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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"2012": The Day After Godzilla's Independence Day

It was the highest-grossing film debut for a non-sequel, non-adaptation ever worldwide. My dollars were not included in that gross, but seeing as it's at the very least a temporary cultural phenomenon, and sure to be a source of anxiety for an arbitrary date three years from now, I had to bite the bullet.

I choked back bile and tears last night as I approached the ticket booth and uttered the phrase, "one for 2012, please".

Sitting in a half-full theater on a Monday night, I pulled out a trusty Moleskine notebook (it's what Hemingway used!), and I settled my ass into a seat and braced myself for two hours and thirty-eight minutes of a movie I'd more or less already seen in its entirety. If you would also like to see the movie more or less in its entirety, watch the 4th trailer here, which due to restrictions I can't embed. My favorite part of the trailer is the phrase, "ONE DATE WILL UNITE US ALL", which you could answer with either "Independence Day", "The Day After Tomorrow", or "10,000 BC" all of which were previous efforts from "2012" director Roland Emmerich.

Comedian Chris Hardwick once told a story about updating his Twitter followers that he was about to meet Michael Bay, and they should send him any questions they had for the director. One follower responded with something to the effect of, "ask him if, as a child, he was molested by an explosion". The same could be said for Emmerich, if you merely replaced the word "explosion" with "imploding landmark". The man has a flair, if not outright fetish, for the destruction of recognizable buildings and the near-extinction of mankind.

Sony head of distribution, Rory Bruer, was quoted after the record-breaking weekend as saying, "Roland is that type of filmmaker that casts his net really wide. The story is something people could really relate to. It's the story of the survival of humanity." Yup, watching that trailer, that's just a day at the office for all of us rank and file folks, isn't it?

The inevitable tug at the "humanity of us all" heartstrings in "2012", as well as the rest of Emmerich's work, does not delve beyond, or perhaps even as deep, as the famous footage from Lakehurst, NJ in 1937.



Emmerich gets us in the gut not because we have any attachment to his characters, but because we are rubbernecking and thinking, "that is horrible - I'm glad that's not me". In the escape from LA in "2012", Emmerich even goes so far as to evoke the terrorist attacks of 2001 as people fall helplessly from crumbling buildings, and all our heroes, and we, can do is watch and be thankful we're either safe in the plane or in the theater.

Who ultimately lives and dies in the worlds of Emmerich depends on whether you're a child (preferably American) or thin and attractive A-list actor. It has nothing to do with chance, or morality, or realistic probability, for that matter, so any so-called lessons we can take from these movies end at "the best way to survive the apocalypse is to be the star in a movie about the apocalypse". Also, there's the inevitable George Costanzaism, "You know, we're living in a society! We're supposed to act in a civilized way!"

"2012" follows John Cusack, a struggling novelist and struggling divorced dad. After scientists look at some sun flares and the Mona Lisa is put in a big box, Cusack takes his kids camping in Yellowstone, where a lake has disappeared and the military is guarding the void. Conspiracy theorist and AM radio host Woody Harrelson explains that when the Mayan calendar restarts (YES PEOPLE, it doesn't END 12-21-2012, it RESTARTS)* the Earth will more or less implode.

Do you think Woody is right or wrong about the end of the world, in context of the movie? Pause this blog, and write down your answer now.

Cusack takes his kids back to divorced wife Amanda Peet and her new husband, Plastic Surgeon/Amateur Pilot Guy That Looks Vaguely Like Anthony Edwards (Thomas McCarthy) just as Cusack needs to report to work as a limo driver and pick up Russian Tycoon's Fat Twins and take them to the airport.

The pavement is slowly cracking up everywhere. I wonder if something is wrong?

The Governor of California, who has an Austrian accent and is supposed to be a former actor (GET IT?), tells everyone via news conference that everything is fine. Cusack rents a plane, because he thinks everything is NOT fine, and rushes back to get his ex-wife and kids.

Guess what? Everything is NOT FINE! Shit is about to get wild!

Cusack and Co drive halfway across Los Angeles to the Santa Monica Airport. The entire way, the ground crumbles RIGHT BEHIND the limo's rear wheels. The limo dodges falling cars, chunks of building, and not only drives under an overpass JUST AS IT FALLS TO THE GROUND, it drives THROUGH A COLLAPSING BUILDING which stays stable just long enough for a limo to drive through it before crashing out the other side.

Are you starting to get a feel for what this movie is all about? It's about defying physics and gravity to just escape total annihilation over and over again. Like Jake Gyllenhaal outrunning the cold (really) in "Day After Tomorrow", "2012" is built around impossible escapes. After the limo ride through crumbling LA, there is not one, not two, but three impossible plane takeoffs as runways crumble beneath the gears, two entire flights amidst decomposing buildings, and one flight through an essential meteor shower. A cat has nine lives. I lost count, but I assure you, John Cusack has plenty more.

I could go into more detail about the plot and characters, but really, there's no point. It's just a bunch of cardboard cutouts that will predictably either survive or die, and the movie is over when the last few survive or die.

I will say this about "2012", though. I did feel that there was a common bond shared by everyone in the theater after watching over two and a half hours of the almost-end-of-times. As the end credits started to roll, the bond was palatable.

Everyone couldn't wait to get the fuck out of that theater.



TOO MUCH: escaping in just the nick of time, "plot"

COULD HAVE USED MORE: John Cusack holding a boom box over his head to woo Amanda Peet

FILM SNOB NOTE: Roland Emmerich, by my count, has destroyed Washington DC and Los Angeles three times apiece, New York twice, and San Francisco and Rio de Janeiro once apiece. Chicago wins.

IHYFM RATING: ONE AND A HALF out of FIVE MEHS. Hey, the CGI was impressive, even if it usually did serve to piss me off.

IF YOU SAID THIS WAS YOUR FAVORITE MOVIE, I'D THINK: I want to slap you as hard as I can Two Days Before The Day After Tomorrow.

*For the record, the world is not going to end December 21st, 2012. It's going to end when Skynet becomes self-aware.


IHYFM BONUS: NOTES FROM THE SCREENING!

Below, please enjoy some of my Moleskine scribblings from my viewing of "2012".

- [during the trailer for "Invictus"] "of COURSE Morgan Freeman plays Nelson Mandela. Bet he just beat out Ice Cube for the role"

- "the movie just started and I have to pee. as little as I want to spend 2 hrs 38 min watching this movie, the less I want to spend 2 hrs 38 min risking bladder infection"

- "solar flares! yikes!"

- "see the Capitol Dome? Washington DC! see Big Ben? London! see Eiffel Tower? Paris!"

- "we're in San Francisco - will the Golden Gate survive? Smart money says... yes!"

- "what happened to the lake? let's [military and government] tell the civilians EVERYTHING GOING ON!"

- "Woah! THEME! Do people act selflessly if they know they're fucked?"

- "Ominous music! Slow camera moves! People looking at the internet!"

- "the real Woody Harrelson wouldn't like pickles. He's a raw food guy."

- " 'There's something pulling us apart.' GROUND CRACKS. GET IT?"

- "GET IT? She's like Paris Hilton! GET IT? He's like Arnold Schwarzenegger!"

- "All of LA is swallowed by the Pacific, and we're supposed to be sad... why?"

- "I want the Prez to announce the world is over via Twitter."

- "The Washington Monument just got E.D."

- "Hey. Man just lost touch with God... LITERALLY!"

- "Part Titanic part Casablanca part Poseidon Adventure remake. About as good as Poseidon Adventure remake."

- "Intercom cockblock."

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