Film (2009). Columbia Pictures presents a Centropolis/Farewell Productions/Mark Gordon Company production. Directed by Roland Emmerich. Written by Emmerich & Harald Kloser. Cast includes Zlato Buri, John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Danny Glover, Woody Harrelson, Thomas McCarthy, Thandie Newton, Amanda Peet and Oliver Platt. 158 minutes. Colour.
After an array of similar movies including Independence Day (1996), Godzilla (1998) and The Day After Tomorrow (2005), Emmerich was initially reluctant to add to his master-of-disaster reputation, but was persuaded by his soundtrack composer Kloser to collaborate on an epic genre-topping classical Disaster movie based on Charles Hapgood's parageological theory of crust displacement; the link between this and the supposed Mayan countdown to the End of the World (marginalized in the eventual film) came through Graham Hancock's Fingerprints of the Gods (1995), which is briefly acknowledged.
In 2009, geologist Adrian Hemsley (Ejiofor) discovers evidence in India that solar neutrino activity (see Sun) has triggered a profound instability in the Earth's crust, which will end civilization within three years; in Washington, he briefs White House Chief of Staff Carl Anheuser (Platt), a rebarbative-seeming monster of Realpolitik whose resemblance to Groeteschele (Walter Matthau) in Fail Safe (1964) is almost certainly intentional. But in one of Emmerich's frequent violations of expectation – perhaps enabled in this case by the fact that 2012 is not addressed specifically to a Young Adult audience – Anheuser belies his bullying manner and takes the news seriously; and by 2012 a wide compact of nations has created a flotilla of giant "arks" deep in Tibet, where 400,000 worthy and/or one-percenter humans may ride out the flood to come.
In early 2012 Jackson Curtis (Cusack) – an sf writer whose latest novel prefigures what is to come – is allowed by his ex-wife Kate (Peet) to take their children on vacation to Yellowstone, where they meet Charlie Frost (Harrelson), an old-hippy conspiracy theorist who has worked out what is about to happen, and where the arks have been built. Curtis gets his kids back to Los Angeles (see California) and – with the aid of their mild-mannered capable step-father Gordon (McCarthy), whose decency represents another violation of film doctrine – they survive the destruction of the city; and eventually make their way to Tibet. Gordon dies bravely, but Curtis and his family, and a few other (as it were) illegal immigrants, survive on the ark, along with the Queen of England, her corgis, Anheuser, various heads of state, a few hundred thousand genuine worthies, and the very very very rich.
As noted, the tropology of the disaster genre is managed both deftly and to a degree subversively, with a generously multistranded ensemble narrative converging on the boarding of the arks, just in time to survive the Flood (another tropology repeatedly invoked). A moment of relative hush, when Curtis and his fellows catch sight of great animals borne arkwards by giant helicopters across a choking Himalayan mist, is surprisingly moving. But the dominant tone of 2012 combines knowing winks at its own preposterousness with a genuinely relaxed pattern of homage. The cast is smoothly and appropriately interracial, without any self-congratulatory gestures on the part of the film's makers. The sequences of worldwide tectonic Disaster are as spectacular as the state of the digital arts can make them, and the film amuses with its conceit of an sf author's transfiguration into a simultaneous literary and action Hero in the planet's hour of need, especially as the glimpses actually given indicate that his book is supremely terrible. [NL/JC]
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