I thought this would be a fairly straightforward review – big dumb action film, great special effects, cheesy plot. 3 ½ stars if it was fun, 2 ½ or 2 if it was dead boring.

But I actually found myself sucked in a lot more than that. Even though, without doubt, the whole thing is clichéd. The story, in case you don’t know, is one that you can work out pretty easily from a look at the front of the DVD case. In the year 2012, the world falls apart. If you want the particulars (in so far as I could follow it) the sun has had some particularly nasty solar flares, which have sent extra neutrinos into the earth, which have heated up the earth’s core a lot more than normal. So much so, in fact, that earthquakes and volcanoes galore are about to break out, breaking up the earth’s surface so that the everything’s going to be shifted around. Did I mention tsnunamis as well? Well, there’s tsunamis as well. Apparently, the idea came from the Mayan calendar that famously runs out in 2012, but this film tries to stick to the scientific side of things, rather than give too much credence to old legends. (Sorry, for those who were hoping for some old Mayan connection.)

So what that means is that our extensive cast (and it is the standard sort of ensemble for this type of thing) that are set up in the first 30 minutes, are going to spend the remaining 120 minutes running, jumping, sinking, flying and driving very fast to escape said earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis.

The reason you go to see any of these films is, of course, the special effects, and once the action kicks in, it’s one jaw-dropping spectacle after another all the way to the end credits. And CGI is so good nowadays that who can tell it’s not real any more? The only reason you know it’s CGI is because you know there was no way anybody had the money to destroy that much California real estate in one hit.

The film is directed by German, Roland Emmerich, who is competing in the Master of Spectacle space currently dominated by Peter Jackson and Michael Bay (and every second Ridley Scott film). He’ll never compete with Jackson, because Peter Jackson always picks gold class stories to turn into films. (You can’t really get much bigger and famous than The Lord of the Rings.) However, I think he deserves to give Michael Bay a run for his money, because while Emmerich has clichés in his films, they’re clichés that connect with people.

Let me pause to talk about clichés for a minute. I know it’s standard for reviewers, when seeing these types of films to talk about how clichéd the script is. That’s fine. It’s true. But why do filmmakers use clichés so much? I think it dates back to the old silent film principal – back then, when you didn’t have any dialogue and couldn’t really do much in the way of subtlety, the best directors (D.W. Griffith, etc) would portray scenes and characters that would straight away get an emotional reaction from their audience. A mother having a baby taken away from her. Lovers being separated. A parent dying. These are things that immediately resonate with anyone who’s ever been part of a family or ever had someone in their life that they cared about. So, yes, while the Children in Trouble, and the Separated Loved Ones are stock-standard movie clichés, they continue to appear, because they tap into something within us.

So when comparing this film with say, Transformers, while both are big action films, when you strip away the action from the Bay film, there’s really only some teenage humour, flash-looking cars and voyeuristic camera angles on Megan Fox.

But what I liked about 2012 was that the action was kept alive on the strength of emotional situations that nearly all of us could identify with. John Cusack plays a father who ruined his marriage by being so tied to his computer that he ignored his family. Now, he’s desperately trying to reconnect with his kids and his ex-wife, all complicated by the presence of her new boyfriend. Chiwetel Ejiofor (don’t even ask me how to pronounce that), the scientist who makes the discovery about the disaster known to the White House, worries about his father, an aging jazz singer playing on a luxury liner in peril out on the ocean. And then there’s Danny Glover, as the President of the United States, who is concerned about everyone.

There’s a sense in which this film is just a mix of all Emmerich’s other films (the President part reminds me of Independence Day, the family part reminds me of The Patriot and the eco-disaster part is just The Day After Tomorrow expanded out to an even bigger scale), but this one seems to work the most successfully. And I kind of like the fact that his characters aren’t marines with guns (the James Cameron specialty) or otherwise testosterone-fuelled men using violence to solve the world’s problems. The heroes in this film are more ordinary people that we can identify with. (Though there is a brief nod to Arnold Schwarzenegger…)

So, in conclusion, if you hate this kind of movie, you’re not going to like it. If you like this sort of thing, I think this is a very engaging way to spend 2 ½ hours on a film that is surprisingly pro-family. If you get a few good action sequences, and increased motivation to make sure you let those close to you know that you love them – that’s worth the price of admission, isn’t it?

