With the Mayan calendar ending in 2012, a large group of people must deal with natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions, typhoons and glaciers.
Left-leaning late night talk show host David Letterman loves to skewer the worst aspects of American society in his opening monologue. The satirical barbs are usually prefaced by the opening salvo, 'You know why the rest of the world hates America...?" His best material targets bloated, verbose declarations of the good ol’ U.S. of A. spirit; inane gestures of blind patriotism and crass sentimentality; and America’s irony-free gung-ho-ism, despite decades of military and scientific manoeuvrings that led nowhere and were often plain stupid.
I think David Letterman is going to love 2012. It’s a Bush-era relic; a soap-opera set against cinematically-spectacular global destruction that portrays the American government as the world’s conscience and saviour. With Mr. Goody-Two Shoes currently polishing the Oval Office, Letterman needs new targets and will have a ball with the monolithic stupidity of Hollywood’s latest monument to itself.
The man behind 2012 is German-born Roland Emmerich, a B-movie director who, with producing partner Dean Devlin, fluked consecutive hits with the incoherent sci-fi no-brainers, Universal Soldier (1992) and Stargate (1994). His ticket to a professional lifetime of money-wasting was their next collaboration, Independence Day (1996), still one of the top ten international box-office champs of all time. Devlin severed the partnership after their next film, Godzilla (1998), and Emmerich, despite helming the well-received Civil War drama The Patriot in 2000, has bounced from one moronic action spectacle to the next – firstly the mildly-entertaining The Day After Tomorrow (2004), then the unforgivably-awful 10,000BC (2008).
He is a director obsessed with destruction on a grand scale – in his movie career, he has taken out all the major international landmarks (including our own beloved Sydney Opera House). Having levelled all the man-made features, he ups the ante in 2012 – first to go is California, then Mount Everest, most of India, and so on. A temperature rise in the Earth’s core has led to shifts in the Earth’s tectonic crust, all of which is noted by U.S. Federal Geophysicist Adrian Helmsley (an earnest and awful Chiwetel Ejiofor). He has a hard time convincing White House adviser Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt) and, subsequently, President Wilson (Danny Glover) that anything is wrong – despite cracks appearing in highways all over America and supermarkets disappearing into huge holes.
Meanwhile, writer and wayward dad Jackson Curtis (John Cusack, whose face wears a perpetual 'what-the-*#@&-am-I-doing-here?" expression) stumbles on a military operation whilst on a weekend away with his kids and is suddenly thrust into the greatest disaster to ever befall mankind (rivalled only by this film). He hurtles back to L.A. to save his ex-wife (Amanda Peet) and her new husband (Thomas McCarthy), who also happens to be a pilot, and conveniently provides an airborne passage out of the disintegrating megalopolis and affording us spectacular aerial views of death and destruction, en masse.
Of course, in the tradition of such ensemble-rich Hollywood disaster flicks as The Towering Inferno (1974) and Earthquake (1978), 2012 offers up a lot of talented actors getting paid obscene amounts of money to ham it up in support roles in front of a green screen – Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton, Stephen McHattie, Jimi Mistri and George Segal all get to ask 'What was that?", roll their eyes a lot and die or fall in love. In line with the U.S.-centric heartbeat of 2012, most other nationalities, particularly the Russians, are viewed as imbeciles and/or mere extensions of crude stereotypes – clever Indians, honourable Chinese, stylish Italians, and so on.
The special effects are awe-inspiring. The immense implosion of the San Andreas Fault is a sight to behold; the destruction of the Vatican and the White House, spectacular; the Chinook helicopters carrying cable-suspended giraffes and elephants to the hilltop super-Arks....it’s like you are there.
But it is the dialogue and human interaction that makes 2012 stultifyingly awful. So distracting are some of the spoken-howlers, what little tension the effects create is sucked out the picture, replaced by giggles (one sequence near the film’s climax had the preview audience in fits of laughter). Plotting is predictable and mundane; there is no subtext or character development. 2012 is the most rudimentary of comic-book adventures, holding little more than basic visual thrills for even the most easily-pleased audience member. And at 158 minutes, the end of civilisation takes way too long.
Adding further fodder to the late-night comedy stylings of Leno- and Letterman-types, Roland Emmerich has based his story on the predictions of the Ancient Mayan calendar, which states the end of the world will be December 21, 2012. That is a particularly scary thought – it allows time for a sequel. I’m counting on you, Mayans....