Think of the biggest disaster movie ever. Now think of one much, much bigger than that. That’s only a tiny part of how big “2012” is.
“2012” is the new film from Roland Emmerich, whose previous credits include “Independence Day” and “The Day After Tomorrow.” Just like his last two flicks, this is a schlocky Disaster Film, replete with stock characters, inventive scenes of peril, and lots of famous landmarks getting blown up real good. “Citizen Kane” this is not, but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t have an absolute blast.
Among the casualties in the Important Monuments category is Yellowstone National Park. Being a Montanan, though, we've know it's been coming for a while now.
“2012”’s premise, for those that missed the trailers, is that the Mayans predicted that the world would end in the year 2012, and they turned out to be right.
The plot focuses on Jackson Curtis (John Cusack), an author who is divorced from his ex-wife Kate (Amanda Peet) and estranged from his two kids (Liam James and Morgan Lilly). It’s typical in movies like this that, despite hundreds and thousands of people dying just in the first act, we’re asked to be kept in suspense that Jackson might of might not make up with his alienated family.
Anyways, Jackson is taking his kids camping to Yellowstone when he discovers something curious: the lake where he and Kate used to see each other has boiled away. I was disappointed to learn from IMDB that the Yellowstone scenes were all shot in British Columbia, apparently the most popular facsimile for Montana in movies today (see also 2007’s “Shooter;” Bozeman residents in particular will get a kick out of it).
John Cusack leads the ensemble cast from camping to just straight camp.
From the lake, it’s time those landmarks to start going belly-up, including (in no particular order) the Washington Monument cracking and falling over, the Golden Gate Bridge twisting and collapsing, Yellowstone turning into that super volcano we’ve all heard about, and the White House getting hit by an aircraft carrier that’s simultaneously getting hit by a tidal wave.
What happens beyond this point, I cannot say. Part of the movie’s fun is trying to figure out how Emmerich and the writing staff will get themselves out of the corner they’ve so brilliantly painted themselves into; you’d figure that with the world ending and all, they’d need something pretty epic to avoid the whole human race going the way of the Washington Monument, wouldn’t they?
And you thought traffic was bad where you lived, huh?
If I sound incredulous to the whole movie, it’s because, well, it’s just so doggone ridiculous! But make no mistake; there is an excellent popcorn thriller here, and a whole lotta fun to be had.
From the start, it’s apparent that Emmerich has set out to top himself in every way, and he succeeds in every way (at 158 minutes, sometimes he succeeds a bit too much). It’s as if he simply said “This is not going to be just a disaster movie, it is going to be THE disaster movie!” Not content to have just his piece of the disaster movie cake, Emmerich also quotes other disaster movies from cinema’s past, including “The Poseidon Adventure,” “Dante’s Inferno,” and “Earthquake.”
The best reason to see the movie is the visuals. The special effects team should give themselves a pat on the back, because the images of destruction and explosions and storms are truly a sight to behold. In particular, there was an early scene involving the San Andreas Fault that, for all of its thrills, could easily be converted into a theme park ride at Universal Studios. It’s the one with the limousine, you’ll know which one.
One of the characters happens to be a pilot, mostly to get us shots like these, of planes dodging collapsing buildings.
I had forgotten how funny movies like this can be. “Take the freeway, it’s faster!” one character says to another. So, of course, in the very next shot we see the 405 crumbling into little bitty pieces. The movie takes itself both completely seriously and not seriously at all, which is a plus when your movie is this campy.
The ensemble cast does a good job of, basically, slipping into stock character outfits, whether it’s the Forgetful But Loving Father, Wise And Confident President (Danny Glover), or the Crazy Kook That Had It Right All Along (Woody Harrelson, in one of the film’s best cameos). Not terribly compelling, but they do what’s required for a movie like this, and give us enough to care about them during the Earth’s trip to heck in a handbasket.
Harrelson creates a character who not only predicts the oncoming disaster, but practically welcomes it, if only to prove that he's right.
If “2012” has any faults, it’s that it slows down dramatically during the third act (or I had simply grown restless; this IS a two-and-a-half hour movie after all), and that the movie follows so many of the disaster movie conventions so closely that some audience members might feel like they’ve seen it all before. Also, the script is cheesy and full of holes, but honestly if you’re watching the movie just for the story, you came for the wrong reasons.
That said, this is a great piece of schlocky disaster fun. Grab some friends, buy some popcorn, turn your brain off, and get ready to thrill at one of the most fun blockbusters I’ve seen all year.