Total planetary destruction, satisfaction guaranteed

It’s not so much that the Earth is destroyed, but that it’s done so thoroughly. 2012, the mother of all disaster movies (and the father and the extended family), spends half an hour on ominous setup scenes (scientists warn, strange events occur, prophets rant, and of course a family is introduced) and then unleashes two hours of cataclysmic special events hammering the Earth relentlessly.

Lily Morgan

Lily Morgan

2012

Three and a half stars

Rated: PG-13 (for intense disaster sequences and some language)

It’s not so much that the Earth is destroyed, but that it’s done so thoroughly. 2012, the mother of all disaster movies (and the father and the extended family), spends half an hour on ominous setup scenes (scientists warn, strange events occur, prophets rant, and of course a family is introduced) and then unleashes two hours of cataclysmic special events hammering the Earth relentlessly.

This is fun.

2012 delivers what it promises, and since no sentient being will buy a ticket expecting anything else, it will be, for its audiences, one of the most satisfactory films of the year.

It even has real actors in it. Like all the best disaster movies, it’s funniest at its most hysterical. You think you’ve seen end-of-the-world movies? This one ends the world, stomps on it, grinds it up and spits it out.

It also continues a recent trend toward the wholesale destruction of famous monuments.

Roland Emmerich, the director and co-writer, has been vandalizing monuments for years, as in Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and Godzilla. I still hold a grudge against him for that one because he provided New York with a Mayor Ebert and didn’t have Godzilla step on me and squish me.

In all disaster movies, landmarks fall like dominoes. The Empire State Building is made of rubber. The Golden Gate Bridge collapses like clockwork. Big Ben ticks his last. The Eiffel Tower? Quel dommage!

Memo to anyone on the National Mall: When the Earth’s crust is shifting, don’t stand within range of the Washington Monument. But Chicago is often spared; we aren’t as iconic as Manhattan.

There’s little in Los Angeles distinctive enough to be destroyed, but it all goes anyway.

Emmerich thinks on a big scale. Yes, he even destroys regular stuff.

It will come as little surprise (because the trailer on YouTube alone has 7,591,413 views) that the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy rides a tsunami onto the White House. When St. Peter’s Basilica is destroyed, Leonardo’s God and Adam are split apart just where their fingers touch (the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel having been moved into St. Peter’s for the occasion).

Then when Emmerich gets warmed up, the globe’s tectonic plates shift thousands of miles, water covers the planet, and a giraffe walks onboard an ark.

Also onboard are the humans chosen to survive, including all the characters who have not already been crushed, drowned or fallen into great crevices opening up in the Earth.

These include the heroic Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) and his estranged wife, Kate (Amanda Peet), the president (Danny Glover), his chief science adviser Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and his chief of staff Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt).

Many gigantic arks have been secretly constructed inside the Himalayas by the Chinese, funded by a global consortium, and they’re the only chance of the human race surviving. There are also animals on board, and maybe well-named Noah (Liam James).

In theory, ark ticket-holders represent a cross-section of the globe, chosen democratically. In practice, Carl Anheuser pulls strings to benefit the rich and connected, and wants to strand desperate poor people on the dock. I’m thinking, Emmerich often has a twist when he names villains, like Mayor Ebert from Godzilla. So how did this villain get his name? What does “Anheuser” make you think of?

Such questions pale by comparison with more alarming events. The tectonic plate shifts so violently scientists can almost see it on Google Earth. This havoc requires stupendous special effects. Emmerich’s budget was $250 million. It may contain more f/x in total running time than any other film.

They’re impressive. Not always convincing, because how can the flooding of the Himalayas be made convincing, but impressive? And Emmerich gives us time to regard the effects and appreciate them, even savor them, unlike the ADD generation and its quick-cutting “Baycams.”

Emmerich also constructs dramatic real-scale illusions, as when an earthquake fissure splits a grocery store in half.

Cusack is the hero in an elaborate sequence involving his desperate attempts to unblock a jammed hydraulic lift that threatens to sink the ark. He does a lot of heroic stuff in this film, especially for a novelist, like leaping a van over a yawning chasm and flying a small plane through roiling clouds of earthquake dust.

The bottom line is: The movie gives you your money’s worth. Is it a masterpiece? No. Is it one of the year’s best? No.

