Posted on March 2, 2010 at 10:00 am

“2012” is yet another example of technological genius and story-telling mediocrity. Its careless, almost gleeful destruction of the entire world makes the brilliant CGI work jarring in a way the film-makers did not intend.

It has the usual disaster film elements: concerned scientists pick up disturbing information, staring at computer screens and using important-sounding jargon (something about neutrinos). Government bureaucrats are reluctant to believe its implications. People say, “That’s impossible!” Some ancient culture predicted this all along. Some crackpot conspiracy theorist predicted it all along, too. The disaster brings out the best and the worst in people. Someone says, “I thought we’d have more time.” The same dozen people keep running into each other. Iconic landmarks collapse. The entire world may be at risk, but we still have time for a little romance and some touching lessons about the importance of family. There are some sad deaths but a couple of convenient and satisfying ones as well. And when things really get bad, there’s a soaring angelic choir on the soundtrack.

But a disaster film has to be about survival, and this one, from how-can-I-blow-up-the-world-today writer/director Roland Emmerich (“Independence Day” and “The Day After Tomorrow”) is too cavalier in tone, soft-pedaling the real implications of its apocalyptic storyline as though the world’s literally breaking apart is justified in order to bring John Cusack back to his family. It is curiously antiseptic, with only a couple of dead bodies, and the deaths we witness almost like the coming of The Rapture. And, at two hours and forty minutes, it feels endless, as though by the time you get out of the theater, it will be 2012.

The CGI is impressive, especially when the ground buckles and heaves as a car speeds along a crumbling road, trying to stay ahead of the collapse. And you don’t need a lot of story in a special effects movie. But you do need the right kind of story, and this one seems as off-kilter as the convulsing tectonic plates. The question is inevitably posed — how do we decide who will survive? But it is never engaged. There is a momentary mention of the possible problems of a sort of economic Darwinism, selling survival to the highest bidders. But the characters never deal with the consequences of that decision either way; it spends more time on the lesser issue of whether people deserve to know what is about to happen. No one is asking for a debate about philosophy or ethics; just enough narrative Spackle to keep the story going forward. Instead, it repeatedly derails. It’s no more compelling than watching a kid knock down a tower of blocks. In a movie like this, with little time to do more than sketch out the characters, a lot of the story’s validity depends on who lives and who dies. It is harder than it seems at first to put together exactly the right mix of satisfying (bad guys get what they deserve, think Richard Chamberlin in “The Towering Inferno” and Victor Garber in “Titanic”) and sad but honorable (Bruce Willis in “Armageddon,” Leonardo DiCaprio in “Titanic”). The mis-handling of the outcomes here contributes to its inability to engage the audience. And so does the howler-filled dialogue. In the middle of utter catastrophe a scientist stops to make cocktail party chit-chat with a desperate father about the last time they met. In the wake of utter devastation a couple engages in arch but completely leaden banter. (She does miss the opportunity of a lifetime, though, to say something like, “Not if you were the last man on earth.”)

Chiwetel Ejiofor is brilliant as always as the concerned scientist with a heart, though we can’t help wondering whether the stricken look in his eyes is as much about the disaster he is in as an actor as it is about what his character is witnessing. In a story where 21st century robber barons seem to carry the weight, it is perhaps appropriate that the movie itself resembles a hedge fund manager — too expensive, too arrogant, and, finally, dull.

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20 Replies to “2012”

  1. Based on what I’m hearing, it’ll be interesting to compare “2012” to George Pal’s 1951 “When Worlds Collide”. (Surprised – or not – to hear a remake is due next year.)

  2. The end is nearer then peolpe think so we need to all make it right with God Now before its to late to make that deasion. Amen

  3. <a href="
    “2012:”>http://www.2012timeforchange.com/“>”2012: Time for Change” projects a radical alternative to apocalyptic doom and gloom. Directed by Emmy Award nominee Joao Amorim, the film follows journalist Daniel Pinchbeck, author of the bestselling 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, on a quest for a new paradigm that integrates the archaic wisdom of tribal cultures with the scientific method. As conscious agents of evolution, we can redesign post-industrial society on ecological principles to make a world that works for all. Rather than breakdown and barbarism, 2012 will herald the birth of a regenerative planetary culture, where collaboration replaces competition, where exploration of psyche and spirit becomes the new cutting edge, replacing the sterile materialism that has pushed our world to the brink.
    Interviews with design scientists, anthropologists, physicists such as Dean Radin, Barbara Marx Hubbard, John Todd and Paul Stamets and celebrities such as Sting, Ellen Page and Gilberto Gil.

  4. Thanks, B Brown. I believe one of the purposes of apocalyptic and end of days stories is to remind us that we need to do our best to make it right with God and right with our fellow man every day.

  5. B Brown, some say the the world will end fire, some say it will end in ice. I think it will end as a result of movies like this.

  6. Sorry – I read the slightly clipped review from the main page when I posted the “When Worlds Collide” comment. You’re the only reviewer I’ve seen so far to bring it up.

