – the construction of giant arks that will carry world leaders, the super wealthy and those people identified as necessary for survival, along with the world’s most valuable cultural and artistic relics and artefacts. As for other aspects of the film, the actors all do a decent job, but none of them really stand out as they are not given much to work with, the dialogue being merely adequate, and characters being given minimal development.
In addition to those names aforementioned, other cast members in notable roles include Zlatko Buric, Beatrice Rosen, Jonann Urb, John Billingsley, Chin Han, Osric Chau, Blu Mankuma, George Segal, Stephen McHattie and Jimi Mistry. Overall, 2012 is an enjoyable effects extravaganza that does have some great scenes but as a whole it is missing that special something that would make it a truly a memorable film and consequently it fails to live up to Emmerich’s past disaster movies. Nonetheless, if you enjoy popcorn movies that entertain while not asking you to think too much you will find it to be far from a disaster and will definitely find it worthwhile to see it at the cinema.
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