Does Emmerich hammer it together with his elbows from parts obtained from the Used Disaster Movie Store? Yes.

But is it about as good as a movie in this genre can be? Yes.

No doubt it will inflame fears about our demise on Dec. 21, 2012. I’m worried, too. I expect that to be even worse than Y2K.

Roger Ebert is a syndicated movie critic for The Chicago Sun Times.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Alberta vaccine rollout expanding to front-line health-care workers

More than 240,000 eligible health-care workers can begin booking vaccine appointments starting… Continue reading

File photo
The Red Deer Rebels will have three new assistant coaches when the WHL regular season starts on Friday. Brad Flynn (left), will be on the bench alongside fellow assistant Ryan Colville (right) head coach Brent Sutter (middle). (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Sutter steps down as Red Deer Rebels head coach

Red Deer Rebels Owner, GM and head coach Brent Sutter has stepped… Continue reading

Premier Jason Kenney announced $200 million more money that will benefit seniors living in continuing care on Wednesday. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program expanding

Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program will expand to as many as… Continue reading

Parents and students learned Tuesday what the coming school year will look like. It's pretty much back to business as usual, said Education Minister Adriana LaGrange. School precautions include frequent cleaning, keeping students in the same groups where possible, planning the school day to allow for physical distancing and staying home when sick. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s largest school board says no to United Conservative draft school curriculum

CALGARY — Alberta’s largest school board says it will not use the… Continue reading

Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan is among those who have signed an open letter criticizing the government’s return to stricter health measures. (Advocate file photo).
Updated: Kenney tells UCP caucus COVID-19 dissent OK, breaking health rules means expulsion

15 MLAs released letter on Wednesday critical of new health restrictions

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau watches a speaker appear by videoconference during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday, April 9, 2021. Grassroots Liberals have overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution calling on the federal government to develop and implement a universal basic income — despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's apparent lack of enthusiasm for the idea. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau winds up Liberal convention with election campaign-style speech

OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau wound up a three-day Liberal convention Saturday with… Continue reading

Team Canada skip Brendan Bottcher makes a shot against Italy at the Men's World Curling Championships in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, April 6, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Men’s world curling championship in Calgary in COVID limbo

CALGARY — The men’s world curling championship in Calgary remained suspended Saturday… Continue reading

Pipes intended for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline are shown in Gascoyne, N.D. on Wednesday April 22, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alex Panetta
Non-profit Quebec law centre to aid environmental group targeted by Alberta oil firm

QUEBEC — The Quebec Environmental Law Centre is coming to the aid… Continue reading

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservatives cite empathy, relationships as ways to help expand their movement

OTTAWA — Conservatives should show empathy with Black residents who say they’ve… Continue reading

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. New Democrats are reconvening for the second day of a three-day policy convention as they look to push past the glitches of the virtual event's opening sessions and rally around keynote speaker John Horgan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
New Democrats reconvene as hiccups, frustrations plague national policy convention

OTTAWA — New Democrats reconvened Saturday for the second day of a… Continue reading

FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a joint statement with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. Former President Donald Trump plans to affirm his commitment to the Republican Party — and raise the possibility that someone else will be the GOP's next presidential nominee — in a closed-door speech to donors Saturday night, April 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
Trump in 2024? He says only that ‘a Republican’ will win

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Former President Donald Trump plans to affirm his… Continue reading

A cruise ship sits docked waiting for passengers to be evacuated in Kingstown, on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent, Friday, April 9, 2021 due to the eruption of La Soufriere volcano. (AP Photo/Orvil Samuel)
Ash-covered St. Vincent braces for more volcanic eruptions

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent — People who ignored an initial warning to evacuate… Continue reading

Owner of 4 Point Taekwondo Kevin Mejia holds a board as organizer and martial artist Kevin Olsen breaks it in Edmonton on Friday, April 9, 2021. One hundred martial artists from around the world, will be breaking a board for an event called "Break for a Breakthrough." The idea is for martial artists to unite and re-engage with the arts because they may have drifted away or lost enthusiasm as a result of the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Break for a Breakthrough: Canadian hosts international martial arts demonstration

EDMONTON — Whether he’s breaking a wooden board, a clay tile, cement… Continue reading

Most Read