THE DAM HAS BUSTED – HEAD FOR THE HILLS
There is one thing you can be sure of anent the disasters in Roland Emmerich's newest end-of-the-world disaster flick: by the Winter Solstice of 2012 they will all be part of a new mega-thrill-ride at the Universal Studios theme park.
Once again Emmerich has crafted a spectacular diversion out of gibberish masquerading as science. This time, as the end credits announce, the inspiration was a book called “Fingerprints of the Gods,” in which Graham Hancock supposes that our prehistory was inhabited by an über-civilization that left its knowledge lying around for later folks, such as the Egyptians and the Mayans, to rediscover and turn into arithmetic and pyramids and mummies and such. There's also a bunch of stuff about Charles Hapgood's theories of Earth Crustal Displacement, and something about neutrinos from solar flares mutating into a new kind of nuclear particle, if I heard it right.
According to Hancock and some other enlightened researchers, the Mayan Long-Count Calendar apparently knew about the planetary alignment that's going to happen on the 2012 date and tear the earth's crust apart. “The Mayans saw this coming thousands of years ago,” moans a movie scientist, one of several given to staring at computer screens and muttering “My God!”
What the Mayans didn't know was that three years earlier in 2009 (My God! That's right now!) those pesky solar neutrinos started heating up the earth's core so that the underside of the crust started melting, allowing the projected syzygy to pull it apart and all sorts of special effects to happen.
Emmerich, as we know, is a master of these effects. He's also a master of formulaic plot mechanics, stock characters and trite dialogue; but there's nothing wrong with those if you do them well, and he does. I confess that I loved “Independence Day,” from the monster ships, to the death rays, to the U.S. President giving his rousing battle speech standing on the bed of a truck exactly like Olivier before Agincourt in “Henry V.”
“The Day After Tomorrow” had me too, in spite of the Silly Science, right up to where Dennis Quaid and his pals set out to walk from Philadelphia to New York in a blizzard. As for “10,000 B.C.” does anybody even remember it?
But folks will remember “2012” because it delivers exactly what it promises, which is The End of The World As We Know It. If you've been chained in a cellar for the last six months you may have missed the trailers and clips in theaters and on Yahoo. If you've seen them then you've seen most of the big scenes; most, but not all. There are a few left that will make your jaw drop, and this is a case where you really do owe it to yourself to see them on the big screen. Actually, if you can stand it, you owe it to yourself to see the movie twice, because Emmerich's CGI artists have outdone anything else to date, and you can't catch all the detail first time around.
Another thing Emmerich does well is to vary his rhythms so you're not bludgeoned into numbness. It's exactly ten minutes from the Columbia logo to the opening title, and it builds nicely from images of the planets lining up to the first ominous crack in a Malibu pavement. Even in the midst of howling disaster the characters get to have a few quiet moments, and we appreciate those moments, even if they involve people as predictable as the lovable divorced couple with the two adorable kids, or the suety Russian billionaire and his blond floozy with a little dog. (Does the dog make it? Do we care? We're Americans – of course we care.)
About the humans not so much, because they really are made of cardboard, with lots of families saying teary goodbyes on their cellphones, or trying to. Still, Blu Mankuma and George Segal do a great job as a couple of old jazzmen on a cruise ship, and Woody Harrelson is tremendously entertaining as a conspiracy theorist radio host who has it all figured out.
The Silly Science is not really a problem, because it's just another form of the magic that keeps us all entertained, whether it's the kids at Hogwarts or the sun standing still for Joshua. The real problem is the last twenty minutes of the movie, where the plot mechanics become literally mechanical, and there's no real will he/won't he suspense because, no matter how worried his wife gets, we all know he will. In fact, if Emmerich cut the last twenty minutes he'd have a much tighter movie and we'd all get out in time for supper. (Though I admit that using Air Force One as a torpedo is a pretty nifty idea.)
So if we all make it to December 21, 2012 and the world falls apart on cue, what will you be doing? I'll probably curl up with a bottle of Lagavulin and a copy of von Daniken's “Chariots of the Gods.” Wave as you float past.