End of the World: The E-Ticket
(for the multiorgasmic destructo porn)
(for the cheesy melodrama)
(unless you need a good laugh)
You know that bit in Independence Day, where Air Force One barely gets off the ground and away from Washington DC just as the fireball of the alien’s city-destroying megablast overtakes the plane? Roland Emmerich loves that bit with the last-second escape of the plane so much he uses it three times in 2012.
It’s kind of awesome, the film’s self-involvement. This isn’t really a movie: it’s more director/FX-mad wannabe supervillain Roland Emmerich calling out every other disaster film that has ever come before… including his own. Aliens blowing up the Empire State Building? What piker came up with that? Big-ass cruise ship hitting an iceberg and sinking in the North Atlantic? Bah! Try topping this: The whole damn planet has struck the metaphoric iceberg and is going down by the head. And there is no Jack Dawson to save you.
Well, there is John Cusack, and he’s so cute he must be able to make everything all right. Right?
Disaster is the new black in 2012: everyone’s doing it! It’s all got something to do with solar flares and neutrinos: those little subatomic bastards usually leave us alone, but now they’ve mutated and they’re microwaving the Earth’s core. It’s the new global warming for 2012. Everybody’s into it! You won’t be able to escape it!
Emmerich wasn’t content to merely make the biggest disaster movie ever: he had to make every disaster movie ever. 2012 is like a late-night infomercial: “Sure, everyone loves a good plane crash! Everyone loves yer basic earthquake flick! But order now, and you’ll also get Destruction by Supervolcano, Tsunami Catastrophe, and California Sliding into the Pacific Just Like They Told Us Would Happen Someday!”
It’s called global crustal displacement, and it will ruin your whole afternoon.
I gotta tell it: It’s exhausting, this multiorgasmic destructo porn, but it is high-larious. I didn’t think the end of the world would be this funny. Billions are dead, civilization is over… call it Tectonic. But — and here’s where the funny comes in — preposterous coincidence will go on. Ridiculous dialogue will go on. Schmaltz will go on. Hyperbole will go on. And John Cusack will go on. Won’t he? *sniff*
Cuz look: the Earth’s crust may be disintegrating, but Cusack’s (Igor, War, Inc.) family is disintegrating, too, okay? His Amanda Peet (The X-Files: I Want to Believe, Martian Child) ex-wife is still ragging on him as Hawaii boils away beneath them! His moppet kids prefer Mom’s new boyfriend even as Las Vegas is getting snuffed out by a cloud of volcanic dust the size of Yellowstone Park. But it’ll all be worth it in the end if his seven-year-old daughter feels confident enough after the end of the world to stop wetting the bed.
For all this we can thank Emmerich, who didn’t just direct but cowrote the script with composer Harald Kloser — yes, a composer of music; they also cowrote Emmerich’s breathtakingly dumb 10,000 B.C.. And they have invented a story that is sort of beautiful in its absurdity: it’s like something Ed Wood would have made if he had a budget. (In fact, SF writer Greg Bear should sue Emmerich and Sony. For this is basically his brilliant and chilling 1987 novel The Forge of God [Amazon US] [Amazon UK], with layers of cheese added and a too-funny nonsense explanation for the end of the world replacing his coolly terrifying, actually-science-fictional one.) They can take a wonderful actor such as Chiwetel Ejiofor (Redbelt, American Gangster) and force him, as a White House science advisor and the film’s nominal conscience, to say things like, “The director of the Louvre is not an enemy of humanity!” and “Our culture is our soul and that’s not dying tonight” with a straight face. (Which, to his credit, he does manage.) They can take a break for a moment of Buddhist wisdom, cuz that’s what an exploding Earth needs: fortune cookies. Adorable little girls with bunny slippers are dying — dying! I tell you — and the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy is crashing into the White House, but as long as John Cusack gets some resolution on his relationship with his ex, it’s all good.
If Emmerich was, perhaps, trying to convince us that humanity is not worth saving, he’s making a pretty good job of it.
If he thinks his movie is getting rescued on the big space ark when we flee the dying planet, though, and transport human civilization to Mars or wherever, he’s got another thing coming.