Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Roland Emmerich's Putrid Popcorn: 2012

A scene from Roland Emmerich's 2012.

Roland Emmerich is a sadist and his film 2012 is reprehensible. Strong words for what is ostensibly a 'popcorn movie', but the words are earned. This is the third time now that he has destroyed the world (Independence Day (1996), The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and this), fourth time if you include his earlier film, Moon 44 (1990), where the world is already basically destroyed and maybe fifth if his first picture, The Noah's Ark Principal (1984), is included, and I doubt whether he's done yet. In one other picture, Godzilla (1998), he only leveled New York City. Emmerich seems to take some sort of twisted glee in watching the world laid waste. In the post 9/11 and 2004 Tsunami world, there's something deeply wrong with someone who repeatedly returns to this material, especially the films that were made after these catastrophes. Isn't it enough that we are witnessing it in the real world? Do we need to be 'entertained' by this?

Emmerich is on record saying that he views these films as a warning. He's even been wrong-headedly embraced by the environmentalist movement for this and his previous destructo-pic, The Day After Tomorrow. In 2012, he essentially steals the premise of the far-superior movie The Core (everybody seems to be stealing from this little-seen picture, James Cameron stole the word 'unobtainium' from it). In 2009, a brave, misunderstood scientist (Chiwetel Ejiofor) discovers the earth's core is heating up caused by catastrophic sun flares, and the earth will essentially destroy itself in the very near future (The Core's Aaron Eckhart and 2012's Chiwetel Ejiofor are interchangeable). A plan to save as much of humanity as possible is launched. Ejiofor's prediction is off, however. It turns out that centuries before, the ancient Mayans had predicted that the world would end on December 21, 2012, and of course they are right. The mad scramble is then on to get 'the lucky few' to the 21st century equivalent of Noah's Ark, or in this case Arks.

One of the many unseemly things in this film is who gets picked to survive. The best and the brightest, of course (who picks them is never explained), and those with a few billion dollars, or Euros, to buy their way on board. You'd think, at least, that these latter types would be held up to shame or ridicule, and the picture does, but in such a mild-mannered fashion that they come across as merely naughty rich boys and girls. The picture only has real venom for the huddled masses. Time and again, we see miniature CGI people pulverized, smashed, squished, drowned, exploded or steamrolled (by the collapsing St. Peter's Basilica, no less) as Emmerich gleefully levels LA, Las Vegas, Washington, DC, Rome, Rio de Janeiro, the Himalayas (a gigantic tidal wave sweeps over Everest to flatten a kindly monk), etc., etc. A warning, my ass. Emmerich gets his jollies making these movies. He also manages to attract talented performers to his travesties. Here, slumming, are John Cusack, the afore-mentioned Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, Danny Glover (taking time off from cozying up to Hugo Chávez, dictator of Venezuela, to play the President of the USA), Oliver Platt (as the sorta/kinda bad guy, but not really) and Woody Harrelson (the only one who recognizes this crap for what it is, so then has a righteous good time... while his character lives anyway...Emmerich takes care of him in short order). Clearly, a big pay cheque will convince any actor to forgo their ethics. Did none of them even think what sort of real message this piece of crap is sending? Namely, 'it's fun to destroy the world.'

Sure the destructo-visuals are impressive, deranged and impossible (the law of physics are unimportant to this man). It's amazing what $200 million US will buy you today, so it darn well better look pretty good. And ultimately, what do I really know. This film made almost $800 million dollars at the world-wide box office (80% of it overseas; there's still a lot of pleasure to be had around the world for seeing, mostly, the US laid low).

The film was recently released on DVD and is, of course, number one – the week after Chile was leveled by an earthquake and a month after Haiti's. There is something twisted in our psyche that we just love looking at other people's pain. Emmerich sure does.

David Churchill is a film critic and author. He is putting the finishing touches on his first novel, The Empire of Death.

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