  7. Nell,
    Great review, I enjoyed it as always.
    I didn’t find the story to be as bad as some people are making it out to be. Did they have too many storylines to follow? Maybe. But, I think the scenes with Cusack’s family and everyone making the phone calls and such were incredibly important to show the human condition.
    Was it a great story? No. Did it work for the kind of film this was? I think so.
    But you are right that they did not delve into the philosophical or ethic dilemmas this would cause. It’s like they mentioned it with 2 or 3 lines of dialogue and then the characters shrugged their shoulders and moved on. I think there would be a lot less criticism of the story if this was explored more deeply.
    I linked to this review in <a href="
    mine”>http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-9207-Baltimore-Movie-Examiner~y2009m11d13-Movie-review-2012-875-out-of-10“>mine as I think it’s important readers get different opinions since I rather liked 2012.
    Thanks, and keep the reviews coming!

  8. No, I didn’t see that. There are some good reviews out there. I tend to be an easygoing movie goer. If the movie entertains, surprises, or impresses me, it generally gets a positive review from me even if it has flaws. 2012 did 2 of those 3 (I’ll let you guess which 2 :-).
    I even liked The Day After Tomorrow (put down your stones fellow sinners!).

  9. “It’s no more compelling than watching a kid knock down a tower of blocks.”
    Oh, c’mon. I think it’s so unfair when critics engage in hyperbole like that. True, the story-telling was not first rate but the movie had its moments. And it was compelling enough so that nobody among the capacity crowd in my theatre walked out during its over two-hour run.

  10. Glad you enjoyed it, Big Dave. Yes, the movie had its moments, but not enough for me over a 2 hour 40 minute running time. But as you know, I am always happy when someone sees more in a movie than I do and I appreciate your letting me know!

  11. It is easy to tear stuff down, blow it up, and scatter it to the wind. I think it would be interesting to use CGI to work out how a remnant community would build things back up. I know it would not be as quick, but some creative story telling (3 or 4 generations – sort of like Michener would do) might accomplish quite a bit.
    Basically this movie is a punch in the nose. So what happens next? Therein lies the real story!
    Thanks for the review. It will figure into my sermon tomorrow, “Christmas 2012”.

  12. Perfect example of the big-budget Hollywood CGI driven spectacle, and completely failing in the story and content department. Instead of spending all their money on special effects they should have paid for more research in the writing department, 2012 is NOT the apocalypse. As an anthropologist I have spent many years researching the world’s mythology and theories surrounding the date of 2012. What were are experience, and what world mythos have portrayed, is an expansion in human consciousness, the world is changing, not ending.
    I looking forward to the day when Hollywood remembers that it moved from the first film studio in NJ to the beautiful hills of Hollywood to have the perfect environment to CREATE stories. Hollywood needs to awaken to this task start writing new material and quit regurgitating story.

  13. Apparently, there’s going to be a TV spin-off of this set in 2013. It could be good, especially if it’s written by someone like Brad Wright and Jonathan Glassner, the creators of the Stargate television series.
    As Emmerich movies go, I’d call this better than Day After Tomorrow, not as good as Independence Day.

  14. Hi,
    Do we really believe in some sort of “change” is going to take place in 2012 based on an ancient culture? In my opinion religion was formed to explain things that were unexplainable to ancient people. Why’d it rain? The rain god made it so. Why is the person acting crazy? He has a demon.
    What is my ponit?
    That if there is some “shift” in thinking it will go unnoticed by the masses. Most of us won’t realize it’s happening until we can look back and see the paradigm shift in retrospect. I believe nothing magical or alien will happen on that day. The same way nothing happened in the year 2000 when all computers were going to fail and the second coming of Christ was supposed to happen. Movie looks interesting though.

  15. Thanks, r4! Apparently, even the Mayans did not believe the world would end in 2012; just that the calendar would and they would re-start it. But it makes a good story.

  16. Regardless of the validity of the so-called “scientific” basis of the movie and apart from the plot contrivances, I would contend that some very real changes coming down the pike, due to arrive around 2012.
    I have been at work on a project for Debra Giusti called Transforming Through 2012, an eclectic compilation of chapters by authors from a number of disciplines. While one might disagree with some of the points put forth, the authors reveal subjects worthy of consideration:
    We know there is a substantial possibility of increased sunspot activity in 2012. (A real possibility of damage to communications satellites.)
    We know that asteroid Apophis is due for a flyby in 2029.
    We know that the Yellowstone Caldera is overdue for an eruption given its history of eruptions approximately every 640,000 years. (Never mind that the movie assigns cause to neutrinos.)
    Beyond those, there are sociological changes to be considered. Few people are actually asking the Mayans about the meanings of their prophecies.
    Regardless of the questionable plot premise for 2012 the movie, it is my feeling that there are very real issues to be considered. Read more at: http://transformingthrough2012.com/

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