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Better move fast, kid. The end is near.




This is where the bigger-budget disaster-movie cycle reaches its zenith. Or nadir, depending on your take. After this, global destruction would largely be down to clashing superheroes. And after this, alleged 33rd-degree freemason Roland Emmerich’s star would be in the descendent, the “vanity” projects he had his eye on floundering along with the presumed safer ground of standard-issue blockbusters. 2012 might have been one such, were the example of End of Days and the Millennium taken as indicative, but it lashed together the disaster-movie formula – and the Emmerich disaster-movie formula at that – with gleefully undisguised abandon, to the effect that it was the biggest non-franchise movie of the year (if we don’t count Avatar). Is it any good? Well, we’re talking about a Roland Emmerich movie.

Which is to say, I’ve never been the most extreme hater of his brand, largely on the basis that, whatever evident issues there are with his storytelling, he’s a more-than-competent director. He stretches that here, admittedly, since the gravity-defying swathes of CGI frequently aspire more to the excesses of Bayhem, but it still largely looks quite good. And the first 70 minutes of 2012 are engaging, knockabout disastergeddon. Then it gets serious. Plus, it becomes exhausting, clocking in at a good half hour longer than The Day After Tomorrow. The apocalypse played light-heartedly, replete with loads of goofy comedy bits – which include a number of absurd action sequences – lands much more effectively than the survival trauma that follows.

Emmerich worked his tried-and-tested gambit, one that always succeeded until it didn’t (Moonfall), of bringing strictly B-or-under level stars into play, since the enormous effects budget is doing all the heavy lifting. So there’s John Cusack – he’s identified on the executions list – going where Dennis Quaid went before him. Namely, having his name on the poster of a solitary megahit. He’s accompanied by various solid supporting players, from serious (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to comic (Woody Harrelson). 

As with The Day After Tomorrow, the fate of a single family is central, set against the backdrop of world-shattering events. Here, though, the scientist has been split off (that’s Ejiofor), and he stays with the establishment throughout. Indeed, this was clearly a choice that gave Emmerich and co-writer (and co-composer) Harald Kloser headaches, as geologist Ejiofor’s Adrian can’t be seen to be too on board with the preservation of a few at the cost of the many, but not so against it that he opts to meet a watery fate (the way Danny Glover’s President does, as a President with actual autonomy, per the alt-Emmerich world). 

The solution, the writers think, is to have Adrian butt heads with Oliver Platt’s Chief of Staff Anheuser, who is nothing if not practical and pragmatic about the issues and logistics involved. You know, like being reluctant to provoke mass panic before necessary, or letting swarms of waifs and strays aboard the ark at the last moment, so endangering the lives of those already on the ship. Yeah, the makers do their best to make Anheuser a bit of a dick, but he actually comes across as mostly reasonable – given the caveat of the contrived scenario – and Adrian a wishy-washy, conscience-stricken-when-it suits-his-bleeding-heart delusionary: “You wanna donate your passes to a couple of Chinese workers, be my guest”, invites Anheuser (Adrian doesn’t).

Cusack’s Jackson Curtis doesn’t come over very much better. He’s a failed author with a failed marriage, making ends meet as a limo driver (one of whom is a Russian billionaire who turns out to have bought ark tickets for himself and his spoiled twin boys). Curtis once wrote a novel, Farewell Atlantis, that no one bought or read – except Adrian’s father, who gave him his copy – and happens upon the truth of what’s happening – although the whacking great mini-quakes all over the place ought to have offered everyone else an inkling – in Yellowstone National Park, from Woody Harrelson’s crackpot conspiracy broadcaster Charlie Frost. From there, it’s all about saving the family – interloper Tom McCarthy not so much, but hey, he can pilot a plane, so is only dispensable much later – even to the point of recklessly endangering the passengers of one of the arks. This is way worse than Quaid getting his best pal polished off when going to fetch his son. So Cusack nearly does for them all, yet they cheer his survival! 

Noah Curtis: That guy’s crazy, right dad? 
Jackson Curtis: I don’t think so.

