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by Farisa Khalid

26 Jan 2009


All over the world, from Bombay to Jackson Heights, NY to Southall, London, to Kuala Lumpur, more than 200,000 people listen to Indian film music a year, and over 70% of what they’re listening to is written by the same three men: Shankar Mahadevan, Ehsaan Noorani, and Loy Mendoza. On film credits, they’re billed as their team name, “Shankar Eshaan Loy”, just like a corporation.  As big as these three have become, they practically are one. 

Their name alone exemplifies the best of modern India, Shankar, a Hindu, Ehsaan, a Muslim, and Loy, a Christian. They’re a part of the dynamism and success that evolves from a secular, progressive country.

In the past six years, they’ve reinvigorated the musical genre in India.  Gone are the arcane, traditional village folk melodies of previous generations that accompanied many scenes of buxom heroines frolicking along the Western Ghats. Waves of immigration over twenty years have made the audience more global, more attuned to varieties of musical styles and sensibilities.  Hip-hop, alternative, techno, and the old-fashioned Broadway score, have become incorporated into the songs of Hindi films diversifying the sound and emotions contemporary Indian pop culture.

The songs of Shankar Ehsaan Loy have the extraordinary ability to unify masses of scattered people in different countries and of different generations through common melodies that are infectiously catchy and irresistibly singable.  Half the listeners don’t even speak or understand the Hindi lyrics of the songs.  But people, regardless of cultural background, know a good song when they hear one, and Shankar Ehsaan Loy have prodigiously churned out several in the short span of only half a decade.

The Essential Shankar Eshaan Loy:


Mission Kashmir (2000)
Love amidst the blood-soaked beauty of civil war-torn Kashmir.  The film itself was a compelling blend of heaving machismo and romanticism, like crossing parts of Rambo with Dr. Zhivago, but the score was haunting and otherworldly.  From the achingly wistful lullaby, “So Ja Chanda” to the famous folk serenade, “Bumbro” performed by resplendently costumed Kashmiri dancers, the songs wrap you around in a dreamy haze.


Dil Chata Hai (The Heart Wants… - 2001)
Farhan Akhtar’s debut film about the love lives of a group of three close friends facing the anxieties of what to do with their lives after college touched a raw nerve among Indian teens in the way Say Anything and The Breakfast Club spoke to the youth market of the late 80s.  The songs are wildly eclectic and catchy: the rousing club anthem, “Koi kahe kehta rahe,” the romantic banter sung to the strains of a deegiree-doo in “Jaane kyon,” the joyously playful movie nostalgia piece, “Woh ladki hai kahan” to the soaring title song, the soundtrack was inventive and fresh and different from anything ever heard in Indian movies.


Kuch Naa Kaho (Don’t Say a Word - 2003)
This slightly better than average romantic comedy about a single mother finding true love is one of those movies that proves that a gorgeous score can save a movie. The partnership of the three composers with the éminence gris of lyricists, Javed Akhtar was seldom as rapturous and lush as it was here.  The Old World court poetry of ghazals set to contemporary pop and disco melodies made for an eclectic blend of love songs and serenades.  The rapier “battle-of-the-sexes” banter of “Baat Meri Suniye” has a Cole Porter cleverness, while the dance tune, “Tumhe Aaja Maine Jo Dekha” is at once energetic in beat and tender in romantic longing. 


Kal Ho Naa Ho (Tomorrow May Never Come - 2003)
The great, epic NRI (non-resident Indian) movie.  The Kapur family of Queens, with their emotional squabbles over marriage, money, and the future, their closeness with their friends and community, became a representation of us in our struggles to stake out an identity in the West while still retaining our Indian heritage.  The wistful title tune, “Kal Ho Naa Ho” is gentle nod to mythic move ballads of the past, “As Time Goes By,” and “Three Coins in a Fountain.”  But the most endearing, winning song is the boisterous wedding finale number, “Maahi Ve,” now played in every Indian wedding party in every hotel ballroom.


