13 November 2009

Roland Emmerich, Mad Profit

In this week's rather circularly titled post, I'm going to be taking a look at Roland Emmerich's 2012, his third disaster movie, starring John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton, amongst others. As something of a regular disclaimer, it's only my opinion on here- others are available. As ever, mild spoilers may occur in the process of reviewing, but never so far as to spoil any major plot developments.

And lo, the prophet Roland Emmerich did deliver upon us a vision of great suffering in a time not too far away. A time when the peoples of the Earth are transformed into narrow character stereotypes as they elude the bangs, booms and wallops that herald the end of the world. And damned are the shady government types who hide this event from the people they are verily seen to be arseholes. Moreover, the prophet Emmerich's vision did ramble on for sometime, and the peoples of the Earth to whom it was related, grew restless and started scratching themselves and wondering what to do once he'd finished and they'd got home. For almost one tenth of their day had vanished once the prophet came out of his stupor, and everyone was sort of annoyed.


Alright, so it's a bit daft and puts about as much of the reasoning behind the next most imminent apocalypse theory into the film as you'd imagine, i.e. next to none. But this, from the director of Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow was always going to be more about profit than prophecy. The film went to number 1 with a bullet at the UK box office, success I am sure can only be curbed by this week's release of the lady-luring New Moon. No matter what I say to you about this, I can hardly convince you not to see it if you want to, so I'll just say this- wait for the Blu-ray. The time was that you'd have to go to the cinema to see special effects such as the ones on display here in the way they were meant to be seen, but this is one of those films that will look terrific in high-definition, so another six months won't kill you- we've apparently got three years until the world ends.

That's not a drubbing by the way, because I have to say that 2012 is one of the funniest films I've seen all year. The CGI looks very well done and polished, but what's actually properly appealing about the film is just how damn goofy it is. You're not entertained by the tidal wave, but by the hilarious cut to a close-up of a chicken reacting to it immediately before it strikes. And then of course there's the stereotypes and cliches on show, which are laughably bad for anyone who's seen more than one American film in their life. Deadbeat dad? Check. Cute little girl who keeps her head in a cataclysmic crisis? Check. Uber-brave President of the United States? Check. It's all there, and you will laugh riotously at it. That in itself is a statement to how the CGI deaths of what must surely be billions of people lack any real dramatic weight because you're too busy laughing. Then again, there are about 60 characters we're meant to be following, each given equal focus, a flaw that contributes largely to the film's unwieldy running time but also covers around 0.00000001 of the Earth's population. That goes some way to making up for the rest, who you really aren't arsed about.

So yes, the film suffers from the inverse ratio between the quality of the CGI and the quality of the script, and speaking of the latter, I have to wonder how many of the film's cast read it before signing on the dotted line of their contract. I look forward to John Cusack's film now that he's been in this, because he has freely admitted he makes an awful big budget film every once in a while so he has the financial security to star in more personal and well-produced film like Being John Malkovich or High Fidelity. On the other hand, Chiwetel Ejiofor's involvement is a sad symptom of how undervalued he is as an actor- since his breakout role in Dirty Pretty Things, he's been consistently good in films like Serenity and Children of Men, but here he's relegated to explaining the film's ludicrously unscientific impetus and being the moral compass to those arsey government types I mentioned. Woody Harrelson is the only one who really acquits himself, doing exactly what the script demands and being ape-shit crazy- for more, see Zombieland.

If you're aware of what 2012 is, you can probably surmise that it's not about the actors, it's about the CGI, and that makes it a B-movie on a huge budget. The science that Ejiofor is forced to spout involves "mutating neutrinos", an explanation that has already been decried as bullshit by this very blog's resident physicist and artist. You know who should have played John Cusack's role? Bruce Campbell. That alone would have elevated this film to a modern classic of entertainment, but the fact that the hilarity is unintentional is where it all falls down. Plus, the huge running time kind of sucks the fun out of what would have been a much shorter and more enjoyable film if they'd trimmed it down to an hour and a half. That said, it's around the same length as the film I hate most in the entire world, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and it's a hell of a lot more entertaining than that. It's just as cynical though- Cusack's protagonist may be quixotic and optimistic, but only for plot convenience, as Roland Emmerich is far more concerned with getting his audience to watch the world burn, melt and generally lose its shit.


In the end, it boils down to one simple flaw- 2012 is ADD filmmaking. In the press coverage surrounding the film's release, Emmerich declared: "I said to myself that I'll do one more disaster movie, but it has to end all disaster movies. So I packed everything in." And he means everything. The end result is a film you really shouldn't see in cinemas, simply because I fear its success would herald a bunch of films attempting to do the same thing, but less funny. Besides which, you can pause it when you're watching at home, the better to take a toilet break or otherwise just wonder why the characters are trying so desperately to survive the apocalypse, given the obvious drop-off in quality of life that would follow. If this warning comes to late and you've seen 2012 already, why not share your comments below.

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Next up will almost certainly be that New Moon thing, followed by my review of Robert Zemeckis' A Christmas Carol to kick off a number of cinematic Christmas postings. The next post should be later this week, uni and work allowing.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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