Here’s what I liked about 2012:
The triumph of spectacle over realism or plot is total and shameless. There’s no pretence that any of this holds together. In reality the aeroplane escaping the collapsing city might have avoided some skyscrapers but would have hit one of them; in the film world the vision of lucky escape after lucky escape, coincidental meeting after coincidental meeting, is the point.
This is very much an old school disaster movie. There’s no way to avert the crisis – we are at the mercy of the elements; the planet, and life itself will survive with or without us – our quest is only to survive the cataclysm not prevent it.
The Arks, when they appear, are awesome, colourful creations of sci-fi art. They deserve to be found on the cover of a Golden Age paperback.
The idea of an optimistic novel about human selflessness, so bad it only sold 500 copies, ending up on an Ark by chance – simply because another character was reading it – is cool.
Emmerich’s trademark landmark-trashing scenes are more artistic and more fun than before, if not actually more meaningful: it’s not just tidal waves and cracks in the ground – the White House destroyed by the John F Kennedy aircraft carrier; as Vatican City falls a crack runs through the Sistine Chapel roof separating Man from God. It’s as if the world is actually being destroyed by irony. Admittedly you’ve probably seen many of those moments in the trailer.
In the face of disaster, do we become selfish, seeking our own survival, do we try to save our closest loved ones, or do we become completely selfless, risking our lives so that strangers might survive? This is not a deep philosophical film. But Emmerich’s answer – that there’s a bit of all these things – seems fair enough.
One thing jarred for me which was the science: not so much that it was clearly all bullshit or that the exposition was so crude – rather, was it really necessary at all? Why not make a movie genuinely about ancient prophecy or even unexplained catastrophe and just cut the scientists out altogether? The science strand made “more sense” (a relative term) in The Day After Tomorrow but adds very little to the plot here.
Overall I found this film to be watchable and enjoyable mainly due to it's brazen silliness and infectious sense of fun - perhaps the most fun you can have while watching billions of people die. Incidentally watch out: there will be not one but two Asylum takes on this movie - Megafault and 2012: Supernova. Meanwhile I look forward to Emmerich's adaptation of The Cherry Orchard next year - that cherry orchard is going down.
[Edit 19.5.2010 Even now this post seems to be generating more traffic than anything else I've written. If you are reading this, I'm curious to hear from you: drop me a line, let me know how you came across this post & what you think.]