Sunday, November 15, 2009
How I Survived 2012
HERE THERE BE SPOILERS
You know that much-used, much-abused action-movie gimmick in which our hero or heroes manage to run/drive/fly just beyond the reach of a rapidly following wall of fire/water/lava? (It would be fun to research what movie started the gimmick; I would assume its overuse began in the late 70s, but I imagine it’s an element as old as the silent era.). In 2012, Roland Emmerich’s disaster-movie extraordinaire about the end of the world caused by the disintegration of the Earth’s core and the collapsing of its crust, this gimmick is used to ludicrously hyperbolic extents.
First, the story’s savior father Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) drives his family in a limo ahead of an earthquake rolling up the street behind them, through a gauntlet of collapsing overpasses, skyscrapers, and parking structures spilling an avalanche of cars.
THEN a small plane keeps a few feet ahead of a growing chasm, flies through shifting canyons of skyscrapers toppling like dominoes, and leaves Santa Monica to fall into the ocean beneath it.
THEN, at the wheel of a Winnebago this time, Jackson manages to evade an obstacle course of volcanic eruptions and flying chunks of lava, as he races across Yellowstone National Park.
THEN a massive Russian cargo jet takes off as Las Vegas crumbles beneath it and barely manages to rise above the towering resort casinos in its way.
And THEN Emmerich overuses another standard action-movie element: the-vehicle-flying-over-the-impossibly-wide-chasm. Keanu Reeves did it in a bus – going uphill no less – in Speed (1994). Cusack does it a couple of times in the limo – and once with the Winnebago!
Yes, 2012 is a very silly movie but, wow, it’s kind of like a thrill ride. And I’ve always considered thrill rides to be rather silly, but they’re also kind of thrilling. So what do you do when the poor workers, shut out of the gargantuan ark/ships, constructed to save heads of state and anyone who can pay a billion Euros, are rioting at the gates, plummeting into a chasm when pressed from behind, and the blonde bombshell playmate of a wealthy Russian shows her little lap dog how he can save himself by crawling over a cable to the secret passageway that leads the Curtis family and friends to safety? Well, you either walk out or sit back, enjoy the thrills, and shout, “Yee-haw!” There’s just no other way to survive.
So I sat back and enjoyed the silly thing. I loved how Emmerich borrows unabashedly from (or pays tribute to) When Worlds Collide (1951) (ark/ship constructed to save the human race); The Poseidon Adventure (1972) (capsizing cruise ship; silly song during the credits); The Towering Inferno (1974) (cameo by the aging actor – then it was Fred Astaire; this time it’s George Segal); Dante’s Peak (1997) (massive volcanic explosion); Deep Impact (1998) (gigantic tsunami and the loved ones that embrace each other as the wave approaches; African-American president); The Core (2003) (similar problem with the malfunctioning core); and War of the Worlds (2005) (the determined father trying to save son and daughter).
I enjoyed the performance of Chiwetel Ejiofor (spelling is correct) as the dedicated scientist who tries to make government bigwigs acknowledge the impending danger. I enjoyed John Cusack as the divorced writer of a science-fiction novel that serendipitously parallels the film’s final moral dilemma. Danny Glover does a touching job as an altruistic president who refuses to save himself. Woody Harrelson is wacko as only Harrelson can be as a radio talk-show host who has gotten wind of the impending disaster and knows about the plan to build ark/ships (he thinks they’re space ships) at a dam in Tibet.
I always love to see disasters wipe out famous edifices. This time, besides smashing the White House with an aircraft carrier, Emmerich hits Rome with an earthquake that cracks the Sistine ceiling right between the famous pointing fingers of God and Adam and rolls the cupola of Saint Peter’s over a throng of praying Catholics.
And just when we might be getting bored with all the destruction, the film turns kind of 50s sci-fi, very reminiscent of When Worlds Collide, as the passengers fortunate enough to have had a loose one billion Euros board the huge ark/ships, which are also loaded with animals and artwork like Michelangelo’s statue of David. The design of the ships – sort of a cross between a cruise ship and a submarine – are like something out of an episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
(Unfortunately, I couldn't find an image of one of the huge arks - my favorite gimmick in the movie. But the above image shows a glimpse of one being threatened by a collision with Air Force One. "Air Force One!" says the helmsman. Now, that's a bingo, and my favorite line in the movie.)
The captain of the American ark, with his sharply chiseled face and fascist uniform, like something an officer on a Star Wars Imperial cruiser would wear, starts going through the launching phase, and the whole moral dilemma of what to do about the unfortunate workers who didn’t have a billion Euros arises. The panicked mobs throng the gangways - just as in When Worlds Collide - also reminiscent of the mobs of underworlders who get flooded out in Metropolis (1927).
I love all the techno silliness as the ship’s bridge goes through the countdown before collision with the tsunami, which involves bracing the arks with massive clamps. Love it when the American ark collides with another ark, and a computer screen on the bridge shows a graphic display of the two ships and the pulsating warning: “Collision.” Then, is that an iceberg ahead? No, it’s Mount Everest (and a huge joke on Titanic)!
I felt like I was a kid back in the 60s when I used to go the 35-cent Saturday afternoon matinee to see silly sci-fi movies, some of which we look up to as classics now. Well, some of those classics were just as hokey as 2012, just as devoid of any sort of plausibility, but what did you do? You sat back and had fun and wondered what you would do if the Earth’s crust fell apart and caused humongous tsunamis that threatened to submerge the continents. Try to raise a quick billion Euros? Better yet – start acting like a dog.