Bunty aur Babli (Bunty and Babli - 2005)
Bunty and Babli is a playful crime caper, like Catch Me if You Can, where we’re rooting for the young con artist in spite of his callousness and naivete. The film follows a couple of teenage runaways on their Robin Hood escapades, hoodwinking corrupt government officials and slimy petty thieves, all of whom deserve the childish humiliation they receive. The songs are sublime; the best kind of musical storytelling that propels the narrative as well as enlivens the film. The pulsating call to adventure, “Dhadak Dhadak” that opens the movie, the irresistibly bouncy title theme, “Bunty aur Babli” and the famous, show-stopping rock-ghazal, “Kajra Re” are all unforgettable and totally appealing to everyone at a fundamental level of pure, joyous entertainment.


Don  (2006)
A very sleek, high-style crime thriller from Farhan Akthar, a remake of a 70s, pseudo-blaxploitation classic.  Superstar Shahrukh Khan takes on an early Amitabh Bachan role and adds his own distinctive shadings of personality.  The music is suitably sophisticated with brittle, hard-edged techno tones.  Songs magnificently showcase a character’s motivations and drives.  The lazy folk melody “Khaike Paan Banaras Wala” resurrected from the original film, is pumped up full throttle here, complete with a synthesized techno background and the nuanced vocal shadings of Udit Narayan.  The seductive disco piece, “Aaj Ki Raat” is at once mysterious and danceable, and the religious hymn to Ganesha, “Maurya Re”is brilliantly composed, sung, and staged complete with clouds of pink and orange dust, cymbals, and hundreds of street dancers.


Salaam-E-Ishq (Love’s Sweet Salute - 2007)
Love, Actually, masala-style. Converging stories of different couples struggling through relationships in Mumbai has a breezy, effervescent quality that’s wholly entertaining.  The eclectic song sequences are lavishly and lovingly staged by talented new director, Nikhil Advani.  The gorgeous, infectiously catchy title number, “Salaam-E-Ishq” is a crowd-pleasing extravaganza in the vein of the golden age of Hollywood musicals from the 50s with the entire cast lip syncing like mad on a spinning soundstage; the Trafalgar Square wedding serenade, “Tenu Leke” is outrageous fun, with the film’s matinee idol, Salman Khan, playfully hip-thrusting with sari-clad back-up dancers in front of Nelson’s column. And the pensive lament, “Ye Rabba” is tender and aching, and adds just the right note of melancholy to temper the film’s buoyancy.  The soundtrack is perhaps the most varied and virtuosic of the three composers, a startling showcase of their versatility.


Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (Dance, Baby, Dance - 2007)
A striving-for-edgy romantic comedy set in the South Asian immigrant borough of East London.  The filmmakers spent more time on creating the illusion of cool associated with the stars than on developing an actual plot.  The film’s only good song is the title song, “Jhoom,” but when it’s good, it’s incredible.  Inventive in melody and instrumentation, with a repetitive, Sufic trancelike beat that stays in your head for hours. It’s a perfect blend of hybrid styles, courtly Old World Persian, Indian Classical, rock n’ roll and Bhangra that exemplifies the borderless, dynamic quality of Shankar, Eshaan, and Loy.


Chandni Chowk to China (2009)
The trio’s first, mainstream, wide-audience based movie: Bollywood musical meets a Kung Fu action flick. Reuniting with Saalam-E-Ishq and Kal Ho Naa Ho director, Nikhil Advani, Shankar-Eshaan-Loy explore a variety of different styles to compliment the commercial vehicle of this new type of cross-over movie. There’s a slick, pop-like Michael Jackson quality to the title track, “Chandi Chowk to China” while the film’s memorable romantic scene, the two loves soaring among the night-lit skyscrapers of Hong Kong, Mary Poppins-style with a magic umbrella, is accompanied by the gentle, electronic synthesizer melody of “Tere Naina.”  But the best track, is the most traditionally minded.  It’s the simple hero’s theme music, “S.I.D.H.U.,” a pulsating, exhilarating Indian classical, earthy Punjabi paean to optimism.

by Bill Gibron

26 Jan 2009


It’s been interesting to read the reaction to the Academy Award nominations this past Thursday (22 January). Naturally, most of the discussion has centered on the unfathomable snub sustained by Christopher Nolan and his Summer spectacular, The Dark Knight. While industry organizations like the Director’s Guild of America and the Producers Guild acknowledged the revamped Batman sequel, the lords of self-importance, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences decided against giving the box office hit the critical credit it deserves. Some seemed genuinely shocked by this decision, believing the Oscars had turned a kind of corner in the last years. But looking back at its recent history and the under the radar issues involved with the movies actually nominated, one starts to recognize the same old boy bullspit.

