John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Danny Glover, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, Chiwetel Ejiofor
(Sony Pictures; US theatrical: 13 Nov 2009 (General release); UK theatrical: 13 Nov 2009 (General release); 2009)
When it hit the web last week, film geeks everywhere felt the hairs on the nape of their neck tingle just a tiny little bit. Sure, we were dealing with that cinematic inconsistency known as Roland Emmerich, a man who made a definitive alien invasion film with Independence Day, and one of the dopiest Earth vs. nature romps with The Day After Tomorrow. But with an exclusive look at the first trailer for his upcoming catastrophe epic 2012 waiting in the wings (a tantalizing teaser had arrived late last year), a few guilty pleasure palpitations could be expecting. Now, after witnessing the nearly three minutes of mindless Armageddon madness the new preview offered, the ‘Net is in almost universal agreement: Screw this Summer’s sloppy CG action fests. What we need right now is a major dose of Emmerich patented disaster porn, and FAST.
Oddly enough, 2012 was bumped to November of 2009 when it was deemed that May through August was too jam-packed with greatness. Of course, after two months, it says something about said popcorn season that Star Trek remains the best stunt and spectacle flick of the lot. Indeed, J.J. Abrams able reboot has bested an anemic Wolverine, a toxic Land of the Lost, a sheepish Terminator, and a paltry Pelham 1 2 3. And with few potential challengers waiting in the wings - it’s hard to imagine Transformers, Public Enemies, Harry Potter, or GI Joe besting the sensational voyages of this particular Starship Enterprise - it may be up to Emmerich to save the blockbuster, albeit a whole three months too late. From the looks of the trailer, it has everything that’s missing from the current crop of movies - chutzpah, vision, and an undeniable desire to destroy any and all things in its path.
When 2012 was first announced, it seemed like another tawdry tie-in to a hot button outsider issue. Conspiracy theorists and similarly skittish people have been predicting the end of times ever since the Mayan Calendar got some critical analysis. Everything from worldwide plague to total planetary devastation has been predicted with little more than some ancient ruins and an equally rudimentary grasp on what these primitives actually believed and bothered to record as the basis. And the initial teaser for the film provided one of those patented movie money shots guaranteed to get viewers gaping while wondering just what the Hell it all means. Indeed, as a monk rings a bell indicating some manner of impending crisis, a wall of water comes streaming over the mountains, indicating one massive tidal wave is about to wipe out all manner of civilization in its wake - and several thousand feet below it.
Now comes the full blown trailer and it’s a masterpiece of mass destruction. It begins with the typical tabloid news montage, 24 hour channels cheering the various omens with the standard doom and gloom prostylitizing. Soon, things start going boom. The Vatican watches as St. Peters literally falls apart. Elsewhere, John Cusak and his family are attacked by what appears to be every meteorite and/or asteroid in the entire Milky Way. Random shots of Los Angeles in full blown earthquake mode are witnessed, while the entire state of California appears to disappear into the Pacific after said “big one” concludes. There are cities on fire, deep snowbanks outside a desolate Washington DC, and an argument between co-stars Oliver Platt and Chiwetel Ejiofor about who can evacuate the planet in one of America’s waiting space arks.
That’s right - space arks - huge starships that, in less than three years, will apparently be revealed as our last best hope of survival against a world quickly given over to cosmic climate shifts. As people gather to take refuge, as Air Force One (containing President Danny Glover, one imagines) is overwhelmed by massive swells of unholy aquifer, Cusak and his family make a mad dash to the spacecraft, hopefully to travel to a world less prone to prophetic pronouncement. Scattered in between are shots of the Washington monument toppling over, a small plane flying between two collapsing skyscrapers, and as the giddy pièce de résistance, the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy riding another tidal wave, this one aimed directly at the White House.
While it sounds like nothing but 180 seconds of unbridled mayhem, the kind of over-the-top spectacle that the Sci-Fi Channel has been riding on since the laptop gave birth to computer generated destruction, no one can deny Emmerich’s eye. This is a man who clearly enjoys dismantling the various landmarks and wonders of the ancient/modern world. While the sequences offered in the 2012 trailer probably represent the key “wow” moments in the movie, one imagines even more noted vistas getting vivisected by the jolly German. He’s made mincemeat out of so many of our recognizable metropolises that there will probably be a call for him to make another movie of this type, if only to sacrifice those cities he’s somehow missed.
But it’s more than just the concept of chaos. Emmerich is a champion at what could best be called the “believability factor”. Oh sure, his 10,000 BC antics were about as fake as falsies on a longshoreman, but it’s hard to deny the impact of New York’s “drowning” under Tomorrow‘s perfect flood. Similarly, when our angry ETs obliterate the Empire State Building (and much of Manhattan in the process), Emmerich gets the god-awfulness absolutely right. He understands both the awe and the horror of having reality spin wildly out of control, though his films frequently miss the boat in most other important filmmaking facets (character, narrative clarity, artistic bravado). Still, when you want someone to destroy the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio, you’ve got to get Emmerich.
So while we sit and wait, watching the trailer over and over again for clues and continuing clarification on just what might be happening to our favorite solar system member, it’s clear that 2012 will be a big fat hype heavy wait-and-see subject among many in Nerd Nation and its multiple messageboard suburbs. Sure, the buzz has more or less died down after a relatively fast start, but as the Summer lags and the big guns sputter and misfire, fans of larger than life obliteration will be looking to Emmerich to appease their need. 2012 could be an undeniable epic of Grand Canyon Guignol proportions. It could also be so cheesy and rank that sewer rats can’t cotton to its flavor. Whatever the case, the opening sales pitch salvo sure looks smashing. For anyone underwhelmed by what the year has had to offer so far, five months will be a Helluva long wait.