I put off going to the opening weekend of the Roland Emmerich-helmed CG extravaganza because I thought that it would be as boring as I found Will Smith’s last ill-advised foray as super-hero Hancock (opposite Charlize Theron), but I’ve got to say that “2012” was fun to watch, and the world apparently agrees with me.
“2012’s” domestic gross was $65.2 million, but that was just 28% of the story, as it took in $230.4 million worldwide over the weekend. It smashed the competition (primarily Jim Carrey’s Disney movie “A Christmas Carol” in England and, in the United States, where the take for “2012” was almost 3 times what Scrooge was able to muster ($65.2 versus $22.3).
I’ve got some thoughts about why this movie from the creator of “Independence Day” and “The Day After Tomorrow” is doing so well. It is cleverly constructed to prey on all the gloom-and-doom news stories of the day. About the only topical disaster that doesn’t weigh in is H1N1 or a virus-to-be-named later. But the movie works, and works well, primarily because it has colossal special effects and who doesn’t want to see Las Vegas, the Santa Monica Pier, Washington, D.C., and New York’s Times Square blown to smithereens. It’s fun seeing Vatican City collapse on the faithful and the Washington Monument almost take the President out, even if the movie does run a tad long at 2 hours 38 minutes. But who cares? It’s “Earthquake,” “The Perfect Storm,” “Towering Inferno,” and “The Poseidon Adventure” all rolled into one. (*I once took a busload of 8th grade students to see a double-bill featuring “Earthquake” and “Towering Inferno,” which we dubbed “The Shake-and-Bake Special.”)
This film cost a quarter of a million dollars and 1,000 people at 15 separate special effects companies used 500,000 tons of steel and a blue screen 60 feet long to come up with some of the fun stuff. Fun if you like Mayan calendar predictions of disaster and cheesy dodging of cracking highways in a limo driven by John Cusack (much like the boulder chasing Harrison Ford in “Indiana Jones”) and all kinds of conflict set up for the ‘bad guy,” whose name is—rather cleverly in an obvious way)—Mr. Annheuser. (So, class, what do you automatically think when you hear the word “Annheuser?”)
One reason I liked the flick is that the cast is a very good one, even if the script really just takes us along for the CG ride. John Cusack is a familiar face (especially to those of us with Chicago connections) and he is the center of the film, playing struggling author-turned-limo driver Jackson Curtis for a Russian billionaire. He and his wife, Amanda Peet, are apparently separated and she has a live-in boyfriend, played by Tom McCarthy, a plastic surgeon and, coincidentally, the director of “The Visitor” and “The Station Agent.” McCarthy is coming at us again as an actor in “The Lovely Bones” next month.
Chiwetel Ejiofor, who played Huey Lucas in “American Gangster” and will soon be onscreen opposite Angelina Jolie in “Salt”, plays the black scientist, Adrian Helmsley. Two child actors round out the original Curtis family, one played by Morgan Lily, who was the lemonade-stand girl on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and one played by Liam James as Noah Curtis. People old enough to remember George Segal in his prime will enjoy seeing him again, and we must mention Thandie Newton as Laura Wilson, President Wilson’s (Danny Glover’s) daughter.
Oliver Platt gets to do the honors as the self-serving Annheuser, who provokes a debate on whether we mere peons down in the valley deserve to be told that the largest tidal wave in history is on its way, so batten the hatches! Annheuser, of course, is much more interested in “saving” the mucky-mucks, including the government and anyone with one billion Euros to buy a seat on one of the Arks being built in China. Annheuser’s attitude provokes debates between his character of a party-line politician and the good-hearted Dr. Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who asks, “When do we let the people know?” and “I think people have a right to know.” Other lines suggest that, “The moment we stop caring for one another, that’s when we lose our humanity,” and “we mustn’t start our future with an act of cruelty.” Annheuser takes a much more hard-line approach (“What did you think? We were all just going to join hands and sing Kumbayah?”)
Woody Harrelson as the Dr. Demento of Yellowstone, radio’s Charlie Frost, predicting the Armageddon that is about to occur, is a hoot, but he’s much better served by his recent turn in “The Messenger,” where he plays straight. [I fear that Woody is going to become typecast in roles like “Zombieland” and this, with fewer serious roles in the mix, if he isn’t careful, but I’m sure the payday for this film was worth it. I remember thinking that Gary Busey would have done the part proud, as well.]
Sure, there are things that seem very inauthentic, like the limo driving as the road collapses and the plane making it off the runway as the runway disappears and the “it’s a suicide mission” bit aboard the Ark, but it’s a fun CG movie. Its awesome special effects should garner Oscar nominations come March.
Here are some other things that I found interesting, besides the bogus charge that the Mayans thought the world would end in 2012 because their calendar ended then (there have been active denials of this by official Mayan spokesmen, …whoever they are.)
A long list of “wrong” things or anachronisms in the movie exists on the Internet data-base IMDB, including the fact that aircraft carriers don’t paint the name of the ship on the ship’s deck, as appears with the carrier USS JFK that is swept to its doom. Besides that, the USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67 was decommissioned and mothballed in 2007, residing in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard now. The keen-eyed also noticed that, when Vegas is destroyed, there is a sign advertising Bette Midler’s Show, which is scheduled to end in January, 2010. I noticed that the Virgin Records store sign is still up in Times Square in New York City, although the last store closed in June of 2009 (in Los Angeles).
The script is ponderous, of course, with bad Russian accents to boot, and much pontificating (“Our culture is our soul and that’s not dying tonight.” “The moment that we stop caring for one another, that’s when we lose our humanity.”) The science, (for someone who dropped out of Physics after one day) was basically mumbo-jumbo, and I feel fairly certain that 1,578 miles of the Earth’s crust displacing because of temperatures rising across the globe is not my biggest concern.
But the thing that this film does so expertly is weave the rampant paranoia abroad in the land into a maelstrom of “fear and chaos spreading throughout the land,” (as the film’s own script puts it). Only 400,000 people can be saved. “I’m comin’ home, Dorothy” may or may not be a reference to the Wizard of Oz, but it’s definitely the case that one producer is from Wisconsin, so Cheeseheads everywhere will be happy to learn that there are at least three references to Wisconsin, including the fact that, after the Apocalypse, either the North or South Pole has relocated there.
And let’s give credit to Graham Hancock who wrote the novel “Fingerprint of the Gods” on which all this craziness is based. The scripting by Roland Emmerich (the director) and Harald Kloser leaves a lot to be desired, but who cares when we’re ramming speed in the race to self-destruction. (“We caused this thing; it was us!”)