Let’s face it - the Academy Awards will never be hip. They aren’t founded on a philosophy of what’s trendy or what’s cool. They tend to stay within very strict standards and must be dragged kicking and screaming - sometimes, unsuccessfully - into the 21st century. In the last decade alone, there has been controversy surrounding the documentary, foreign film, and Best Song categories. Various film writers have taken Oscar to task for ignoring qualified entries, employing arcane and limiting rule requirements, and generally ignoring consensus for their own oblique aims. Many point out that some of the most important films of the last century never received Academy Award consideration, while others love to look at the list of ignored or marginalized talents and shake their heads in shame. 

So it’s clear that the Academy plods along to its own often arrhythmic drummer. Type in “Worst Oscar Winners” into Google and you’re bound to stumble on a million messageboard debates, most centering on unworthy winners (Shakespeare in Love, Gladiator, and American Beauty being the most common ones called out). There’s also the reflective invocations of movie that should have been heralded (Pulp Fiction, Little Children), got close, but then no golden cigar. But the one question few can answer is “Why?” After all, if so many people enjoyed a film (The Dark Knight‘s tracking over a billion dollars worldwide), so many critics supported it (a high 90s percentile on most review collective sites), and so many other awards stables sought fit to at least nominate it (DGA, PGA, Golden Globes), how can the Academy ignore it?

Let’s try to answer it, shall we? First off, there’s the ‘age’ factor. Oscar skews older - much older. A perfect example is someone like Ernest Borgnine, winner for his work in 1956’s Marty. At 92 - yep, 92 - he is still a vocal member of the old school Hollywood brigade. He and his demo want significance, not splash. He’s the perfect example of someone who would not have seen The Dark Knight, let alone support its nomination. And sadly, there are a lot of Borgnines out there. Reports suggest surviving Academy voters tend to be in the mid to late ‘50s (or much, much older), unimpressed by commercial carte blanche, and wait until the end of the year (when screeners come pouring into their mail slot) to make their final determinations. They are passionate about the old school Hollywood ideal, and their votes reflect same.

Of course, the minute you look at something like Slumdog Millionaire, that argument appears to hold no weight. After all, Danny Boyle’s unusual mosaic of Mumbai life as seen through the eyes of a desperate game show contestant isn’t the antiquated Tinsel Town type. Something this fresh and vibrant shouldn’t turn an Oscar holders head, and yet clearly it stands as this year’s front runner. The Academy obviously can’t ignore the clamor and consensus of the various sub-groups that make up their membership. No other film this year has received more outside acknowledgement than Slumdog. Not even The Dark Knight (only WALL-E can almost stand toe to toe, and there’s a whole separate category thing to take into consideration).

Without a doubt, Oscar uses the Nov/Dec hype machine, along with the various critic’s lists and the so-called “important” awards to gauge where it goes. Had The Dark Knight racked up dozens of Best Picture recognitions from bellwethers like the Golden Globes (who went with Slumdog), the National Board of Review (Slumdog), the New York Film Critics (Milk) or the Broadcast Film Critics (Slumdog), the momentum might have been there for an Academy acknowledgement. As it stands, we can clearly see that many found the Christopher Nolan to be a fine, even masterful film. But when it came time to make a final determination about the year’s best, few placed it on top.

That doesn’t matter, you say. The Dark Knight still deserved placement above something like The Reader - and you know what, you’d be right. The Reader does not deserve to be in the Top Five films that the AMPAS considers worth congratulating. In 2008 alone, amazing movies like Frozen River, Doubt, The Wrestler, Happy-Go-Lucky, Synecdoche, New York, and Revolutionary Road deserved to take its slot. Even if you put both The Dark Knight and WALL-E in the mix, The Reader still trails down toward the bottom. The shock many felt on 22 January wasn’t the Nolan snub so much as the Stephen Daldry bow. His lax resume, including a similarly startling nod for the overrated The Hours (remember that movie? Exactly) indicated someone who should feel lucky to be mentioned in someone’s acceptance speech, not sitting in the auditorium with the rest of the year’s best.

