Ten Lessons Learned in Roland Emmerich's '2012'

by Bill Gibron

12 November 2009

Two hours and 35 minutes of dour, dark neo-cannibalism and hopelessness along a long “road” leading to nowhere, or 155 entertaining as Hell minutes of CG shit blowing up.
cover art


Cast: John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, Danny Glover

(Columbia Pictures)
US theatrical: 13 Nov 2009 (General release)
UK theatrical: 13 Nov 2009 (General release)

Review [13.Nov.2009]

Get ready people! In less than 24 hours, Roland Emmerich is going to offer up his latest version of the end of the world as we know it - and you should feel mighty fine about seeing it (especially on a big ole movie screen). Sure, it’s silly, stupid, schlocky, clichéd, formulaic, flawed, unintentionally hilarious, and lacking any real artistic merit, but at the end of the day, what do you really want - two hours and thirty-five minutes of dour, dark neo-cannibalism and hopelessness along a long “road” leading to nowhere, or 155 entertaining as Hell minutes of CG shit blowing up! Thought so.

Anyway, before you ramble into your local Cineplex and plop down this month’s mortgage payment on amusement and concessions, there are a few preemptive things you need to know about this latest take on the genre. According to the Mayan Calendar, everything ends on 12/21/2012. They foresaw it and forewarned us. For our part, early explorers wiped out their advanced culture. Indeed, perhaps the first thing you need to know is that, once name checked, the ancient civilization responsible for the title is tossed aside like so much stale bread to make room for more and more scenes of LA getting obliterated. In fact, like that equally unapologetically ‘so bad, it’s brilliant’ example of disaster porn - The Core - once we get the premise in place, it’s time to start screwing with the planet.

While there may be some minor Spoilers ahead, don’t fret - nothing said here will ruin your fanatical desire to see huge tsunamis break over mountains or aircraft carriers slam into the White House (you have seen the trailers…right?). In fact, the purpose of this little piece is to give you a few insights into what makes Emmerich tick - and why his movie are so mind-bogglingly satisfying…in a wholly guilty kind of way. After all, this is the man who once tried to verify ancient astronauts with Stargate, and who strove to outdo Al Gore in the environmentalist department with The Day After Tomorrow. Clearly, he’s not sane, but this is one director who knows how to deliver the ample Armageddon goods. Let’s start with the little sun spot rascals who get us into this ‘three years and counting’ mess:

Neutrinos SUCK!
That’s right - according to the film, our galaxy’s oversized ball of luminous gas will belch out a massive blast of these radioactive particles, sending them down into the Earth’s crust where they will act as microwaves - and for anyone who’s tried to bite into a post-nuked Hot Pocket before it’s cooled down, the hyper-sizzling results spell doom and gloom for the planet.

Little Kids SUCK!
John Cusack plays a disinterested dad who has two of the most generic children in the history of Central Casting. Not to be outdone, a rich Russian billionaire has two twin terrors who look like transvestite members of the former East German Women’s Olympic Team (sans the athletic prowess). Naturally, these bratlings spend inordinate amounts of time whining, crying, and demanding help. Typical. Can’t they see that the Earth’s crust is cracking and shifting? Always “ME, ME, ME, ME…”

Washington Bureaucrats SUCK!
Oliver Platt plays someone associated with the President who can apparently make any Executive Branch decision imaginable with little or no consultation with his boss, the Congress, or members of Fox News’ management. Naturally, he decides to turn the Earth’s survival plan into an auction among the Who’s Who of international uber-rich riff-raff. And we wonder why nothing ever gets done in D. C.

Conspiracy Theorist Radio Talk Show Hosts are a Wealth of Expositional Information!
Thank god for Woody Harrelson’s extended cameo as a wacked out broadcaster who knows just about everything regarding the 2012 apocalypse - who predicted it, why it is happening, how he will deal with it, how Cusack should deal with it, and where the world’s government is hiding its secret surplus of rescue “ships”. Passengers have to pay $1 billion Euros to gain such informational access. All John Cusack has to do is listen to the wingnut rant for about ten minutes. Who got the better deal?

Vesuvius and Pompeii Ain’t Got Nothing on Yellowstone!
About 45 minutes in, we learn that one of our most famous National Parks is actually a dormant volcano waiting to blow - and when it finally does, the unbridled amount of carnage and damage is stunning. Ancient Rome had nothing on the good old U.S. or A. Of course, it figures that when it comes to all out desolation of the world’s population, America would be the one to excel. 

Even God Has a Sense of Humor!
While he chose to spare Mecca (yep - Emmerich actually thought about leveling Allah’s favorite hot spot - and then living Salam Rushdie style - before cooler heads prevailed), St. Peter’s Basilica gets demolished - right in the middle of a prayer vigil for the planet. The best moment? Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling depiction of the Creator and his creation gets split down the middle - right in between the two outreached fingers. Talk about portents of hopelessness. Even the Big Guy is baling on mankind!

Nobody Cares About India - But They Do Care About Art!
Who cares if you make up one-sixth of the world’s population (and about 78% of corporate community’s IT and customer service and tech support)? If you live anywhere between Kashmir and Tamil Nadu, you’re screwed. No one is coming to rescue you, not even if you are instrumental in warning everyone about the impending apocalypse. So just suck it up and drown. Of course, if you are the Mona Lisa or any number of famous canvases and sculptures, you get a one-way first class ticket to rescue ark redemption.

How to Be the World’s Best Selling Author? Be the Last One Alive!
John Cusack moonlights as a limo driver because his last novel sold a whopping 400 copies. Yet chief US scientist Chiwetel Ejiofor loves the tome, and brings it along with the rest of his effects once Armageddon comes knocking. The result - Cusack becomes an instant literary hero, and the book’s physical presence among the last artifacts of human civilization guarantees him a “bigger than Oprah” push come eventual republication.

Get that Low Cost African Real Estate NOW!
Don’t ask, since the remaining continents get swamped by a tidal wave that almost completely covers Mt. Everest. We do eventually learn that this new waterworld’s mythic “dry land” is actually the world’s second-largest and second most-populous soon to be gated subdivision. While dealing with the less than 400K survivors looking for affordable housing might not be a problem, the indigenous peoples might not be putting out the Welcome Wagon quite so quickly. Something about several hundred years of colonialization and exploitation…

The Apocalypse Cures Bed Wetting!
“No more Pull-ups…”, perhaps the greatest last line in an overblown disaster movie…ever! (Oh, and if it is indeed not the last line, it should be.)

We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work. We are a wholly independent, women-owned, small company. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing, challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. PopMatters needs your help to keep publishing. Thank you.

//Mixed media

NYFF 2017: 'Mudbound'

// Notes from the Road

"Dee Rees’ churning and melodramatic epic follows two families in 1940s Mississippi, one black and one white, and the wars they fight abroad and at home.

READ the article