Epic disaster films generally follow a typical course: introduce a bunch of disparate characters, toss them into an enormous crisis, and watch them struggle to survive. The disaster genre exists solely to gawk at extraordinary events and unbelievable circumstances. Audiences do not go to disaster films for character development, plausible storylines, or believable situations.
Director Roland Emmerich knows this, and every film he produces exists only to wow audiences with the latest jaw-dropping spectacles. But he has never managed to distill it so perfectly as he has with ‘2012′.
That’s not to say this is a good movie. Not at all.
By any reasonable standard, ’2012′ is one of the worst films in Emmerich’s long and destructive career (personally, I still think ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ is worse than this … but just barely). The characters are nameless, one-dimensional ciphers, the endless by-the-skin-of-their-teeth escapes ridiculous, and the “plot” bloated and still way too shallow. Emmerich simply doesn’t care at all about such things. He knows audiences want spectacle, and he ladles it on liberally and unabashedly.
But what special effects! An almost sure-fire Oscar winner for visuals, the film functions as a highlight reel of some of the most amazing effects ever seen on film. Los Angeles churns, upends, and falls into the ocean in an early sequence of such breadth and scope that the rest of the film struggles to keep up. After that come super-volcanoes erupting, violent ash clouds consuming cities, and 150 foot walls of water razing continents. It is breathtaking to watch Emmerich in his element, perfectly framing these mammoth scenes of destruction with terrifying precision.
Indeed, Emmerich is so good that these special effects manage to elicit some amount of fear and horror; watching that giant wall of water overtake the White House or swirl over mountaintops brings the film a certain majesty and terror that it otherwise lacks.
It’s just a shame that he cares so little about the rest of the film. When not staring at special effects, the audience is asked to care at all about John Cusack as a struggling science fiction writer, his ex-wife, their kids, the President, his daughter, and on and on and on. None of these characters are well written or performed. Even worse, the script is atrociously plotted, clutterred completely with coincidence and random bits of business. It makes this two-and-a-half hour movie feel like a miniseries.
So do I recommend this film on Blu-ray?
In a way, yes. I don’t want to sound like I’m giving this film a pass – I’m not. I just realize that this sort of film exists for only one reason: to create spectacular mayhem onscreen. Anyone tempted to watch this film isn’t wanting heady scientific discussions, moving emotional storylines, or multifaceted characters; they want mind-blowing catastrophe. And to that end, Emmerich has probably hit the longest, hardest home run of his career. I seriously doubt that anyone can top the sheer volume of destruction and cataclysm served up by ’2012′.
Just one more thing … can we please stop destroying the Earth every other week at the movies? I kinda like it.