I wasn’t there, but this is how I imagine the conversation went between Roland Emmerich (“RE”), and Roland Emmerich’s subconscious film-making mind (“SC”), when trying to decide on whether to make 2012:
RE: I quite fancy a period drama next.
SC: I think you should destroy the world again.
RE: Oh… all right then.
And so 2012 was born. Though he was cajoled into it, Emmerich seems to have decided that if he is going to destroy the world again (he really hates the world – see Independence Day and the Day After Tomorrow) he’s going to do it so much that there can no longer be another disaster film. It’s like everyone’s had a go at folding down a cardboard box to shove it in the bin, all with varying degrees of success, but Emmerich has stomped in, doused the box in petrol and set it alight. No one can even attempt to have a go now. The box is gone.
Well it’s sort of like that.
Anyway, the key ingredients to this sort of disaster flick are all there – an everyman trying to save his family (John Cusack), some hot British scientists on hand when explanations are needed, an American president (randomly being Danny Glover), a crazy man (Woody Harrelson), a scattering of token “foreign” people (it is the whole entire world that’s going bust this time after all), and a cute doggy. The action, when it kicks in, is giggle-inducing fun. Cusack driving away from a collapsing planet is probably the best action sequence you’ll see this year, and shot in such a way that it would be a crime not to convert it into some sort of simulator/3-D/coaster experience in Florida. The pure scale of everything is awesome, and you can almost feel Emmerich chuckling behind the camera as he smushes buildings, sticks two fingers to religion, and just generally causes chaos. Great fun.
Great fun for about 40 minutes, that is. Trouble is, 2012 is 158 minutes long. The usual padding – slow build up to mass destruction – is forgivable and necessary for the genre, but post-destruction events take a dull turn as the surviving humans board their getaway ships (and that’s sea-ship, not space-ship) and everything goes a bit Titanic. We’ve just seen the entire earth destroyed – some water in a cabin is suddenly a million times less interesting.
You then add in the typical problems with this sort of thing – our hero always managing to be on the brink of every new moment of chaos and managing to just avoid everything over and over again, the usual American way of saving the American world with occasional glances at how the rest of the planet is doing – oh yes, there goes another country, ah well – before back to who’s really important, and Cusack looks too bored with the role, his trademark sardonic pout clashing with the CGI pandemonium around him. Once you’ve added all that, 2012 starts to look a bit crap, really.
The highlights – uber destruction like you’ve never seen – are thrilling, fun and quite superb. It’s a pity this beast has become a bit too bloated, the airy pockets smothering the juicy good centre into a passable way to spend several hours. Go for DVD, skip to the mid 40 minutes, then discard. For the best scenes, 2012 gets a CF2. But the score is diluted to a disappointing CF-1. I’ll still be making friends with a pilot though, just in case…