More acutely, Emmerich observes Disaster Movie 101 by having the cute dog survive (and arbitrarily kills the girl – Beatrice Rosen – who saves him). We don’t care about anyone much here, however; Woody gives a good buy-eyed cameo, but he WANTS to die. McCarthy is initially playing a complete a-hole who has it coming, but absolves himself through piloting prowess (despite only having taken a couple of lessons). George Segal and Blu Mankuma are on the cruise ship Poseidon Genesis (and survived in a deleted scene). Thandi(w)e Newton is the First Daughter, a damn sight less conspicuous than her excruciating Condaleeza Rice the year before. 

There are early signs this might be something special, starting with Cusack outracing a collapsing road and even driving through a collapsing building. Sight gags abound, including Bueller-esque slow-driving old ladies (“Come on, you old bags”), who wind up dead! Giant donuts roll down the street. Gordon flies under a toppling train. The Russian plane isn’t cleared for take-off, repeatedly, but then the controller tower is taken out in recompense. There’s a hilarious suspense scene involving a chicken poised on the block who finally gets her head chopped off (off camera)! While later bits and pieces raise a chuckle, nothing is as sustained as the first half of the movie. Indeed, Charlie’s advice regarding his blog – “You lure them in with humour, and then you make them think” – seems decidedly meta- on Emmerich’s part. Minus the making-them-think part, obviously. 

Emmerich got his alt-sphere tips for The Day After Tomorrow from Messrs Bell and Strieber. Here, he’s going to another prominent figure – and therefore, arguably one who is, if not necessarily outright intentionally misleading the movement, then prodding them in the wrong direction and provoking the wrong impulses – Graham Hancock. As a budding Edgar Cayce enthusiast at the time, I devoured the release of Fingerprints of the Gods (1995) with considerable relish. 

One can argue several points with such alt-history or conspiracy lore. That there’s an onus on the TPTB to lay a trail that things aren’t what they seem, for any who wish to pursue the same. Alternatively, knowing there will always be those who entertain such ideas, they seek to catch them at the outset and entrain them, sending them forever down the wrong rabbit hole(s). So JFK was assassinated. Obsess about it for 30 years and form no firm conclusion but have a lot of ideas. And an ancient cataclysm did for past great civilisations (such as Atlantis). And it could happen again. Rather than, you know, Atlantis not having gone anywhere, except dimensionally. And that same cataclysmic thing being more than likely to happen again, sooner or later. Which isn’t to exclude a more recent cataclysm having afflicted the lost civilisation – the 1700 Event – just to emphasise that one has been left looking in entirely the wrong place for one…

Fingerprints of the Gods saw Hancock waxing confidently on the potential of crustal displacement, until he hit on the Younger Dryas impact event. He posited that civilisation centred on Antarctica – you know, the “continent” where the Ice Wall is – and that a pole shift in approximately 10,450 BC did for it (and caused Atlantis’ destruction). Hancock drew on Charles Hapgood’s 1958 Earth Crust Displacement Theory (which, as the movie notes, found tacit approval from Einstein). 

As you can see from the – obviously partial to stating it’s all bunkum – Wiki page, 2012 theorising encompassed a broad church of disparate ideas, from dimensional ascendancy (which has merit) to disaster (which does not). Attaching it to the Mayan calendar was always going to be a recipe for dispute, though, since it amounts to experts pronouncing judgement on experts (or eager amateurs). Ostensibly, per advocates, it marked the end of a 5,126-year-long cycle of the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar (but how do you authenticate the actual dating, given our actual dating is corrupted?) Per the Maya, the world we live in is the 4th attempt at creating the same, but the calendar’s end was never intended to dictate the actual end of the world (of course, if the region of 1,000 years of history have been made up, the actual end of the calendar would be closer to the end of a prospective 1,000 years of peace…) Emmerich was ever one for turning a non-drama into a global crisis, though (see The Day After Tomorrow and global warming).

Some had Nibiru coming back. Terence McKenna was big on Timewave Zero and the I Ching  (singularity), mentioned here by Woody (also named on the executions list). There was, per the movie, the theory of increased solar activity. But also the Photon belt and Alcyone (Pleiades). José Argüelles’ influence, in terms of the New Age spiritual reading, can be felt in the successive uplifts of both Harmonic Convergence and 2012; It may be that it’s incumbent on TPTB to transmute the concept of transformation into one of total destruction. On which lines, other media laid the groundwork with The X-Files’ colonisation getting an early check on the date, and all-round cheermonger Lars von Trier bringing things to an abject end in 2011 (Melancholia).

