“It’s the end of the world as we know it… and I feel bored.” Nothing like a quick paraphrase of a classic R.E.M. song to sum up my feelings toward the latest end of the world CGI spectacular from Roland Emmerich. Unlike the 1970’s disaster genre, which tended to focus on one particular mishap, like a boat sinking or an office tower bursting into flames, “2012” is an all-purpose disaster movie. Emmerich lays it on thick, utilizing earthquakes, tsunamis and every other natural catastrophe in the Master of Disaster Handbook, to bring life as we know it to a screeching halt.
The film centers around a global doomsday event coinciding with the end of the Mayan Long Count Calendar’s current cycle on December 21, 2012. In other words, four days before Christmas, 2012, the world goes boom. California falls into the sea, the South Pole ends up somewhere in Wisconsin and the Himalayas are submerged underwater. Staying one step ahead of the devastation is divorcée Jackson Curtis (John Cusack), who pulls out all the stops to get his ex-wife, kids and a handful of stragglers to a lifesaving Noah’s Arc in China called Genesis.
The fifteen year old boy in me enjoyed watching the world blow up real good; the adult in me, however, wanted characters I could believe in. Or at least care about a little bit. It’s not exactly the actor’s fault that I didn’t warm to / care about anyone on screen, they were simply doing their best with a script that had been run through the Cliché-O-Matic before filming began.
Occasionally the cheesy dialogue raises a smile. During a lover’s spat one character says to another, “I feel like something is pulling us apart,” as an earthquake splits the floor between them but more often than not each and every character is saddled with dialogue that would make Ed Wood Jr beam with pride. As all hell is breaking loose the president says to his daughter, “you look just like your mother when you get mad,” and everything is the “most important (insert event here) in the history of mankind!” A thousand monkeys banging away on a thousand typewriters for a week could probably write this script.
But clever wordplay is not why we go see movies like this. We go to revel in a make believe orgy of destruction. Nothing much happens in the first forty minutes however—we meet the large cast, but by the time George Segal shows up the cameo quotient begins to resemble an episode of “The Love Boat”—but when the earth’s crust begins to destabilize at the forty minute mark many spectacular scenes of world demolition follow. Hope you have a huge appetite for destruction because for the next two hours that’s pretty much all there is. “2012” becomes an end of the world spectacle to end all end of the world spectacles, which, works if a doom boom is all you’re interested in, but after a while the elaborate special effects becomes visual white noise.
Emmerich could have kept up interest by adding some real drama beyond timers counting down to zero or placing the hero in life or death situations that he is most certainly going to survive, or by shortening the running time—at a butt numbing 2 hours and 40 minutes “2012” feels like the end of the world is playing out in real time—but instead was content to fill the screen with flashy CGI and little else.