Film

It's the End of the World as We Know It (and We Can't Wait!)


2012

Director: Roland Emmerich
Cast: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Danny Glover, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Sony Pictures
Year: 2009
US date: 2009-11-13 (General release)
UK date: 2009-11-13 (General release)
Website
Trailer

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.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star Salim Shaheen, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people.

"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

Related Articles Around the Web

People aren't cheering Supergirl on here. They're not thanking her for her heroism, or even stopping to take a selfie.

It's rare for any hero who isn't Superman to gain the kind of credibility that grants them the implicitly, unflinching trust of the public. In fact, even Superman struggles to maintain that credibility and he's Superman. If the ultimate paragon of heroes struggles with maintaining the trust of the public, then what hope does any hero have?

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image