Emmerich’s movie set up an Institute of Human Continuity website that apparently attracted apocalypse-angst (2012 milked more of the same when it became a Netflix hit during the coof). The “discovery” by “experts” is from The Day After Tomorrow copybook, of the “biggest Sun eruptions in human history” (this is the NASA universe Sun, remember, complete with CGI rendering to prove it). We’re told that “the highest neutrino count ever recorded” has led to them causing a physical reaction: “It looks like the neutrinos coming from the Sun have mutated into a new kind of nuclear particle. They’re heating up the Earth’s core and suddenly act like microwaves”. That pesky universe. If it isn’t man made global warming, its random events throwing a spanner in our insignificant works.

In order to underline that this is a real portent, we’re informed of a mass suicide at ancient Mayan city Tahal; they know it’s the end, the 21/12/12 end of time, “due to the Sun’s destructive forces” (as opposed to life-giving ones). “The Earth’s crust is destabilising” and 

the Mayans saw this coming thousands of years ago”. Woody’s on hand to reinforce this conceit, that “It’s the apocalypse, end of days… the rapture, but Mayans knew about it, the Hopis, the I Ching, The Bible, kind of”. Thus, the Mayans were the first to discover “that this planet had an expiration date” caused by an alignment “that only happens 640,000 years”. While Woody rides the earth shake with awe, the only faux-spiritual moment is reserved for a Tibetan monk over milky tea. There’s no cachet in stoic resignation and contemplation.

As he did with The Day After Tomorrow, Emmerich drops in various disparate and possibly contradictory snippets. He shows G8 protestors, presumably sympathetically (so Roland is against globalism?) which include a Maya 2012 placard. He has the President call a meeting of Heads of State (as if they’re really in charge), but Curtis later says of Governor Schwarzenegger (Lyndall Grant): “The guy’s an actor! He’s reading a script!” (an ad lib from Cusack, it seems), which rather undermines the autonomy of any political figure. 

There’s an assassination in “the tunnel where Princess Di died” – obviously, Di didn’t die – and the Queen and her corgis are seen boarding an Ark (no sign of any Draco, though). Charlie tells Jackson any survival plan would need to be kept under wraps, because “First, the stock market would go. Then, the economy, boom! The dollar, boom! And then pandemonium in the streets. War, genocide, boom, boom, boom!” And he’s right, as the Elite are bumping off anyone spilling the beans, including “Professor Meyers. He ran the Atlantis shuttle programme” (so he was keen to blow the lid off apocalypse, but not the fake space programme). This is because, rather than being chosen by geneticists, “They’re selling seats” to those in the ark: “You have to be Bill Gates or Richard Murdoch or some Russian billionaire or something”.

Emmerich does not, however, opt for escape into space, per Charlie’s theory (which Jackson initially buys into, owing to the space shuttle themed Farewell Atlantis. Which, given the foreword, suggests Jackson should have been a lot more credulous of Charlie off the bat). To this extent, while we see the requisite globe Earth at the end, 2012 might merit a little more relative authenticity than the director’s other disaster entries. 

In that, his disaster by worldwide flooding may be loosely reflective of the 1700 Event. There, 75 percent of the population were wiped out, leaving about 250 million alive. Here, in the region of 400 million survive, near enough to the Georgia Guidestones’ golden number. The invocation of The Bible and Noah’s ark (Noah is the name of Jackson’s son) represents the retrofitting of the book to reflect mudflood, rather than a historical apocalypse shrouded in the more distant mists of time. Mostly, though, 2012 serves to emphasise that we all, as a race, have it coming. That, by some means or other, we’re going to be decimated. Obliterated. Much easier to accept it and line up for the same (by lethal injection) when you’re conditioned into believing it’s a foregone inevitability. 

I enjoyed 2012 a lot more at the time, I have to admit. Indeed, the things that stuck in my mind were the antics of the first half, which is why this revisit found me increasingly listless as Emmerich piled up his “soberer” excesses. Nevertheless, it couldn’t be accused of doing other than it says on the tin. A big, purpose-built disaster movie that pushes all the buttons and leaves no strong aftertaste. It’s also mercifully free from eco-pointing, even if it’s ultimately less satisfying than The Day After Tomorrow.

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