The DGA thought so. They did not nominate his work as a director. Neither did the PGA, which passed on recognizing The Reader as one of year’s top efforts. So how did it sneak in over other deserving movies? The answer appears to be sympathy. This past year, both Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack passed away. Well loved, universally respected, and highly influential behind the scenes, these men were two of the four producers ‘acknowledged’ for their work on the Holocaust themed drama. Some have even speculated that the response to The Reader from inside the industry was so strong (mostly due to the community’s feelings for Minghella and Pollack) that the groundswell helped push the picture past other deserving entries.

Since the movie can’t stand next to the other Best Picture contenders and claim its celluloid legitimacy, the age factor and the sympathy vote seem like the real reasons The Dark Knight is missing from the final tally (or at the very least, why The Reader is there). It won’t change the fact that more people will know Nolan’s work and anticipate his next move than ever care if Daldry gets another job (he followed up his work on The Hours with…nothing - until now). One could argue over the importance of a film focusing on how human beings deal with something as evil as the Nazi extermination of the Jews, but since The Reader mostly skims over that material, the point becomes moot.

It’s safe to say that, once again, politics, good publicity machines, previous experience pushing subpar product, and the unusual fluke of a critically acclaimed picture being popular as well undermined The Dark Knight‘s chances at Oscar gold. Hollywood apparently likes to champion the underdog. Heroes need not apply.

by Bill Gibron

25 Jan 2009


It’s hard to reinvent archetypes. By their very nature, they are so representative of a concept or idea that they tend to wholly define it. This is especially true in horror films. A vampire is a vampire, no matter how you dress it up, romanticize it, or otherwise reconfigure its thirst for blood. Same with werewolves, ghosts, serial killers, and most importantly, zombies. The undead have a certain set of inherent limitations that make them simultaneously the most and least creepy villains around. Their hunger for human flesh is definitely disturbing. Their relatively slow rate of attack can, on occasion, be almost laughable. Of course, when filmmakers try to overhaul the genre, they only work in style, or speed. They never consider substance. That, oddly enough is where the 1981 fright flick Dead & Buried finds its freshness.

In the small town of Potter’s Bluff, some unsavory things have been going on. Anyone new to the remote coastal locale is immediately struck by how run down, gloomy, and inhospitable it seems. Of course, they don’t get to savor that reality for long since the citizenry appears intent on killing anyone who happens to wander by. As the sheriff in this insignificant postage stamp of a burg, Dan Gillis is starting to worry. The dead bodies keep turning up, and he’s finding it harder and harder to explain their deaths. Even worse, it appears that some of these corpses are “arriving” back up in the town - the same people, but with new personalities. All signs point to oddball mortician William Dobbs, and his unusual obsession with the funereal process. But the problem may be bigger for the underhanded lawman - it may have its roots right in his own home.

Without giving most of the major plot points away, Dead & Buried is one exceedingly creepy experience. It’s a gruesome, slightly gory take on the whole Invasion of the Body Snatchers/Night of the Living Dead dynamic. Clearly, without spoiling the experience, Potter’s Bluff is unstuck in time. The overall look of the city is dirty, unkempt, and rotting. Everywhere, little hints at what actually could be happening are just visible in the corner of the frames (store shelves inundated with cobwebs, boarded up buildings in supposedly active areas). The population appears to be living in a combination of eras. Some - like the local diner staff and the gas station crew - are carved out of the late ‘40s/‘50s. Others appear like fantasy version of various decades, a queer combination of Victorian and contemporary, old world New England and new world modernity.

Jammed in the middle of this mystery our the two leads, James Farentino and Jack Albertson. The former plays Sheriff Gillis like it’s the last act of some hyperactive Hamlet. Every gesture is over the top, every line reading threatening to chew off what’s left of the scenery. The latter’s William Dobbs, however, is a faultless interpretation of unsuspecting evil. We’re not used to seeing Albertson like this - bizarre, obscure, intense. It’s one of those head spinning turns that changes your perspective on an actor. While Farentino can come across as incredibly hammy, his co-stars studied performance keeps things in check. Elsewhere, the cast is filled out with familiar ‘80s faces like Melody Anderson (as Gillis’ weird wife), Barry Corbin, and in a minor role, future Freddy Krueger Robert Englund. Thanks to the rest of the mostly no-name company, Dead & Buried keeps its sense of ambiguity.

