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DVD Review: 2012

★☆☆☆☆

With 2012 (2009), director Roland Emmerich appears to have finally defeated his own selling-point. The idea of a high-concept disaster movie has been ignored. There is no clear, marketable threat here as in his previous films, having demonised the weather in The Day After Tomorrow (2004), extra-terrestrials in Independence Day (1996), and Godzilla in, um, Godzilla (1998). The conundrum Emmerich seems to have encountered is ‘How do I make the imminent threat in my next film exceed that of my last?’ And it seems that he has run out of ideas…almost. Reassuringly, the plot is of his latest endeavour is, quite simply, ludicrous.

It somehow becomes apparent that our cast must all travel to China where a secret underground facility has been manufacturing enormous ‘arks’ each capable of carrying a small population. The idea is that these boats will then float around the completely drowned Earth ad infinitum. The problem of how to resolve a film like this lies somewhat in the established genre conventions. A disaster movie necessarily creates tension and fear in its audience by forcing upon its characters the constant sense of impending doom.

For the cataclysmic threat to be effective, the characters must be placed in an irresolvable predicament from which the only outcome is certain death (this usually involves hopeless scrabbling around like headless chickens just as a meteor is about to hit the Earth). And this is the problem that must be carefully considered: it is very difficult to write characters out of a situation that has no solution.

What usually ensues is the deus ex machina or act of God. This is the point at which, miraculously, the asteroid narrowly misses Earth, invading aliens are killed by our own bacteria, or several thousand marines suddenly arrive to exterminate the dinosaur residents of a remote Central American island (to use Jurassic Park 3 [2001] as an example). Independence Day at least attempted to conclude itself properly, its heroic leads utilising Windows 95’s new hack-in-and-plant-a-bomb feature to destroy a sophisticated alien computer network.

2012, however, is essentially just a two-act nuclear explosion that doesn’t bother to clean up its consequential fallout. Emmerich blows his budget on superficial pyrotechnics, slaps in a final CG sunrise and pats himself on the back. He then calmly puts on his coat, flicks off the lights in his now empty, voluminous studio-set and quietly closes the door, abandoning his forgotten characters to navigate the dark, volatile oceans of a drowned world.
Tom Read