My only negative about this film is that it seems to have been shot using a few different types of cameras. So in certain sequences, the image suddenly looks like it’s come from a digital camera instead of film. (E.g. in the opening sequence where Chiwetel goes to India – once he gets in the lift and goes down to the computer room, it suddenly looks digital.) I found this rather irritating and it tended to take me out of the film. (I didn’t see it at the cinemas, so I don’t know how noticeable this would have been there, but believe me, you’ll notice straight away on DVD projected on a wall.)

But that aside, it’s a 4 out of 5.

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3 thoughts on “DVD Review: 2012

  1. Great review, Matt. (Unlike this comment, which is cliched, but with no emotional resonance and only (1) mention of a scantily clad Megan Fox.)

  2. One thing that surprised me about this film which you didn’t mention in your review was how dark it was. If you look past all the inspirational speeches about humanity, survival, pulling together against adversity ect (another Emmerich trademark) and focus on the story, well let’s see.

    SPOILERS AHOY!

    The world is going to end. The governments of the world get together to build giant arks to ensure the survival of the human race post-cataclysm. The passengers of said arks are chosen on the basis of whether or not they can pay the exorbitant ticket price. Needless to say this news can’t be broken to the poorer general public, only to the very rich, else there would, quite rightly, be an outcry. Therefore it is kept secret and anyone who tries to spread the word is murdered.

    What’s more the filmmakers never really address how wrong this is and it the end choose to present the successful implementation of this plan as a victory. I won’t say I didn’t enjoy a lot of the film, but the ending left me feeling cold. I don’t think I’ll watch it again.

  3. G’day Bryce,

    A bit delayed, but I’ll try a quick response to your comment. Again with a

    SPOILERS WARNING for anyone reading further.

    I do agree that the story was dark at its core. After all, a large proportion of the world’s population died in the space of 48 hours, and though the story focuses mainly on the survivors, there is that undeniable fact.

    As for the more specific events of who did and did not get let onto the arks, as I understand it, what had happened all along was that while the plans for the arks were being put together, it was meant to be kept hush-hush to avoid mass panic. The problem was that some people (like Thandie Newton’s and Chiwetel’s characters) thought this was just to avoid panic and were rather shocked to find out that people had been murdered to keep things quiet and that only the mega-rich were being put on the arks. So it seems to have been the case that Oliver Platt’s character had promised them that there would be a wider proportion of the population than actually eventuated, and it wasn’t until the last minute, that they realised that only the rich were being included.

    It’s a bit far-fetched that they wouldn’t have looked into this more, but it would make sense that the scientists would take care of the building and design and the politicians would handle who’s going on the boats. (And as a worker in the not-for-profit sector, I must confess, I did resonate with the comment about the importance of large private donors to make the project doable at all.)

    Anyway, that’s what the climax was all about. Having realised that a) people were murdered to cover up the plot and b) they’d only bothered to get the rich passengers onto the boat (thus why the Indian scientist and his family never made it), Chiwetel deals with both problems.

    a) The murders are dealt with by making sure that the 3,000 or so people trying to get onto the last Ark are allowed on the boat, rather than letting them drown. It may not be perfect, but it’s the moment when Oliver Platt’s ruthless way of handling the situation is shouted down by the other world leaders.

    b) The issue of only the elite getting on the boat is handled by the rescue of John Cusack and Co from the door mechanism. These ordinary people represent the larger group of ordinary people that got left behind, and by Chiwetel (sorry, I really can’t remember his character’s name…) personally going to rescue them, he’s really saying that this is the last time we’ll play elitist over who lives and dies ever again.

    The only other thing they could have done to make it more emphatic that they were turning their back on the whole rich live / poor die thing is to have a scene where they perhaps arrest Oliver Platt’s character. But that really would have been a cliche – and who would he be arrested by? It’s not unclear what world governments are actually left. Maybe there could have been a big showdown where he gets thrown off the boat, but that belongs in one of the testosterone-fuelled boys’ adventure movies that I was talking about.

    So in the end, I’m satisfied that they did the best they could to stop the injustice, but that all involved will have to live with the consequences of what they did.

    Maybe 2013 will explain more?

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