Friday, November 13, 2009

For spectacular, end-of-the-world effects, plus trite script, ‘2012’ delivers


By Steve Crum

Flashing back to the 1970’s recalls that era’s long string of disaster movies, many by Irwin Allen. Titles like The Towering Inferno, Earthquake and The Poseidon Adventure forever reside in my cinema cells. There were so many to endure. Flash to present, and 2012 is the latest in director Roland Emmerich’s disaster movie string that includes Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, and Independence Day. Endure is the word now too. Despite gasp worthy special effects, 2012 clunks along with yakety, cliched speeches and a familiar aka cliched plot that tap into virtually every disaster flick ever produced.

Even 2012’s fantastic CGI effects become tiresome half-way into the 158 minutes long, and that means long, movie. How many cities do we have to see split apart, crushed, exploded, and tsunamied (yes, I’ve created an action verb) to overflow our Big Wow cup? Extreme Disaster, the series, time.

Emmerich channels his own doomsday library as well. In Independence Day, a scientist convinces the President of the United States that an alien invasion is imminent. 2012’s scientist, Adrian Hemsley (Chitwetel Ejiofor) eventually hooks U.S. President Wilson (Danny Glover) into believing the Mayan calendar’s sage prophecy is correct, resulting in the world essentially turning itself inside out on 12-21-12. Such tragedy occurs, so they say, once every 640 thousand years. What bum luck. Like Independence Day, there is a countdown to disaster inscribed on screen: 2010...2011...2012.

The story, co-written by Emmerich and Harald Klaser, is in traditional three acts: (1) the build-up, anticipating the disaster to come; (2) preparing for the inevitable catastrophe (making travel plans, gathering families together); and (3) trying to escape/survive the event.

That said, follow this fast summary of 2012. Act 1: The worst solar flares ever are observed by U.S. Government scientists. “For the first time the flares are causing a neutronic physical reaction (on earth),” warns one expert. “The earth’s core is overheating like a microwave.” Flooding occurs in India. Minor quakes are shaking California. (There is a funny sequence of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as portrayed by an Arnold impersonator.) Key characters, including the Curtis Family, are introduced. Dad Jack (John Cusack) and Mom Kate (Amanda Peet) are divorced with two kids (Liam James and Morgan Lily). There is Kate’s boyfriend Gordon (Thomas McCarthy).

Let me add now that the actors do credible jobs, considering the wild plot, but no one should expect Oscar nods. (Flipping positive, the special effects will undoubtedly be nominated for an Oscar, and win.) Other characters include Pres. Wilson’s daughter Laura (Thandie Newton), the power hungry presidential aide Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt), and Woody Harrelson’s conspiracy theory soothsayer, Charlie Frost. The Frost persona is common to disaster movies, since he represents the extremist, proactive element in society. In Independence Day, it was the scruffy eccentric played by Randy Quaid. In 2012, Frost hides out in Yellowstone National Park, and runs a maverick radio station from his trailer, spewing daily doomsday broadcasts. There is also a belligerent, wealthy Russian, Yuri Karpov (Zlatko Buric), with his mistress and obnoxious twin sons.

Act 2 revolves around relatives desperately trying to phone each other to reunite and make travel plans to somewhere safe. Look for George Segal in a small role as cruise ship entertainer Tony Delgatto.

Act 3 really dominates the film with seemingly endless but spectacular effects. Principal characters run, dodge and jump via car, plane and ship as they trek to China for safety. (I will not spoil the surprise element awaiting them, but it reeks of government conspiracy.)

In the old movie days of Cecil B. DeMille, spectacle was often hyped as: “SEE! THE PARTING OF THE RED SEA!” and “MARVEL: A CAST OF THOUSANDS!” 2012 could boast a cast of millions (CGI enhanced, of course), and more: “SEE! HAWAII UNDER MOLTEN LAVA!...D.C. UNDER GRAY ASH!...YELLOWSTONE EXPLODE LIKE AN H-BOMB!”

Has anything really changed from DeMille to Allen to Emmerich?
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On an A to F Grade Scale: C
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