Monday, November 16, 2009

The End Is The Beginning Is The End

Directed By Roland Emmerich
Roland Emmerich has made another bat shit crazy disaster flick, and one he feels "will end all disaster films". At a time in Germany when everyone wanted to be the next Wim Wender's, Emmerich confesses he wanted to be the next Spielberg; "lil Spielberg" they called him. Though he has had many offers from his idol to work on his projects, Emmerich has turned them all down, because he prefers to work on his own projects, which he retains control over final cut, choice of actors, and even distribution date. I had always assumed Roland Emmerich was the name of some nameless committee of producer androids programmed with this year's latest demographic statistics and working in secret in some Hollywood bunker. In the end of times, all that will survive will be scripts for disaster movies and roaches. 2012 is the story of the earth literally crumbling into itself and the continents, the crusts, and the oceans rearranging themselves shrugging of human and animal civilization like dust. There are so many "Excuse me, Mr. President's" and "But that's a suicide mission's", the script might have been a mad lib, where the other actors invented their dialog around those two phrases. The president, one of his top adviser's, the first daughter, two lounge singers on a cruise ship, a failed science fiction writer, his family, their step father, a Russian billionaire, his kids, and his mistress, a Chinese monk, his family, and a geologist take us through the end of times. Emmerich does not focus on creating characters but "character moments" to insert between the action that allows the audience to identify with the most general stereotypes, and immerse themselves in the action; "it's more exciting that way." There is excitement to be had in 2012, owing the special effects teams who probably spent more time on the film than anyone else. I did enjoy watching Los Angeles collapse in on itself and be swallowed by the ocean, humming along to myself Youth Brigade's "Sink With California". But that was the first collapse, near miss, roller coaster/simulator theme park ride of escape, by the third time the same scene replays itself, it's not enough funny by virtue of it's audacity, but just tedious. John Cusak twice first in a limo, then in a camper, makes a leap over gaping chasms opening in the road beneath him. No less than three times, are he and his family, taking off in a plane while the ground disappears just behind them licking their heels. The ground also seems to wait if they have to run back and get something important they forgot.Once "the end" begins, not a ten minutes goes by without some new unforeseen catastrophe, ratcheting up the tension, as the final countdown hurls forward faster and faster. All of the characters have about 5 minutes in any given scene to escape from whatever they thought was at least 5 minutes away. The characters on the Cruise Ship seem completely useless, except for Emmerich to recreate a scene from one his favorite films "The Poseidon Adventure". "The Poseidon Adventure" and "The Towering Inferno" are two of his favorites films, and their influence is palpable in his oeuvre as a whole; a bunch of people caught in a crisis, and surrounded by huge budgets. Like Spielberg, when you strip away the science fiction event your left with a story of Cusak trying to win back his family, with his son who prefers his very useful stepfather (he's had a few flight lessons, but goes on to fly a commercial airliner to China) a plastic surgeon (because it's an easily identifiable Southern California job, all of LA is just actors and surgeons). Like "Independence Day", "The Day After Tomorrow", and every single Spielberg film besides "The Color Purple" and "The Terminal", the story shows us a wayward man/husband/father, fighting adversity to reclaim his role as head of the patriarchy. Though the step-dad seems nice enough, and is definitely handy, he is
sadly crushed by the machinery of the ship at the last minute, literally grinded away by gears of the plot, tuned unwaveringly to the time of traditional nuclear familial bliss. Less than a month later, the wife is back on Cusaks arms, as if they walked to China. The president, who dies, likewise, becomes a Mufasa-like ghost-dad of the whole planet when the first daughter chimes in that "my father would have opened the gates" and the other members of the G8 solemnly nod. The same man who messianically and pointlessly sacrificed himself earlier, leaving the fate of the rest of humanity to his advisor who has "necessary evil" tattooed across his forehead is suddenly evoked as a higher power.::SpoilerOver::
I agree that it would be difficult to top Emmerich's disaster scenario, after the first scene of carnage, even he has trouble topping himself, so he repeats himself twice more. Then there's more "Poseidon Adventure", which resembles the classic camping trip gone wrong scenario of a a boat going over a waterfall, only Emmerich's water fall is on Mount Everest. Many of the scenes are smaller, are just simpler action sequences blown up to "epic" proportions. The constantly eroding ground is similar to many action/adventure films final moments after the big bad; demon/dragon/super-villain is defeated and his palace/fortress/cave comes crumbling down with only seconds for our heroes to escape, only Emmerich skips the bad guy and goes straight to the falling house. The film is a roller coaster ride, with many of the loops and twists we've ridden before, just faster and bigger (which is fun from time to time). There are no real character's just character moments. I personally don't think these "character moments" are as necessary as Emmerich and contemporary Michael Bay believes, just annoying gristle and fat, in the high calorie, low content, action beef they love to serve. Perhaps if they just supervised the special effects of episodes of "Life after People", and gave up on storytelling altogether they would find a better niche for their well oiled apocalypses. In the end, the effects are good and the movie bad; probably what you expected and a little less. I enjoyed all the shinny things, but this don't hold a candle to Poseidon Adventure or other classic disasters. When you do the same sequences again and again, it's hard to be thrilled or exhilarated. Though I was in awe quite a few times. Maybe the end is nigh...

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