Global destruction as popcorn-movie entertainment. 

John Cusak in 2012

John Cusak in 2012

Director Roland Emmerich has carved a mini-film empire as a purveyor of high-tech disaster movies. Emmerich's films are in the spirit of '70s-era disaster flicks, with sprawling, cameo-packed casts inhabiting flimsy characters who are secondary to visual spectacle.

A master of the new technology, Emmerich isn't content with mere capsized ocean liners or burning skyscrapers. Only computer-generated global cataclysm will do.

These films — 1996's Independence Day, 2004's The Day After Tomorrow, and now 2012 — have emerged as pure formula: An unexpected assault — whether alien or environmental — threatens mankind. A group of broadly drawn, relatively multicultural, and far-flung characters are established via early crosscutting and finally brought together midway through the film. An Everyman who Understands What's Happening overcomes obstacles and doubts to find his place beside the primary decision makers. Fantasies of mass destruction are indulged. Humanity comes together and survives to start anew. And so it goes with 2012, its title a reference to a Mayan calendar prediction about the date of the end of time.

Independence Day is still beloved in some quarters while The Day After Tomorrow was an impressive spectacle soon forgotten, a fate likely to befall 2012 regardless of whether it recoups its budget.

Independence Day is more the crowd-pleaser for several reasons: It had some human interest in the form of enjoyably blustery performances from the likes of Bill Pullman, Will Smith, and Randy Quaid; by contrast 2012 gets by with an overplayed Woody Harrelson cameo and a subdued John Cusak (and I can barely remember who was in The Day After Tomorrow). The alien-invasion angle provides a villain to fight against and more of a sense of distancing fantasy. In the other films, the villain is simply nature, and the specter of environmental devastation, however wildly exaggerated, hits too close to home to serve as simple popcorn-movie escapism. As a result, these films try to be more serious but are too clunky and cartoonish to earn the gravity they aspire too.

2012 is essentially the same film as The Day After Tomorrow, only with a Great Flood replacing a new Ice Age. The film opens in 2009 with the discovery of "the biggest solar eruption in human history" provoking a secret global initiative to plan for planetary upheaval and the preservation of the species. Later, a struggling writer and divorced dad (Cusak) is taking his kids on a Yellowstone camping trip when they wander into a military installation studying a disappearing — and steaming hot — lake. Soon, the special effects destruction revs up: Californa collapsing into the sea is the backdrop to a high-speed thrill ride, like something from an Indiana Jones movies. Iconic creations such as the Washington Monument and the Sistine Chapel are pulverized.

There's something interesting in the film's sci-fi speculation about what a (slightly) futuristic Noah's Ark would be, but 2012 is built on the spectacle of watching the world collapse over nearly three hours, with little redeeming value in terms of story, characterization, or thoughtfulness.

Keep the Flyer Free!

Always independent, always free (never a paywall),
the Memphis Flyer is your source for the best in local news and information.

Now we want to expand and enhance our work.
That's why we're asking you to join us as a Frequent Flyer member.

You'll get membership perks (find out more about those here) and help us continue to deliver the independent journalism you've come to expect.



Rated PG-13 · 158 min. · 2009
Official Site:
Director: Roland Emmerich
Writer: Roland Emmerich and Harald Kloser
Producer: Roland Emmerich
Cast: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Thandie Newton, Woody Harrelson, Danny Glover, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Oliver Platt, Chin Han, Beatrice Rosen and Jimi Mistry


Now Playing

2012 is not showing in any theaters in the area.


Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

    • BlacKkKlansman

      Spike Lee pulls no punches with his triumphant true story of the black detective who infiltrated the Klu Klux Klan
    • Memphis Film Prize 2018

      Ten local films compete for $10,000 in the 2018 Memphis Film Prize
    • Sorry To Bother You

      Boots Riley’s political satire aims to Make Movies Weird Again


News Blog

Memphis Pets of the Week (August 16-22)

News Blog

REI Opens Next Friday

News Blog

Stat: Gun Crimes in Shelby County

News Blog

State Review of School Security Nearly Complete

Film/TV/Etc. Blog

This Week At The Cinema: The Good, The Bad, and The Anime

Film/TV/Etc. Blog

Music Video Monday: Aaron James


More by Chris Herrington

  • Last Words

    In "Enough Said," James Gandolfini makes his last lead film role his best.
    • Sep 26, 2013
  • Masters of Sound

    New albums from two of Memphis’ most distinctive stylists.
    • Sep 19, 2013
  • Hayes Carll at the Hi-Tone

    • Sep 19, 2013
  • More »

Readers also liked…

© 1996-2018

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation