I always preface my reviews of Roland Emmerich films with a comparison to the great disaster films of yore. “The Towering Inferno” and “When Time Ran Out”… – all star-studded, over-the-top melodramas that were fueled more by their promise of wanton destruction than by any sense of plot, logic, or pathos. If Emmerich’s hasn’t already proven himself the heir apparent to Irwin Allen’s throne with “Independence Day” and “The Day After Tomorrow”, “2012” should be the clincher, as Emmerich outdoes his progenitor with the disaster movie to end all disaster movies.
It’s 2009. Dr. Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is summoned to an Indian research facility, where he is shown data that reveals that the Earth’s core is heating up at an alarming rate, and, if his projections are correct, it could spell the end of life as we know it. He brings this information back to White House Chief of Staff, Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt), who arranges a meeting with the President, Thomas Wilson (Danny Glover). We jump forward to 2010. President Wilson gathers all of the heads of state from around the world, and presents to them a plan that will help to preserve humanity, and thus begins a secret government operation to assure mankind’s survival…for a price.
Flash forward to 2012. The end of the Mayan calendar is rapidly approaching, and conspiracy theories abound; helped by the mysterious deaths of various politicos and members of the social elite. Whilst on a camping trip at Yellowstone with his children, struggling author/limo driver Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) hears one of these theories firsthand from the seemingly whacked-out pirate radio host, Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson). Frost tells Jackson that the world is coming to an end, and that the governments of the world have been preparing for it with the construction of “spaceships” in the Himalayas, with a boarding fee of $1 Billion Euros per passenger. Charlie even says he has a map to the location of the build site. Jackson, understandably, thinks the man’s mad, but, after a series of small earthquakes in Los Angeles prompts Jackson’s ex-wife, Kate (Amanda Peet) to ask him to bring the kids home, Jackson is summoned to the home of his rich boss, Yuri (Zlatko Buric), to take him and his spoiled children to the airport. One of the children lets slip that he and his family have reserved a spot on one of the ships Frost mentioned, and, just as Jackson drops Yuri’s family off at the airport, another quake erupts. Starting to believe Frost’s story, Jackson rents a plane from a pilot at the airport and returns to Kate’s house where he rounds up the kids, Kate, and her live-in boyfriend, Gordon (Thomas McCarthy). The city begins to crumble around them, as Jackson maneuvers his way through toppling buildings and shifting terrain, only to arrive at the airport to find their pilot dead. Gordon, however, has just enough flying experience to get them on the ground, and Jackson tells him to fly back to Yellowstone to find Charlie Frost and the location of the “ships” that will save mankind.
Of course it wouldn’t be a Roland Emmerich picture if it was all so simple. There are literally a half-dozen subplots going on around the Jackson Curtis storyline, all of which intertwine neatly (and somewhat conveniently) by the film’s climax. None of this really matters, however, as the purpose of this film is to deliver maximum destruction in the most eye-popping and spectacular fashion possible, and, in that regard, Emmerich succeeds in spades. From mammoth tsunamis to gut-rumbling tumblers, 2012 is a veritable feast of devastation on a global scale, and had this misanthrope smiling from ear to ear. Unfortunately, for every tidal wave, earthquake, and volcanic eruption we are forced to endure moments of seriously undercooked melodrama, Emmerich’s Achilles’ heel, and, every time the action shifts back to a personal confrontation, burgeoning love story, or borderline-comic act of selflessness. It’s in these scenes that the film’s pacing hits a brick wall, drawing out an already long 158 minute running time. Sadly, underwritten drama is the breaks with disaster flicks, as any fan will tell you. One need just revisit 1974’s “Earthquake” for a prime example of that.
While Emmerich’s primarily concerned with making destruction beautiful, he’s assembled a competent cast even if they’re not given much to do. Cusack and Ejiofor benefit from the most fleshed-out roles, while Harrelson steals every scene he’s in. The rest of the characters are little more than flimsily realized caricatures. Platt’s Anheuser is the amalgamation of political villainy, while Glover’s President Wilson is the embodiment of patriotism and compassion. Peet doesn’t do much more than scream and look frightened, but that’s more than the thoroughly wasted Thandie Newton has to work with. There are plenty of other cameos and superfluous supporting characters, all of whom you can rest assured meet their demise in the most spectacular fashion, but, as has been the case with Emmerich’s previous films, you can safely assume that anyone with their names at the top of credits will live to see another day.
Sony brings 2012 to Blu-ray in a stunning, 2.40:1 1080p transfer. This is the reason people buy Blu-ray players, folks; exceptional levels of detail, clarity, and an almost three-dimensional quality that truly brings the cinematic experience home. This is reference quality stuff from start to finish, with a sense of depth and dimension that’s almost tangible, and made all the more appealing by the accompanying DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track. Robust doesn’t even begin to describe the mix on this thing! This is earth-shaking, stomach-rumbling, turn-off-your-phone-so-the-neighbors-can’t-call-you loud! The thing is, it’s also meticulously well-implemented, with the dialogue always front and center and perfectly situated in the mix. Surround effects are abundant and immersive, with wonderful clarity and distinction. This will be the go-to disc you’ll use to show off your system, I guarantee it.
The three-disc set is loaded with special features, including an audio commentary featuring Emmerich and Co-Writer Harald Klose, and a fantastic PiP commentary track entitled Picture-in-Picture: Roland's Vision. The PiP track is made up of interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, and actually offers a heck of a lot more insight than Emmerich and Klose’s comparatively bland commentary.
The second disc sports a nice selection of supplements, including an “Interactive Mayan Calendar” feature, as well as several featurettes (all presented in 1080p!), the best of which are the beefy Designing the End of the World which takes a look at the film’s impressive special effects, and Science Behind the Destruction is…well..exactly what it sounds like. There are a host of other short featurettes, including Roland Emmerich: The Master of the Modern Epic, which is one of those indulgent “the man’s a genius” spots where everyone talks about how it is to work with Emmerich, and The End of the World: The Actor's Perspective, which offers short interview snippets with the cast members asking them what drew them to the project (you know; besides the wheelbarrows full of money). Rounding out the extras are a music video (Adam Lambert’s embarrassingly catchy “Time for Miracles”), a making-of the music video, and trailers for several Sony releases.
Disc Two also features a PSP version of the film, while Disc Three contains a digital version for playback on your portable media systems.
If, like me, you enjoy a good disaster film, 2012 will knock your socks off with its jaw-dropping visual effects and epic scope. The scripts a bit of a howler, and the characterizations are as thin as an E-Z Wider, but Emmerich’s movies have always been (and will most likely always be) about the eye-candy, and 2012’s got enough of that to put you in a sugar coma. Sony’s Blu-ray presentation is amongst the best I’ve seen on the medium, and that, coupled with the nice selection of HD extras, makes recommending a purchase of this one easy.