2012 (2009)

Director:  Roland Emmerich 
Cast:  John Cusack, Thandie Newton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Woody Harrelson, Danny Glover
Plot:  An epic adventure about a global cataclysm that brings an end to the world and tells of the heroic struggle of the survivors. 

Genre:  Action / Adventure / Sci-Fi
Awards:  - 
Runtime:  158min 
Rating:  PG for intense disaster sequences and some language. 

In an imaginary cinematic thesaurus, ‘Roland Emmerich’ would have been synonymous with words such as ‘disaster’, ‘chaos’, and ‘destruction’.  Nobody comes close to wreaking massive havoc on screen since Irwin Allen (who produced classic disaster films such as The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974)).  

After the box-office success of Independence Day (1996), Emmerich has made his fair share of hits e.g. The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and misses e.g. 10,000 BC (2008).  With 2012, the German director once again shows why he is more than ready to take over the mantle as the “Master of Disaster”. 

Written by Emmerich and Harald Kloser (who also composed the original score), 2012 is loosely based on the Mayan calendar which says that the world will end in 21st December 2012.  Whether true or false, it is an excuse for Emmerich to flex his muscles, in this case, his CGI prowess.  

With each film, his team of visual effects artists seems to push the envelope on the capability of CGI technology, creating visuals which are not only mind-blowing, but more importantly, could be appreciated without any distraction from super quick cuts or self-indulgent camerawork ala Michael Bay. 

Emmerich outdoes his work in The Day After Tomorrow; in 2012, he destroys the whole world with massive tsunamis, earthquakes, shifting tectonic plates that explode like volcano-like eruptions.  

The first big CGI moment involving a limousine, and then later, a propeller plane as Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) and his family make their escape in, provides the most suspenseful twenty odd minutes Emmerich has ever accomplished in his career thus far.  Never mind the unrealism of the situation the characters are in, after all this is just a movie.  From this aspect, Emmerich delivers a powerhouse white-knuckle ride. 

Cusack is well-cast to anchor the film’s leading role which requires him to act within the limits of what is dramatically possible in a disaster film.  He does the job adequately; he is never too showy or too subtle.  The screenplay is unsurprisingly paper-thin.  There is a lack in general character development and the story moves toward an altogether predictable outcome.  

If there is something positive to pick up from the film apart from its visual effects, it would be its unintentional comedy.  Believe it or not, I feel that 2012 is easily one of the year’s more effective comedies. 

Ploughed into the whirlwind of chaos, we cannot help but laugh at the film’s silliness – dialogue-wise or visual-wise.  Examples of the former include “I need a bigger plane” – a reference to “a bigger boat” in Spielberg’s Jaws (1975), and a character’s attempt to start a Bentley with his voice.  

For the latter, the piloting of a plane through a myriad of obstacles in the air draws comparisons with the Millennium Falcon navigating through the asteroid field in The Empire Strikes Back (1980), but only funnier.  It is this comedic consistency which helps us to sit through nearly 160 minutes of ludicrous mayhem with ease. 

2012 should be renamed as 2012: The Modern Retelling of Noah’s Ark as the last half-hour is clearly taken from a page out of the Bible.  With a budget of more than US$250M, Emmerich puts every penny’s worth of CGI on screen; his film is almost assured of three Academy Awards nominations in Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Sound Editing. 

How James Cameron’s highly-anticipated Avatar performs later this year will determine which film will eventually land the Oscars.  2012 may boast impressive visuals but they only blind viewers from the absurdity of its plot – depending on how one looks at it, it can be good or bad.  Whatever the case, it beats Bayhem anytime. 


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