Inhuman virtual simulation

2009-12-07 00:00

THE premise for 2012 suggests that neutrinos emitted through solar flares and acting like microwaves have begun heating up the earth’s core. The result is that the earth’s crust will begin shifting, resulting in massive earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes. The predictions are catastrophic for the human race, and a project is embarked on to build souped-up arks in the Himalayas to save at least 400 000 people. Just who you save is an interesting question and is what underpins the philosophical thrust of the movie.

With such subject matter, the odds of succeeding in effectively capturing the last moments of humanity are unlikely, especially with a plot strand that suggests a governmental conspiracy meant to deprive people of the truth. The right to deal with their own fates is denied, depriving us as an audience of what would have been a far more poignant rendition of the end of days. Poignancy, however, is not the realm of the disaster movie; rather these movies are all about spectacle.

Who else to helm the the disaster movie to end all disaster movies but Roland Emmerich. He owns the genre with films such as Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow. His vision is truly jaw-dropping in the key moments of destruction and his chutzpah and imagination in destroying icons is legendary. This time the White House gets the treatment via an aircraft carrier surfing a really scary tidal wave. The end of Yellowstone Park is another set-piece that inspires awe in terms of craft.

Unfortunately, the awesome vision is compromised by a weakness that has emerged in Emmerich’s oeuvre. He stretches credibility beyond breaking point with irritatingly contrived plot devices. In Independence Day it was a laptop that was able to interface with alien technology. In this film, one example is a helter-skelter chase through streets of a town being destroyed by an earthquake, that requires such exemplary and pinpoint driving by protagonist John Cusack that we are left contemplating the fictionary elements of the film rather than being drawn in. Hell, Michael Schumacher wouldn’t survive 20 seconds in this scenario. Licence is granted, but Emmerich abuses us, and his film becomes, at times, nothing more than an inhuman virtual simulation.

The required ensemble cast for disaster movies is present and 2012 has a motley crew of, sometimes strange, characters that have been written as plot devices, rather than as real people with dramatic possibilities. The only stand-out for me was Woody Harrelson as a ranting conspiracy theorist.

I have been harsh on Emmerich and there is much for fans of the genre to enjoy. Also, for local audiences, the coda posits an interesting theory that the Drakensberg becomes the new Himalayas and the destination of 2012’s survivors. Thanks Roland for the most expensive tourism commercial ever made. I’ll see you at Giant’s Castle in 2012! ***

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