(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Movie: 2012
Where You Can Stream It: Netflix
The Pitch: An ancient Mayan prophecy turns out to be true and the world as we know it is coming to an end in the year 2012! Can author-turned-limo driver John Cusack survive and save his family?
Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: No filmmaker has destroyed the world more than Roland Emmerich. He’s responsible for Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, and Independence Day: Resurgence. Even his upcoming movie Moonfall is about blowing up the planet (the Moon is going to crash into the Earth!). But Emmerich’s true disaster movie pièce de résistance is 2012, a bombastic, macabrely funny, nearly 3-hour showcase for the end of the world. It rules.
You might not remember this at this point – so much other crazy shit has happened since – but as the year 2012 approached, there was a lot of talk about an ancient Mayan prophecy that suggested the world would end on December 21, 2012. Of course, that didn’t happen, and like the fears of Y2k, the fears of 2012 seem silly and quaint in retrospect. Of course, most people weren’t really afraid of the so-called Mayan prophecy to begin with, but still – it was fun to speculate. And since Roland Emmerich never misses an excuse to kill billions of people for the sake of entertainment, he jumped at the chance to make 2012, a truly epic disaster pic in which the Mayan prophecy turns out to be true.
You see, the Earth’s crust has become unstable due to solar flares, or some such thing. There’s no reason to get too hung up about the science here since the film’s script, by Emmerich and Harald Kloser, isn’t really interested in that. Instead, it just wants to destroy everything – and it does, with a series of truly spectacular set pieces in which one landmark-heavy city after the next is obliterated with impressive special effects. Los Angeles is swallowed up by an earthquake, a tsunami takes out Washington D.C., Yellowstone National Park becomes a volcano, chaos reigns. Emmerich’s disaster pics tend to lose sight of the loss of life associated with all this destruction – the human casualties are almost always an afterthought. But 2012 changes things up a bit by introducing us to several characters who are just flat-out doomed. It hammers home the staggering death toll – although it doesn’t hammer it home too much, since this is still a big dumb popcorn movie, not an existential drama.
Emmerich also leans into some dark humor here – Arnold Schwarzenegger was the Governor of California at the time the film was made, and the director goes so far as to have an actor impersonate Governor Schwarzenegger on TV, telling everyone that California is safe and sound mere seconds before a massive earthquake hits and kills pretty much everyone. Later, two old women are driving home from the grocery store in the midst of that same earthquake. “Keep an eye on those eggs!” one woman sternly says to the other – right before their car slams into a piece of the street that suddenly rises up before them. It’s mean-spirited, but you can’t help but chuckle at the absurdity.
In the midst of all this mayhem is John Cusack, who plays a failed author turned limo driver. He’s estranged from his wife (Amanda Peet) and kids, but that’s nothing the impending apocalypse can’t solve. Also caught up in the story is Chiwetel Ejiofor, playing a geologist who tries to warn everybody; Danny Glover as the President of the United States; and Woody Harrelson, who is having a ball playing a conspiracy theorist who – of course – turns out to be correct. It’s all so spectacularly mindless and wickedly entertaining that you can’t help but get caught up in it all. In truth, Emmerich should’ve probably made this his last diaster epic, since it’s unlikely he’ll ever top it. But who am I kidding – I’ll be first in line for Moonfall, because no one blows up the planet and kills us all in the process quite like Roland Emmerich.
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