Yet what stands out today - and even more so thanks to Blue Underground’s revamped Blu-ray version of the title - is how moody and atmospheric the film is, both internally and externally. As part of the three (!!!) commentary tracks available, cinematographer Steve Poster discusses the unusual look the he, the director Gary Sherman and their movie hoped to achieve. Supervising the remastering of the print onto the high definition format, he made sure that the low lighting, rampant grain, purposeful darkness, and overall gritty tone were meticulously maintained. While some may argue with this approach, it does give the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image a truly unearthly feel. Dead & Buried may not look like some brand spanking new Hollywood horror film - and that, apparently, was the intention all along.

It’s also interesting to hear director Sherman speak about the film. His track provides insights into how the movie changed from script to screen (he intended a black comedy), and why he shied away for standard fright film conventions. Of course, he also teases fans with a long lost “director’s cut” which, of course, cannot be located today. Along with added information from co-writer Ronald Shusett and various featurettes presenting the late Stan Winston, co-writer Dan O’Bannon, and the aforementioned Mr. Englund, we discover the truth behind Dead & Buried‘s avant-garde designs. Even with a brand new pair of 7.1 lossless soundtracks (DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD) which attempt to add immersive atmosphere and direction to the production design, it’s what’s in the frame that counts - and what’s there is wonderful.

In fact, calling Dead & Buried a “forgotten” film belies what Sherman, Shusett, and O’Bannon created. Who could ever shake the image of a long hypodermic needle piercing an eyeball? A man tied up and burned alive in a fishing net? A family terrorized by a gang of grim townsfolk while holed up in an abandoned ‘haunted’ house? Or what about the denouement which mixes terror, romance, sadness, and satisfaction all in one? Clearly, anyone who has overlooked this movie before has done so for one inexplicable reason - they haven’t seen it.

To watch Dead & Buried (on Blu-ray or standard DVD) today is to experience a true attempt at reinventing a cinematic variety. For the most part, zombies are decaying reflections of our current cultural crisis, a monster made relevant by an almost egotistical need to see ourselves in even the most dire of biological straights. When viewed more clearly, and with the clarity of hindsight, this is Dead & Buried‘s core concept. It’s also why it deserves its disregarded gemstone status. 

by Bill Gibron

24 Jan 2009


Quick - what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the name Sonny Chiba? Martial arts? Japanese bad-assness? The Street Fighter? A nominal name check in True Romance? An actual role in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill? Or maybe images of a feudal East come to mind, a territory on the verge of technological breakthroughs and industrial progress, and a small village terrorized by a thriving metal concern and a 900 lb killer bear? What, you say? The other ideas are definitely Chiba-like in perspective, but what does a period piece about a murderous animal and a group of mercenaries trying to destroy it have to do with the international superstar?

Actually, everything, since in 1990 Chiba directed his first (and to date only) film, Remains: Beautiful Heroes. Later retitled Yellow Fangs, the unusual effort became one of the most important movies in Chiba’s lengthy resume - for all the wrong reasons. After making more than 120 movies, the well known man of action decided to step behind the lens. A true labor of love, he hoped Remains would open up another avenue of expression for his mythic career. But it didn’t. As a result of the film’s failure, the legend had to sell almost all his assets, including his famed training school, the Japanese Action Club. Once you see the film, however, it’s easy to understand why fans failed to support Chiba’s idiosyncratic project

Instead of dealing with mobsters, street toughs, and the inevitable high flying fisticuffs that breaks out between them both, Chiba channeled the tale (based on an actual incident) of Red Spots, a massive bruin that terrorized a rural Hokkaido around the turn of the century. Concentrating its wrath on the local female population, the village hunters found their concerted efforts to trap it almost futile. Tossing in a love story between a young warrior and a girl out to avenge her parent’s death, Chiba’s choice flaunted convention.

