Friday, March 19, 2010


Director Roland Emmerich hates buildings.  I know what you're thinking.  "Whoa, whoa, whoa, Brian...Just because the guy directed 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, Godzilla, and Independence Day doesn't mean he hates buildings.  Maybe he just likes to direct insultingly stupid special effects movies."  Well, then, riddle me this: if he doesn't hate buildings, why did he write the screenplay for all those films?  Check and mate, Mr. Argumentative-voice-that-I-hear-in-my-head-as-I-type-this.

Now that I've got that off my chest, let's get to the movie.  Well, not so fast...did you see the poster?  The movie poster for the film has "We Were Warned" as a tag line.  Warned?  By who?  Okay, the movie is named 2012, and there is the famous Mayan Long Count calendar that starts with the date August 11, 3114 BC and ends with December 21, 2012 AD, so I'll assume that the Mayans warned us.  I have to assume this, because the movie only casually alludes to the Mayans a couple of times, never giving an in depth connection of how they knew the Mayans were warning us.  Alright, let's make that assumption.  What did they warn us about?  Presumably, since this is a disaster movie, the end of the world.  I'm not about to debate the merits of that idea (Well, maybe just for a calendar ends on December 31, 2010.  Does that mean we all die on New Year's Eve?), but let's just assume that end of their calendar equals disaster.  The tag line implies that we are responsible, though.  "We Were Warned."  What?  "Don't let time continue in a linear fashion past December 20, 2012, or you'll be sorrrrrrryyyyyy!"  You'd think this preordained global event would tie in to nuclear war or global warming or dinosaur-killing asteroids, but no, not this film.  The earth just decides to go for humanity's jugular.  There are a lot of earthquakes, tidal waves (same idea, I know), and typhoons.  No tornadoes, oddly enough.  But "We Were Warned" that nothing humans did had any effect on the planet, and we were all just living on borrowed time.  We took out a loan from Mother Nature, and she's coming to collect on 12/21/2012...with interest!

Dear marketing team for 2012, I hate you so much.  Sincerely, Brian.

This movie could have also been titled "John Cusack: Faster Than Nature."  On four separate occasions, Cusack is being chased by a force of nature (an earthquake, volcano fumes twice, and a tidal wave) that tends to travel faster than a person, but apparently not John Cusack.  Don't get me wrong, I like John Cusack, but the man doesn't like being in good movies any more.  I also believe that, no matter how good a driver you are, you cannot drive a limousine through an office building that is falling down without crashing.  That's just my opinion, but I dare you to prove me wrong.

The plot to this masterpiece is pretty bare bones: the token scientist that everybody listens to (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) realizes that the world is going to end.  He and his friends have even calculated how much time we have left.  He tells the government, the government listens, and the governments of the world agree to secretly prepare some way to survive.  That's the plot. 

Reading that, you'd think this movie was 45 minutes long, but it clocks in at over two-and-a-half hours.  How do you fill all that extra time?  Well, Roland has the tried and true method of having one or two main characters, and the disaster happens, and it impacts the main characters and their loved ones.  In Independence Day, it was Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum; in The Day After Tomorrow, it was Dennis Quaid; in Godzilla, it, I remember rooting for Godzilla, so she must have been the main character.  In 2012, the main characters are Ejiofor and Cusack.  How does that work out for their loved ones?  Let's see...Ejiofor fails to save his family or any of his friends, while Cusack's estranged family almost makes it through the film unscathed until his beloved replacement as husband and father (seriously, they really liked this guy) dies at the very end.  Don't feel bad for them; they just have Cusack fill in the newly vacant position.

The main idea in the film is the optimistic notion that, when all the chips are down, people are inherently good and will try to help each other because it is the right thing to do.  John Cusack's character wrote a (not terribly successful) book with that as its theme, and Ejiofor is reading the book.  The natural disasters occurring represent the tough times, and now it's time for humanity to save itself with its inherent goodness.  That's not a bad theme.  I don't necessarily disagree with it, either.  But every movie needs a villain, and in this movie it is Oliver Platt.  And nature, but nature has no dialogue.  Oliver Platt is the government guy who is trying to save the few thousand people he can in the time that Ejiofor gives him.  But Ejiofor's estimates are wrong every time (making him the worst movie scientist ever), which forces Platt's character to act aggressively to get the survival mission off the ground.  Don't get me wrong, Platt is a jerk in this film, but he's a logical jerk.  He does not try to save his 89 year-old mother because she's old and they will have to rebuild society if they survive; he allows rich people (instead of smart or genetically superior people) to pay billions of Euros for spots on the survival ships because the survival ships cost billions to make; when one of the survival ships can't be used, Platt chooses to not let them on board his ship because the final killer tidal wave will arrive in five minutes.  Is he a nice guy?  No, but his actions are understandable.  But Ejiofor has to make a swinging-for-the-fences-and-striking-out speech about how, if humanity is going to survive, it can't let go of its goodness, its...humanity.  And everyone but Platt totally agreed with him.  What?  Really?  Nobody says, "Let's try and get past this first extinction-level threat and then we can start being nice?"  Man, I must be ripe with villainy to think like that.

So how are the actors?  Well, the star of the show, Special Effects, was okay.  Buildings got destroyed.  Water rose.  Whatever.  Cusack was fine, but he needs a new agent.  Ejiofor was less good, but is generally a solid actor, so I'll give him a pass this time.  Cusack's son could be out-acted by lukewarm yogurt.  Amanda Peet and Thandie Newton are women; that's all the script really says about them.  Danny Glover looked really tired as the most depressing President of the United States ever...he's basically the anti-Bill Pullman in Independence Day; where Pullman had everyone fight back against annihilation, Glover just said "I quit, time to die."  Woody Harrelson plays a convincing crazy dirty hippie (he actually reminded me of my uncle in Montana, if my uncle was absolutely poo-flinging crazy), but it's still not a good role.  George Segal is in the movie for reasons that are never revealed.  There are some characters from China and India, too, but you're not supposed to care about them.

Really, that's the problem with this movie.  It spends so much time and effort (and did I mention time?) trying to make this feel epic, it has no room left for the characters.  And there are so many characters that just serve as cannon fodder to show how deadly the end of the world can be.  "Epic" means something with huge scope, but it always comes back to the characters.  Or, it's supposed to.

I give this film two stars for the effects, two stars for Cusack's charm, one star for Danny Glover not saying "I'm too old for this shit," and one star for killing George Segal, but I take away three stars for royally pissing me off.

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