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.