By Kellvin ChavezOne of our readers, Dr. Strangefist was able to track down the first big spec script that Sony won in a bidding war after the writer's strike. The budget is rumored to be close to $200 million and already has John Cusack and Amanda Peet cast in lead roles.
The story blends the idea of the Mayan calendar, which predicts the world ending in 2012, with natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions, typhoons and glaciers plaguing the planet and a large cast of characters dealing with the mayhem.
WARNING: MASSIVE SPOILERS LAY AHEAD
So here we have 2012, the latest magnum opus from disaster enthusiast Roland Emmerich. Hot on the heals of the disappointing prehistoric epic 10,000 BC, 2012 is a return to what Emmerich ostensibly does best – mass destruction. The hook this time around is the apocalypse itself; more specifically, the year of the title, which marks the end of the Mayan calendar and which many believe will be the end of the world. With the date rapidly approaching, the 2012 apocalypse theory has been a bit of a hot topic in recent years, and there has been rampant speculation been several books written on the subject. Mr. Emmerich likely saw in the theory a concept ripe for use in a big budget disaster movie. After all, the actual end of the world as we know it would surely make for the disaster movie to end all disaster movies. So does it actually live up to the promise of the concept?
Things get rolling in the near(er) future of 2009, as an American scientist named PROFESSOR WEST rushes to a research facility in India, where a colleague named SATNAM has made a mysterious but alarming discovery: it seems that there have been usually severe storms on the surface of the sun, which are having a grave effect on earth. Professor West contacts his friend ADRIAN HELMSLEY, a young scientific advisor to the president, and informs him of the ominous developments. Helmsley attempts to brief U.S. PRESIDENT WILSON on Satnam’s findings, but is stopped by pompous White House chief of staff ANHEUSER, who has it out for Helmsley.
From here, things move forward to 2010. By this time President Wilson is aware of what is happening, and calls a private meeting with seven other prominent world leaders at the G8 summit in Spain. What he has to tell them is that the world’s top scientists have confirmed that the world will soon come to an end. Meanwhile, in Tibet, the Chinese military displaces several villages and begins working on what is supposedly a massive dam-building project, Things jump forward another year to 2011 as more mysterious events unfold; a WEALTHY SAUDI discusses an enigmatic dossier and one billion dollar transaction with an MI-6 AGENT, and a group known as the World Heritage Foundation, headed by President Wilson’s daughter LAURA, is replacing priceless works of art such as the Mona Lisa with replicas and taking the originals to storage facility in the Alps for safekeeping.
Finally we reach the titular year 2012. By now, signs of impending doom have been steadily accumulating. The west coast is beset with so-called “mini quakes,” and fissures randomly appear in the earth. Nevertheless, people are going about their daily lives as usual, oblivious to the doom in store. We are introduced to JACKSON CURTIS, chauffer and aspiring novelist, who is rushing to pick up his two young children LILLY and NOAH from ex-wife KATE’S house in Los Angeles so he can take them on a camping trip in Yellowstone National Park. After a brief run-in with Kate’s standard issue new man, Porshe-driving plastic surgeon GORDON, the sort of happy trio is off on their camping adventure. Next we meet elderly jazz musician HARRY, conveniently enough the father of Adrian Helmsley, as he boards a cruise ship in San Fransisco to provide the onboard entertainment. As he tries in vain to convince bandmate TONY to contact his estranged son in Japan, the ship is suddenly rocked by an unexpected swell in the ocean. Back in Washington, Laura Wilson receives a call from a distraught museum director in France, who has just enough time to inform her that the World Heritage Foundation is a sham before his car explodes. It seems that he learned too much about the Foundation’s real purpose and had to be silenced. Laura is horrified to discover that she has been working for a front, and is further incensed when she realizes that both Adrian and her father knew what was really going on and didn’t tell her.
Meanwhile, Jackson and the kids arrive at Yellowstone to discover that the military and teams of government scientists, led by Adrian Helmsley, have taken over sections of the park for reasons they cannot fully reveal. Jackson also encounters crackpot radio host CHARLIE FROST, who believes that all signs point to a major catastrophic event beginning in California, spreading to Yellowstone, and eventually destroying the whole world. Jackson is understandably dubious, but back in Los Angeles the previously small fissures become massive, yawning cracks in the earth.
It appears that things are progressing faster than anyone anticipated, and we get our first inkling of what it is that world leaders are planning to do about it; they, along with select wealthy elite from across the globe, will board specially built ships that can weather nature’s wrath. Everyone else will be left to perish and the people from the ships will be left to rebuild civilization and repopulate the planet. Basically, Noah’s Ark for the new millennium.
Gordon and Kate narrowly avoid dying in a crevase in Los Angeles, and Jackson and the children rush back to find them. They arrive just in time to pick them up and escape as earthquakes ravage the city. Against all logic they return to Yellowstone to track down Charlie, who Jackson realizes was not as much of a crackpot as he initially thought, and who may be able to help them survive the rapidly approaching doomsday. Once again their timing is impeccable, as they reach the park just as it is turning into the world’s biggest active volcano. Our motley but determined band of protagonists once again narrowly escapes impending death, this time armed with details about the Arks and a map to their location. What follows is a race against time, earthquakes, dust clouds, and tsunamis as the various groups of characters make their ways across the globe (remember the displaced villagers building the dam in Tibet? Well, guess what they were really building) to try and be among the lucky few who are spared as the earth gets ready to flood Old Testament style.
As it turns out, the answer to the question posed in the introductory paragraph is a resounding NO. Who knew the end of the world could be so predictable? This is an almost completely by-the-numbers disaster movie, featuring all the requisite dubious science, silly and implausible set-pieces, narrative clichés, broad, one-dimensional characters, and heavy handed attempts at emotion and morals that one would expect from the genre.
Aside from the idea of the Arks there is really no aspect of this film that we haven’t already seen in dozens of other action, sci-fi, and disaster blockbusters. It is so steeped in predictability, ridiculousness, and cliché that it borders on self-parody. In the tradition of previous Emmerich blockbusters such as ID4 and The Day After Tomorrow, the obligatory action and destruction scenes are particularly bad offenders in this regard, featuring characters impossibly running away from massive explosions, dust clouds, and bizarrely personified cracks in the earth.
The script barely even hints at the details or origins of any of the real theories about 2012, suggesting that the association is mainly here just to cash in on a trend. Instead, Emmerich and co-writers Harold Kloser and Matt Charman shoehorn in several brief but glaringly awkward attempts at political commentary and even what could be construed by some as a few baffling jabs at religion. And of course everything leads to an unbearably neat and happy ending, despite the fact that the film is about the vast majority of the world’s population being wiped out.
It would have been great if Emmerich & Co could have injected some new life into this tired genre, but unfortunately, and not that surprisingly, all they are giving us here is more of the same.