The connection to the JAC was also obvious, right from the beginning. In fact, Yellow Fangs opens with a credit sequence recognition “in commemoration of the 20th anniversary” of the famed actor’s school. Many of the leads - Henry Sanada, Hiroyuki Nagato - were associated with or students of Chiba. Sadly, when the film eventually flopped at the box office, Chiba was forced to liquidate the club (he financed most of the movie himself) and head off to Hollywood to earn an easy (and much needed) paycheck. Today, he has even changed his professional name to “Rindō Wachinaga” to avoid further association with his action past. 

It’s a shame that Yellow Fangs failed, for it truly shows what Chiba could do with a camera. It’s a movie that’s large in scope, but very human in its dramatics. While some might see the synopsis and think of an Asian exploitation effort ala William Girdler’s Jaws rip-off Grizzly (1976), this is a much more serious, much more somber experience. There are no major stunt sequences, no real reliance on fighting skills or kung fu styles to sell the story. Instead, we get a sly social commentary which pits the traditional ways of Ancient Japan vs. the encroaching threat of modern society (ie, a copper mining concern). There’s also an underhanded take on the paternalistic nature of the country both then and now.

Chiba takes a big cinematic risk right off the bat, offering up an initial bear attack that is quite gruesome, followed by the introduction of the hunters, and then an extended, almost hour long flashback. During this time, we learn of the longstanding relationship between friends Eiji and Yuki, the government’s desire to keep the locals in line, and the gender-based rift which causes all sides to clash. There is a lot of exposition here, as well as some of the most beautiful shots of the winter/spring Japanese countryside ever captured on film. Chiba may be a wonder with his actors, but his framing and composition are extraordinary.

There are several themes at work here - old world values up vs. the encroaching progress, the battle of the sexes between powerless women and their too controlling men, the violent need of nature to put man in its place, etc. All throughout the narrative, Chiba stops the adventure to give characters a chance to reflect. There is a lot of regret in this film - regret for relying on the hunters to stop the slaughter, regret from Eiji that he hasn’t made his feelings known to Yuki, regret from her regarding the fate of her family. But at its core, Yellow Fangs is really just a mystical monster movie, a film where evil is given a sinister spiritual façade, before turning into folklore.

Even with its strange combination of thrills and thought-provoking, Chiba illustrates his real feel for the art of cinema. He understands the subtleties of the medium, and uses his lens as both an insular and reflective device. When the bear attacks, he uses every trick in the book to hide the less than impressive “man in suit” effects. Elsewhere, he was not afraid to hold on close-ups, the actors allowed time to dig deep and deliver powerful, and quite personal, performances. There is an indebtedness to the Shaw Brothers, with many of the locations having a slick, soundstage quality, and by working with friends and well wishers, you can see the amount of drive and determination the cast and crew felt for this project. It’s as if they knew a lot of their idol’s reputation - professional and financial - was riding on it.

Perhaps that’s why, indirectly, Yellow Fangs feels so sad. You can sense a kind of finality in the project, a real indication that Chiba believed he was creating some manner of art with this elevated campfire tale. It’s no surprise then that, up until recently, the actor has stayed away from the director’s chair. But this past year, Chiba changes his mind. His latest creation is the upcoming drama Za Toichi, supposedly centering on illegal loans where 10% interest is charged ever ten days (the title is short for ‘tooka de ichiwari’). While still “in production”, it will be interesting to see what he brings to this far more modern tale. What’s clear from Yellow Fangs is that, when he wants to be, Sonny Chiba is a sensational filmmaker. Too bad it took 28 years to discover that fact.

by Bill Gibron

23 Jan 2009


World War I. World War II. The Cuban Missile Crisis. The Cold War. The Rapture. The Harmonic Convergence. Y2K. And now, 2012. It seems like every other decade, the planet is threatened with outright extinction, either the direct result of something manmade or as part of a plan cosmically preordained. So far, it’s been Third Rock from the Sun several, the Apocalypse zero. Some think that may all change with the latest ancient prophecy turned multimedia profit. Famed schlock meister Roland Emmerich has even named his latest dithering disaster epic after the proposed Mayan meltdown. Talk about timely.

Of course, not every discussion of the possible end of the world is so cheesy. The Disinformation Company, noted contrarians and certified skeptics, are sponsoring Nimrod Erez’s latest documentary on the subject - 2012: Science or Superstition. And while many of the talking heads presented sound less than secure in determining the final sell by date for mankind, there are some interesting ideas being floated within their occasionally confusing pseudo-scientific analysis. At times, you feel like you’re watching a group of very well educated and considered individuals discussing the existence of pixies.

