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Review

CGI saves ‘2012’ from annihilation

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November 19, 2009

I can’t help but wonder – what does director Roland Emmerich have against Earth? He stomped on it with “Godzilla,” attacked it with aliens in “Independence Day,” and sent it into a deep freeze with “The Day After Tomorrow.”

Perhaps his childhood left him bitter – or perhaps he’s still bitter that “10,000 B.C.” flopped – but whatever the reason, Emmerich has positioned himself as the official king of disaster porn.

This time ariund he sets his sights on the ancient Mayan prophecy that the world will end on the winter solstice in 2012. Perhaps fueling some of the conspiracy theory fire, one sleazy White House politician even laments on screen, “It’s kind of galling, when you realize that the nutbags with the cardboard signs were right all along.”

“2012” is the mother of all disaster movies and proves one thing conclusively: that despite his directorial deficiencies, Emmerich can’t be accused of dreaming small. He places Earth on the clearance rack here, and everything
must go. Monuments fall like dominoes as natural disasters reach cataclysmic conclusions, and – as the mushy maniac that he is – Emmerich kills off billions of people so that a single family can reconnect. He may be the most genocidal softy ever…

The film spends the first 30 minutes in exposition. Scientists discover that solar flares are slowly warming up the Earth’s core, which will eventually cause the crust’s tectonic plates to begin shifting. As we watch the U.S. government, headed by a very old-feeling Danny Glover, begin apocalyptic preparations, we are also introduced to the Curtis family. The dad, Jackson (John Cusack), is a failed sci-fi novelist who moonlights as a limo driver. His ex-wife (Amanda Peet) lives with their two obnoxious children and a smug plastic surgeon (Tom McCarthy). This annoyingly clichéd fractured family, filling in for the bulk of humanity, finds a way to come together as the world falls apart. The whole premise reeks of soap opera, and the characterization is so laughable that the family becomes as disposable as the CG corpses that pile up in the background. And besides, if Cusack and Peet are the best metaphors the film can find to symbolize hope, perhaps we are better off succumbing to global annihilation…

But let’s be fair here – any cogent filmgoer will walk into this film expecting little more than a brainless yet stunning formula disaster movie. And in that essence, “2012” delivers the goods. The CGI, a sure fire nominee for Best
Visuals, is simply stunning as Cusack drives a limo through LA as it literally falls apart around him; as the Yellowstone super-volcano erupts, covering the U.S. in a layer of ash; as the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy slams into the White House, driven by a 1,000 foot high tsunami. These scenes, and many more, although not convincingly plausible, are simply awesome to watch.

But almost as quickly as it starts, the shameless carnage disappears, and we’re left watching the Curtis family embark on the most stupidly sensational and mind-numbingly improbable adventure imaginable – to get to the Himalayas and to the secret arks that have been built there to ferry a specially selected cross-section of humanity to survival.

From this point on, “2012” gets into a foot race with itself, each scene desperately trying to outdo the last in terms of sheer spectacle and scope, but also in terms of impossibility and downright goofiness. By the end, the modern-day parallel to Noah’s Ark feels so heavy-handed and conceited that any sense of care free and fun is ripped out of us.

But “2012” is destined for greatness. However that legacy will be as nothing more than the quintessential Blu-Ray tool to showcase the quality of your home theater system.

Ken Weigend is an alumnus of UW-River Falls. He was editor of the Student Voice during spring semester 2010.