Thursday, December 20, 2012

Stubs - 2012 - You Were Warned

2012 (2009) Starring: John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt, Thandie Newton, Danny Glover, Woody Harrelson. Directed by Roland Emmerich. Screenplay by Harold Kloser and Roland Emmerich Produced by Harold Kloser, Mark Gordon, Larry J. Franco. Run Time: 158 minutes. U.S.  Color. Action, Disaster, Horror.

Okay, so say the Mayans are right and the world as we know it is going to end on Friday, December 21, 2012. What would that look like? I assume that was the premise that Roland Emmerich and Sony Pictures started with in 2008 and $200 million later, this is what we’re left with. While the film made back its investment, grossing nearly $800 million worldwide, was it worth it? Let’s put it this way, if someone were going through and pulling together the great works of art and literature, as they show them doing in this movie, this would not be included.

I’m not going to comment on the science of the film, since I’m not a scientist, but this is one of those cases where if they try to lose you in a tsunami of science-sounding words and phrases, so that what they’re saying may be crap, but sitting there in the dark of the theater or in front of your TV at home, which is where I saw this, you don’t have the wherewithal to question it. Safe to say, what they propose is never going to happen. The film even tries to blame our demise on the Mayans, even though they never predicted impending doom. Besides, if the Mayans were able to tell the future, why were they wiped out? Didn’t see it coming?

The film suffers from many ailments, the bad science being only one of them. There are too many characters, too many events, too many locales and too much coincidence. In the end it’s all too long and ultimately boring.

There are more locales than a James Bond film as we bop around the globe starting in India, where, in 2009, one of their scientists, Dr. Satnam Tsurutani (Jimi Mistry), discovers that due to solar activity, the earth’s core is super heating. I’m skipping over the film’s “scientific” explanation, since it would give you a headache, but essentially that’s what’s happening. The earth’s crust will collapse, causing displacement and a shifting of the poles. Pretty heady stuff. He informs Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), an American geologist with a low-level sounding government job, about the situation and we know from the get go that the world is doomed.

Adrian immediately flies back to Washington and gives the report to White House Chief of Staff Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt) the news. Platt immediately understands the situation and pulls Helmsley to work for the White House.

Skip ahead to 2010, President Thomas Wilson (Danny Glover) informs the other G8 leaders about the approaching cataclysm and a plan is hatched to save humanity. We learn later that this involves building arks, just like Noah, but several and built to hold 400,000 of the species’ best gene pool and monied civilians. Because your world governments are corrupt, politicians and rich people are apparently the chosen ones.

That’s where our “hero” Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) finally comes in. In 2012, the novelist turned limo driver is taking his two children Noah (Liam Jones) and Lilly (Morgan Lily) on vacation in Yellowstone, which is apparently only a few hours drive from LA. (I’m not forgetting the son is named Noah. Get it? Just like the ark guy. I guess no one names their daughter Emzara, Noah’s wife’s name, anymore.) His estranged wife Kate (Amanda Peet) has taken up with a new man, we’ll call him toast, but the movie calls him Gordon Silberman (Thomas McCarthy), a cosmetic surgeon.

While at Yellowstone, Jackson takes the kids to see one of his favorite places, but it has been fenced off. Of course, that doesn’t stop Jackson, who takes the kiddies over the fence to the now extinct lake. The trio is quickly taken into custody, where we again meet Adrian, who is at the national park taking temperature readings of the earth. He recognizes Jackson from the book he happens to be reading at the moment.

The family also runs into Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson), who happens to be hosting a radio show from the park, about, what else, the end of the world. Charlie tells Jackson that he happens to have a map showing where the arks are located.

When the displacement starts, coinciding with Gordon telling Kate that nothing will keep them apart. (Get it? That’s supposed to be funny.) Jackson brings the kids back home, and is in time to pick up Alec (Alexandre Haussmann) and Oleg Karpov (Philippe Haussmann), the twin sons of Russian billionaire Yuri Karpov (Zlatko Buric) who has already gotten the message to arrive for boarding. When the twins taunt Jackson, he gets worried and hires a Cessna to take his family away. Literally seconds and inches away from the abyss opening literally under them, Jackson brings Kate, Gordon, Noah and Lilly back to the Santa Monica airport. But the pilot he’s hired is already dead. Gordon knows enough to get the plane airborne, again as the runway collapses beneath them. Gordon has trouble with gaining altitude, since they seem to fly a long way at low altitude and direction; instead of flying over the nearby ocean, Gordon heads inland, where the ground apparently rises hundreds of feet into the air and buildings collapse to the left and right of them before they reach safety.

Safety is Yellowstone National Park, which has a deserted airstrip where Gordon lands to refuel. They’ve gone there to retrieve the map Charlie has. When Jackson goes off to find Charlie, Lilly insists on going along. They find Charlie’s RV, which they take, and find Charlie, who is broadcasting live on the rim of a soon-to-be super volcano. Charlie tells Jackson that the map is in with the other maps and he refuses to go with them. He’d rather stay for a ringside seat to the end of the world.