There are two main sides to the 2012 debate. According to the Maya Calendar, a specific time “cycle” will be ending on 21 December of that year. Successions or phases of existence was the preferred way for the ancient culture to map out their civilization - everything from planting and harvesting to greater concerns about gods and monsters. When 21 December 2012 arrives, it supposedly signifies some manner of completion for the Mayas. On one side are scholars who interpret this as the last tick of the Doomsday clock. When we hit that moment, everything we know about the world will simply cease to exist. Boom.

On the other side of the argument, however, are those who take a more inspired or spiritual position regarding the countdown. To them, 21 December 2012 is not the end of times. Instead, it’s a moment of consciousness raising, a chance for the people of the planet to come together and alter the cosmic perception. There will be no death or destruction, only rebirth and renewal. For most of 2012: Science or Superstition, we hear both sides structure their arguments, struggle for supporting evidence and theories, and eventually agree that most of what they are discussing is purely speculative. We even get a few descents of the Maya race who dismiss all the apocalyptic talk as sensational and misapplied.

The key to all of this is where, exactly, the Earth will be in conjunction with the Sun and where said star will be located come 21 December 2012. Within the Milky Way, there’s a ‘great rift’, a massive cloud of dense space dust which will supposedly wreck havoc with the planet’s sole source of heat and light. The sun will be sitting smack dab in the middle of it on 12/21/2012. Solar flares are the biggest concern, their magnetic fields and indeterminate destructive power capable of almost anything. For those who believe in the end of everything, this rare positioning if the indicator. When the Sun finally wanders into the rift, and then aligns with our world, we’re in for something quite cataclysmic.

While 2012: Science of Superstition eschews digital recreations of major catastrophes, there some to be a kind of consensus on what might happen - melting of the ice caps, a complete reversal of the poles (a very intriguing notion which gets little more than a cursory mention) and an increase in natural phenomenon like flooding, earthquakes, volcanoes, and hurricanes. There’s also talk about the rotation of the Earth’s core, a fudging of orbits, and other sci-fi sounding disasters. In fact, one of the flaws in this otherwise entertaining film is the rampant hyperbole. Without much proof, these well educated minds free associate on the Apocalypse like it’s a personal hobby.

Of course, there are skeptics, the minds that measure out logic and reason and then dismiss everything except the bare bones scientific truths. They cannot deny the astronomical data, there’s no way to circumvent what decades of research has more or less confirmed. But there are aspects of the science that still sound sketchy. Some is based on the work of a Russian thinker whose theories appear unproven (something to do with the entire galaxy passing through a huge unsettled interstellar mass). Others use an erudite form of guessing to give us insight into what might happen a little over three years from now.

So why indulge this exercise in extrapolation? Why give Disinformation and its otherwise cracking sense of contrarianism a whiff of respect with regard to this conjecture? The answer is easy - 2012: Science or Superstition is actually very engaging, in a kind of mental jumpstarting way. There’s a certain level of indirect audience participation here, an inherent aspect that allows viewers to draw their own conclusions and shout (silently) back at the screen. Since Enez is not out to confirm the comments of his participants, he allows them to say their peace, and then provides just enough contradiction to allow the home video witnesses to make up their own minds. Many will come away thinking that Independence Day‘s Emmerich has just as much right to destroy the Andes with a tidal wave as these intellectuals have in stirring up their own brand of fear.

In the end, 2012: Science or Superstition does little except put the idea of a possible apocalypse out there like so many others have before. And one imagines that, just like the Christians who are still back peddling about their prediction that The Rapture was coming in 1988 (among many divergent years before…and after), these thinkers will be revising their theories when, as one interviewee puts it, “your bills are still due come 1, January, 2013.” However, there is some amusement to be had in contemplating what ancient cultures thought about the way the world ended, and when you add in the well spoken if frequently freaky explanations for what may occur, the whole experience becomes surreal. Maybe the cosmos will indeed have the last laugh come 21 December 2012. Here’s betting we’re around to hear the anticipated chuckle.

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