It seems Godzilla, Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow didn’t satisfy his yearning to destroy everything in his path, given Roland Emmerich has attempted to return disaster movies to their earlier glory with 2012. The genre has struggled since the late 90s, when the duelling comet-meets-Earth flicks Deep Impact and Armageddon set new standards for CGI destruction, and in many ways 2012 feels like a throwback in a world that has already moved on…

In 2009 – wait that’s now, eek! – geologist Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) travels to India to meet a friend who has made a startling discovery.2012 It seems solar flares are releasing mutated neutrinos that are heating the Earth’s core and are likely to lead to the end of the world as we (or anyone else for that matter) know it. Helmsley alerts his bosses at the White House, and soon enough the world’s governments agree on an ambitious plan to keep their people uninformed while selling tickets on Noah’s Ark-like ships for the rich to ride out the storm.

The baffling pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo is bad enough, but you get that in a film of this nature. After all, in a film written by a musician also responsible for its soundtrack, it seems a bit excessive to expect accurate scientific concepts or even appropriate use of technical language. After enduring the ridiculously over-the-top musical introduction accompanied by mood-setting shots of space, it also would be overly optimistic to expect the script to demonstrate the slightest subtlety or intelligence. Instead, the audience must endure 158 minutes of mind-numbingly uninspired character interactions, and dialogue that would make an average 5th grader blush.

2012 is filled with characters who have been brought to life so many times before one may struggle to remember which film they are watching. Those characters then do the same things they did in the other films, confirming the suspicion that this film could have been written by a computer programmed with the plots of the last hundred disaster flicks to make the screen. At least a few of the male characters get to have some fun – Woody Harrelson’s turn as Charlie Frost is perhaps the best example – while the females are defined only by their relationships to the males. Poor Amanda Peet, who has shown in several films that she has the requisite skill and presence to lead an ensemble, is left with little other than screaming and crying. Thandie Newton is merely a passive observer of the loss of her family. This wholesale disregard for women is embarrassing and anachronistic, and perhaps the greatest of the many flaws of 2012.

Interspersed between the dull characters and even duller plot, we are occasionally treated to the CGI sequences promised in the trailer, and this is perhaps the only aspect of the film which doesn’t fail to impress. Emmerich has had several attempts at world-ending destruction, and although each of the aforementioned films was impressive in its time, 2012 sets a new standard for large-scale disaster porn. Not content with a spaceship blowing the White House into a million tiny pieces? How about we pitch an aircraft carrier through its front window? Bored with real-life tsunamis that only reach, what, a few hundred metres high? Let’s show one flowing over the top of the Himalayas. Sadly, the infrequent but incredible scenes of mayhem can’t carry the entire film.

After this ridiculously long film finally reaches something of a conclusion, the audience endures the final insult – the end credits are covered by a power ballad that completes the illusion that we have been sucked into a 90s timewarp and are lucky to be escaping with our lives. That the final impression is that we are meant to have taken 2012 in earnest is shocking, given most will see it only for the earthquakes and floods from the trailer, and that Emmerich and co. think enough of their work to expect us to have played along is an indictment on their abysmal lack of insight.

Rating: 1.5 stars
Review by Mark Lavercombe, 22nd November 2009
Hoopla Factor: 2.0 stars

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