Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Premise: Due to celestial event, the surface of the earth loses its integrity, threatening the continued existence of human civilization. The major governments of the world work together to preserve the human race while individuals evade disasters.
What Works: As an exercise in grandiose special effects, 2012 has few equals. The film has a number of major set pieces and director Roland Emmerich indulges his affinity for spectacular destruction on a level not seen before.
What Doesn’t: Although 2012 has great special effects, that is about all the film has going for it. The scenes of destruction are massive and well done and a lot of them recall images from other disaster pictures like The Day After Tomorrow, The Poseidon Adventure, and 2005’s War of the Worlds. Once the disaster begins, the film settles into a predictable pattern, repeatedly putting its characters in a place on the cusp of a calamity and having them make a narrow escape by plane or by car. The film essentially repeats the same scene with the same characters over and over again for two and a half hours, only changing the scenery, which of course is destroyed. For a film like 2012 to be anything beyond a glorified theme park ride, it needs to make an investment in its characters but the film never does that. 2012 is full of talented actors like John Cusack, Danny Glover, Woody Harrelson, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Thandie Newton, but there is nothing for them to do. The characters spend the entire film running away and they never act with volition to save themselves or each other; they just manage to get lucky in their escape. For this kind of apocalyptic survival film, it is necessary for the story to define what is at stake, and to allow the characters to come through the disaster with some new sense of self and community; to put it another way, there needs to be a revelation after the apocalypse. 2012 is not at all interested in any kind of story, and just piles on more and more destruction. The emptiness of it all becomes more problematic for the picture as it makes oblique references to recent natural and manmade disasters like September 11th and Hurricane Katrina but without any thematic or narrative payoff; the result is a very crass film that exploits real life tragedy for no other reason than cheap thrills.
Bottom Line: While 2012 may be the biggest and most extravagant apocalypse picture ever made, it is also extraordinarily hollow. Like much of Emmerich’s work, this is B-movie making on an A-movie budget but this time the director has eschewed any pretension of story or tact.
Episode: #266 (November 22. 2009)