human behavior

2012: American Disaster

Posted in American Culture & Politics, Reviews by humanb on November 16, 2009

2012On Saturday night I thought I’d treat myself to a bit of movie-going after having finished my psychiatry rotation, so I went to see the apocalyptic 2012.

I wish I hadn’t.

Roland Emmerich’s 2012 is unbelievably bad. And I was surprised to find it so, because I had made the mistake of reading all the wrong reviews. Take this one in the Washington Post by a critic who gave it 4 out of 4 stars:

So what makes “2012” a four-star movie? In an era in which Hollywood seems unable to execute even the most uncomplicated formulas, the ones that used to come easily, “2012” is, pardon the expression, a revelation. It gets everything right. The actors are right: John Cusack as a sardonic failed novelist, Amanda Peet as his wife, Tom McCarthy as her nice-guy new husband, Chiwetel Ejiofor as a conscience-stricken scientist, Oliver Platt as a snappish White House official, Woody Harrelson as a radio-host crackpot. The storytelling is right: You will never be bored, for there will always be questions to answer. Who will survive? How will Cusack get his family to China, where salvation awaits the rich, the connected and the just plain lucky? What will Emmerich blow up next? And the dialogue is right: a rich blend of wisecrack and cheese, with a few moist-eyed goodbyes sprinkled here and there for good measure.

This review is either satire or the critic is being paid by the film’s producers. It is utterly inconceivable that this critic is sincere.

The Actors

With the exception of John Cusack, the acting is atrocious. I get that the director is conscious of the genre (and its inherent silliness) that he helped fashion; but even despite the thoroughly inappropriate emotional responses he willfully directs in his actors, their performances are lacklustre, shallow and self-conscious. When the historically talented Danny Glover, Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton, and Chiwetel Ejiofor delivered lines at moments of intended emotional impact, I physically cringed.

The Storytelling

We know the formula. We learned it in Emmerich’s Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, and in the horrific Armageddon and War of the Worlds. An ordinary American guy confronts an impending apocalyptic disaster with previously untapped courage, humility and a single-minded preoccupation with his own personal interests – usually his family with whom he’s had a dysfunctional relationship and must make amends by proving his stereotypical masculine valour. And we the audience are encouraged to care more about this one man’s eventual recognition and respect by his family, than we are the fate of nameless millions who perish. And predictably, among the killed are the major supporting characters who display true honor and selflessness in sacrificing their lives to ensure the hero’s redemption and his ultimate rescue of mankind.

So I knew the formula and what to expect with this film. The best that can be said of 2012 is that it adheres to this formula with a fundamentalist faithfulness. The problem, however, is that this formula is precisely the thing that made each of the films in this genre an embarrassment to American film. Emmerich took the worst aspect of Hollywood storytelling and amplified it in proportion to his digitally animated destruction. Every subplot developed with painful predictability. The storytelling was not just ridiculous, it was boring.

The Dialogue

I’ll cede a point to the critic here. The dialogue in other films of this genre has been worse. Independence Day comes to mind. There were few one liners injecting discordant humor into tragedy to make you roll your eyes in disgust; but the dialogue was delivered with B-grade acting and was embedded in a story so inpatient to destroy the next city, that human subplots were treated like speed bumps. When families tearfully say their goodbyes to the world and to each other, you find yourself wishing Emmerich would destroy them already. The dialogue wasn’t bad per se, just ineffectual.

The Genre

I’m no film snob. I love an action movie. I watched Die Hard, Aliens and Terminator on VHS over and over again growing up; and there isn’t a Schwarzenegger action film I haven’t seen multiple times. I even liked the first Transformers, saw it a few times. And I love a B movie – especially if it’s science fiction or has a giant killer animal. Or zombies.  And I like a disaster movie. I actually enjoyed The Day After Tomorrow. But this movie is rubbish.

The Message

Most of all, 2012 is depressing, because it’s the story of the insidious decline in quality of American film. The director is German, but the movie is all Hollywood: crass, soulless, shoddy, and expensive. There is something deeply unsettling and acutely insulting about Hollywood’s persistent mercenary appeal to the lowest common denominator. Hollywood seems to have lost any semblance of interest in enlightening us while entertaining us. It’s content to cheat us.

2 movie tickets + 1 medium popcorn + 1 medium diet Coke cost us $50.00. And even that’s not as depressing as the fact that the hundreds of millions of dollars spent making this film would have been better spent on almost anything else. This movie was a waste of time, money, petrol, and brain activity.

If you want to see a movie that’s so bad it’s almost good, 2012 isn’t it. Even Zombie Strippers was better. And that’s saying something.

1 out of 5 stars

The 1 star is for spectacular side effects, but they’re repetitive to the point of becoming mundane.

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