A towering spectacle: “2012” stuns just like we expected, but disasters like these are a dime a dozen

By Kate MacDonald

2012 web
(Courtesy MCT)

There is a very real Mayan prophecy that says the world as we know it will end on December 21, 2012 in a melee of death, destruction and catastrophe. While no one knows what the future holds in store on that dread date, king of destruction Roland Emmerich shows viewers a glimpse of how he thinks things might turn out in his new film “2012.”

Known for box office hits such as “Independence Day” and “The Day After Tomorrow,” Emmerich brings his vast experience to the table. What he doesn’t bring, however, is anything truly new. Yes, his destruction is on a much wider scale in “2012” than in either of his earlier films, but it contains the same tricks – famous buildings crumbling, falling into the sea or into ruin, humans overcoming natural disasters by nothing but luck and an ensemble cast of yesterday’s stars. That being said, it’s pretty impressive seeing famous landmarks like St. Peter’s Basilica tumbling, crushing into a massive crowd of onlookers, or the Himalayas being overcome by massive tsunamis.

John Cusack, in the leading role, must overcome disasters such as these in the United States. A divorced father of two who has issues bonding with his kids, Cusack opts for a secluded camping tree at Yosemite, which is when the chaos begins. After stumbling across a lunatic in the woods  – played by a very believable and hilarious Woody Harrelson – Cusack quickly realizes that this madman might actually be on to something. Steadily, small disasters start unfolding him, to say nothing of the small disaster that awaits when he brings the kids home to his ex (played by Amanda Peet), who has since shacked up with a plastic surgeon (Tom McCarthy).

The back story to “2012” provides some gushy moments as Cusack’s Jackson Curtis tries to win his family back, at the same time as he is struggling to keep them alive. He gets an opportunity to do just this when he finds out that the world’s leaders have known about the impending doomsday for some time, thanks to young geologist Adrian Helmsley, portrayed by the up-and-coming Chiwetel Ejiofor (past credits include “Children of Men” and David Mamet’s 2008 mixed-martial arts film, “Redbelt”). If Ejiofor neglected some attention before now, “2012” really shines a light on his ability to carry a mainstream picture. Ejiofor steals the movie as the caring doctor – and is one of the few characters with a strong moral compass.

In a disaster film like this, much like any of Emmerich’s other films, one could go on about the special and visual effects for hours. The large scale destruction of major world buildings and features is no easy task to accomplish, as a screening of the heavily dated 1974 disaster film “The Towering Inferno” could attest to. But the effects coordinators and stunt teams certainly do it well in “2012.”

The cinematography is nothing to scoff at either. At times, however, the viewer can tell that the scene is obviously digitized, such as a scene wherein the tower of water comes cascading over the Himalayas. It doesn’t look real, and the actors stand out oddly against the backdrop. But thanks to multi-angled shots in other scenes, anyone watching can almost believe they’re there, witnessing the demolition of the Earth.

Aside from these setbacks, the acting is mostly terrific. Danny Glover plays a great American president, and other big name supporting actors make appearances throughout. Each character contributes something to the plot line and no holes are left in the story. The only big thing “2012” lacks is a more prominent soundtrack. While at times perhaps the impressive scenes wouldn’t match well with a song, a powerful score could have added some punch to the film. With the impressive acting and jarring spectacles, however, one barely notices.

During the past few weekends “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” has been dominating the box office. Rather than hindering “2012,” it has actually helped it. Many people, put off by teens heady and raucously waiting to enter their third screening of “New Moon,” have opted to instead see “2012.”

“2012” provides something other movies out this season do not: a new element of fear. This prophecy was made thousands of years ago, for a very specific date two years away. While most chose to believe it false, the movie does instill some fear, or at least some further thought, in this subject.

Yet underneath the story, it also has a constructive review on what’s important to American society- religion in times of distress, money, family, safety, and so many more elements we don’t think of everyday. “2012” turns out to be more than just a high powered visually amazing action flick. The best sorts of movies make you think, and “2012” does just that.

Kate MacDonald can be reached at [email protected]