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Entries in 2012 [2009] (1)

Monday
Nov232009

2012 (2009)

(In)Credibility Gap

When I first saw the trailer for 2012 a few months ago, it profoundly depressed me. Through spectacular displays of global catastrophe and urban destruction, the previews promised two hours of unapologetic disaster porn. I watched as buildings tumbled and exploded; cars and people were sucked up into hellish cracks in the earth; and all the while, John Cusack tried to outrun mother nature via limo, camper and small plane—succeeding every time. Nothing about these scenes made me want to see 2012, but I’m essentially a film whore so there was little doubt that I’d catch it on the big screen.

Guess what? I thought it was great. Not a great film, mind you, but a great disaster movie. And since it comes from Roland “Independence Day” Emmerich, there was a forty percent chance of it being at least watchable (those odds would’ve been higher had he not also made The Day After Tomorrow). In a lot of ways, 2012 plays like the greatest hits of Independence Day, TDAT, and The Core—with a dash of dueling asteroid epics Armageddon and Deep Impact thrown in. What sets this new film apart is that—much like a frustrated artist sketching and sketching and sketching, Emmerich has finally gotten just about everything right.

Look, I know some of you are rolling your eyes right now; others have probably stopped reading. But bear with me for a few more moments, please.

I think the reason 2012 didn’t come out in the summer was not because it would have clashed with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, but because it is a much smarter, more compelling kind of blockbuster. This is Oscar season, after all; and while I don’t expect this movie to take home anything other than awards for sound and special effects, the fact remains that a good amount of its 158-minute run-time is devoted to solid actors giving solid performances. There’s no slumming here, no overt mugging from the main players; the careers of John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Oliver Platt, and Thandie Newton are all very much intact (Amanda Peet may be in trouble, but I think her part was just under-written), and I love that everyone treated the material as A-level stuff.

It just occurred to me that I’ve devoted not a single word to 2012’s plot. That’s probably for the best. This is a movie that needs to be experienced on the big screen, so I urge you to go check it out (even if you wait to see it on the $5 or $1 circuit). I will say that there are several elements that surprised me, which was itself a grand revelation. Unlike most action spectacles, you can’t tell right off the bat who will live and who will die in 2012; characters you’re certain will be cute one-offs become very important; characters you assume will follow their archetype into stereotype take roads less traveled (except for Woody Harrelson, whose doom-and-gloom survivalist character’s only surprise was not speaking in a hick drawl—which I found very distracting). The movie’s biggest twist involves the massive ships that have been constructed to save mankind from extinction—it’s not an out-of-the-blue contrivance, but rather a cool way of playing with audience expectations.

Regarding my earlier reservations about the glorification of death, carnage and mayhem, I was relieved to find that those elements—while certainly evident—did not overpower the movie. In fact, 45 minutes into 2012, I began to wonder if I’d even see a catastrophic event. All of the tragedy unfolds naturally, and we’re given a chance to experience it as the main characters do: both in flashes and in rubbernecking horror, depending on how close to the danger they happen to be at a given point. The whole three-steps-ahead-of-the-fireball/crumbling earth thing did become ridiculous after awhile, but by then, I really wanted the characters to escape so I could find out where they were headed.

I can only assume that at least some of the people who’ve read this far are snickering at my poor taste and naiveté. If you’re one of them, let me assure you that I walked into 2012 sure that I would leave an angry, tired mess. But I didn’t. And I didn’t have to “turn off my brain” to enjoy it, either. Some of the movie is silly; some parts are too drawn out; and, yes, a lot of the plot is awfully convenient. Then again, it is a movie. If all you want out of this kind of entertainment are plausible disaster scenarios and moments of genuine emotional tragedy, type “Afghan war footage” into the YouTube search field and have a great afternoon.