The volcano goes off and before Jackson can get on the plane, the RV falls into a crevice. While Lilly is okay, Gordon starts to take off without Jackson. But clutching the map, he runs to catch up, again just in the nick of time as that runway also collapses. When Jackson looks at the map, the ships are in China. They fly to Las Vegas to get a bigger plane. There at the airport, they run into Yuri, his sons, his girlfriend Tamara (Beatrice Rosen) and Sasha (Johann Urb), Yuri’s pilot. Their plane has apparently fallen victim to a crevice in the runway and they can’t get it out. Tamara is a patient of Gordon’s as well, having gotten a boob job to please Yuri. 

Against all odds, Sasha finds a plane, a Russian cargo plane carrying a collection of high end cars, which they commandeer. Jackson and family only get to go along, since Gordon can help co-pilot the plane.

Back in Washington, Adrian is pushing for the President to tell the nation what’s going on, which he eventually does. Perhaps out of guilt, President Wilson decides not to leave. When the Vice President is killed and the Speaker of the House is missing, Anheuser takes over as acting President. Screw the Constitution.

Bad news comes for Jackson and party when Sasha determines they don’t have enough fuel to make it to the rendezvous spot, but the Earth crust displacement helps them because China is now closer than it had been. However, they’ve already lost their landing gear, since they hit the Paris hotel’s Eiffel Tower on their way out of Vegas. But Sasha has the idea the others can drive out of the plane while he tries to land it. Everyone survives, save Sasha who falls to his death over a cliff.

Chinese officials find the survivors, but only take Yuri and his sons, since they are the only ones who have tickets. The others are picked up by Nima (Osric Chau), a Buddhist monk who is taking his grandparents (Tseng Chang and Lisa Lu) to meet up with Tenzen (Chin Han) who is going to sneak them onboard one  of the arks he’s been helping to build. At first Tenzen refuses to help Jackson and family, but when Kate pleads with his grandmother to take the children, he relents. The ark they’re sneaking on to just happens to be the American one.

In an ironic twist, Yuri’s ark, number 3, has been damaged and like the other passengers, as well as the workers who built the arks, they are out of luck. That is until Adrian pleads with other governments to allow the rest to board their arks. All the other governments agree to do so, with the U.S., naturally for these kinds of movies, being the last to agree. But when they open the gates, our stowaways get caught up in the gears for the door. Gordon, who was going to have to die at some point, does here. Tenzen gets injured, but the gears also get messed up.

Unless they can close the gate, the U.S. ark is a floating death trap, heading straight for Mount Everest, riding the 30,000 foot high tsunami into it. Adrian rushes to the hydraulic chamber and recognizes Jackson from their encounter at Yosemite. Jackson takes on the suicide mission to free the gears, but survives. Having freed the gears, the gate can close, the engines can start and everyone is saved aboard the ark, with the exception of Yuri who falls to his death saving one of his sons and Tamara who is drowned. With Gordon out of the way, Jackson and Kate pick up their relationship and all is well in the post-apocalyptic world as the Arks make their way to Africa, which has survived the best of all the continents, having risen not fallen and not having been flooded.

Oh, I left out a side story involving Harry Helmsley (Blu Mankuma) and Tony Delgotto (George Segal), a jazz duo playing aboard a luxury liner. Harry is Adrian’s father, so they have one last meaningful phone call before he dies. Tony reaches out to his son, who he’s turned his back on for marrying a Japanese bride, but the call is stopped when the world ends. (Don’t you hate that when it happens?)

I’ve also left out the relationship between Dr. Laura Wilson (Thandie Newton), the President’s daughter and Adrian, which blossoms on board the ark.

And I’m sure there’s probably someone else I’m forgetting, but as you can see there are a lot of characters, not all of which really matter in the long run. But I guess if you’re spending $200 million you want to have a long movie to justify the expense. That has to be the reason disaster films are so crowded with characters you’re supposed to care for, but never get to know well enough to really care about what happens to them. No one wants the movie to be just about special effects.

But this is really what this film is; an excuse for a bunch of special effects. While some of these seem to be retreads from Emmerich’s Independence Day (1996), others are so over the top as to be unbelievable (tsunami’s as tall as the Himalayas) and/or they’re repeated over and over in the film (such as the ground, road, airstrip, you name it, giving way). If I hadn’t seen it before, I see it so many times in this film that they lose their special quality.

Overall though, the surprising reaction to the film is one of boredom. A film like this should keep you on the edge of your seat, rather than fighting to stay awake. While I didn’t have trouble staying awake through this, I was never engaged. I know I’m supposed to like Jackson, but I’m really left indifferent. Gordon’s demise is telegraphed from the beginning, as we know Jackson will end up with Kate. Yuri nor his twin sons are worth rooting for and the whole thing reeks of government cover-up, conspiracy and corruption. For what’s supposed to be a fantastic adventure, the story is uninvolving and seems to be retread from other movies.

If this is how the world ends then I say good riddance to bad rubbish. But if it ends just like this, then at least I’ll be prepared. We’ll have to wait and see if it really does. Check back on December 22nd

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