Monday 23 November 2009

2012 ... or how to crack a walnut with an atomic sledgehammer...

Originally I hadn't wanted to see this in the cinema - I was going to wait for DVD. However, the closer it got to release, and the more times I saw the trailer, the more I wanted to check it out just for the sheer guilty pleasure of it all.

Plus, it's got John Cusack in it - and it's always worthwhile watching Cusack on screen. In fact, after getting back from the cinema I caught the last 30 minutes of High Fidelity, and it just made me love that flick even more - it gets better and better every single time I watch it, and Cusack's brilliantly in-touch performance just gets better each time.

Anyway, plot wise you know what you're going to get. If you've seen Independence Day as well as The Day After Tomorrow, then you're all set to know exactly what's going to happen, and who is going to die when (and indeed why). Disaster movies seem to have a similar moral strength (perhaps harshness) that slasher movies have, but instead of blood and guts, it's huge ass buildings falling over, exploding, and exploding while falling over.

That last part though - that's exactly why I went to see 2012. I wanted to see a bunch of shit crumble like dominoes. I wanted to see a crazy amount of money being spent on a luridly over-the-top slice of disaster pie ... hell, nevermind the slice, 2012 is the whole goddamn thing in one gulp.

Honestly, if Emmerich ever makes another disaster movie after this I'd be surprised - he's done everything he could possibly have done, and some of it is even hoisted out of other disaster movies. Then again, many slasher movies play out in the same way...

2012 has come in for some harsh criticism since its release, and I think some of it - some, I stress - is undeserved. It's been moaned about that characters 'get over deaths too easily' - well that's bullshit, because the entire movie is a non-stop rollercoaster of shit falling over, so there'd literally be no time to stop and cry about it. Then, despite a little scene at the end, none of the survivors are going to be whooping and hollering for joy or sitting around having completely forgotten their loved ones. It's just that we don't see that on screen, and quite frankly there's no need to, especially in a movie this bloated and long-winded.

It has been said that there are too many characters, and too much soap opera storytelling - and I think that's right. It still works, and you still are able to follow who is who, but it's not necessary.

Storytelling though, when it does pop its head up from under the clouds of volcanic ash, crumbling suburban streets, and tidal waves, is obviously quite blunt. Then again, 2012 - like its predecessors - is just blunt anyway, it could never be anything else. It's impossible, surely, to interweave so many characters and so much action into two and a half hours without being blunt about it.

2012 is like cracking a nut with an atomic sledge hammer, but to be fair, it still cracks the nut.

As such, the variety of "goodbye" scenes still pack some punch. You sit there and think "what if that was me?" and "what would I say and do in that situation?" and as such it does tug at the heart strings a little bit ... in a blunt and totally unsubtle manner, but this is a broad strokes kind of movie. Blockbusters rarely do subtlety - so why are some folk so surprised that 2012 is as blustery and concrete as it is?

It has also been said that it's the most expensive comedy ever made, and that some of the humour is intentional - obviously, this witty sideswipe came from a (formerly, at least) broadsheet newspaper. I think some have been taking this movie too seriously, because when I was watching it I just couldn't see any way in which those making it could ever go more than five minutes without cracking up laughing themselves. There is tons of intentional humour throughout, and it's bloody well necessary, because if this was genuinely played straight it'd be the most spectacularly depressing movie ever made.

Just think about it, you're being thrown scene after scene of families being torn apart by disaster. You're seeing mass-scale destruction - events which are killing countless hundreds of thousands of people in seconds. There are many scenes of desperate, wild-eyed people trying to escape their looming fates, to get their children to safety, and so obviously there's always the need for some humour now and then to lighten the load.

Even the big scenes of destruction have an air of intentional comedy about them, they're so ludicrously over-the-top that Emmerich couldn't have been doing anything but guffawing heartily at the sheer chaos he was inflicting upon his viewers once the film was complete.

2012 isn't a well crafted roast beef dinner with all the trimmings, it's a cheese burger bought from one of those vans towed behind a 4x4 - there's always a time for both meals, and they both hit the spot with the same force, they just go about it in different ways.

I mean just look at the film I watched prior to 2012 - Moon - a gentle, subtle, intensely thoughtful piece of filmmaking which has gone straight into my top films of 2009 list. 2012, while it won't be going into the same list, still kicked the ass of The Day After Tomorrow, and still provided the "ooh, big thing fall down!" mass appeal, blunt force populism that everybody likes now and then.

Is the writing particuarly good? Not really - it's workman-like at best. Is the whole 2012 thing anything to get fussed about? No, especially as the Mayan calender doesn't predict global cataclysm. Is it enjoyable anyway? Of course it is - it's got John Cusack in it, and it's got Woody Harrelson stealing every single one of his few scenes as another beautifully whacked-out oddballs ... plus, a ton of shit falls over and explodes.

Anyone who was surprised by anything they saw in 2012 must have been kidding themselves. You know the rules of these kind of movies, and you know exactly how the plot is going to turn out. You know that really stupid, ridiculous, never-gonna-happen-in-real-life-ever things are going to happen (repeatedly). You know that children and dogs can never be killed (although two Russian rich kid blighters in 2012 were a pair of shits ... even still, their bastard father's moment to save them still holds some of that universal charm - a father saving his children - an ideal that traverses all social classes and societal splits).

Indeed, 2012 is just that - it's a universal theme kind of movie - and it even addresses this a couple of times. Cusack's hang-dog failed writer remarks that one billion Euros per seat is disgusting, but as the Russian oligarch drawls simply, if you were a rich man, wouldn't you do the same to save your children?

There is some actual, real ideological meat to chew into with this movie - you know, beneath all the shit falling over of course. It may not be subtle, it may not be especially deep, and it's surrounded by as much lunacy and as many epic plot holes that any human can take, but it still has something simple and universal to say about the basic, deep down human instinct for survival, the want for a connection to a society, and for the want to save the ones you love - and indeed, to say what you've always wanted to say before it's too late.

I'll say again, it's far from a great film, but I've seen so many films worse than this, and an atomic sledge hammer still cracks the nut.

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