The latest disaster movie from Roland Emmerich, 2012, is based not on an alien invasion threatening to wipe out all life (Independence Day), or global warming suddenly creating a new ice age that threatens to wipe out nearly all life (The Day After Tomorrow), but instead upon a belief held by many people that the world as we know it will end in the year 2012; a belief owing entirely to the fact that the Myan calendar (whose current cycle has run for over 5000 years) will expire in December 2012.
Whether or not you believe that will actually happen, for Jackson Curtis (John Cusack, 1408), his family, and the rest of the people inhabiting Emmerich’s 2012, it is undeniably real; as the end of the world involves mass tsunamis, earthquakes, fires, and volcano eruptions, among some other nasty natural disasters that, for the most part come very unexpectedly.
Some governments however expected the disasters to occur; after an Indian scientist discovered a naturally occurring phenomenon, which began heating the Earth’s core, and promptly passed the message along the line to the President of the United States (Danny Glover, Lethal Weapon), who (after initially refusing to believe the facts) eventually informs several other heads of state; and set about making plans to ensure that the human race will survive after the radical change that the earth goes through.
As well as following the scientist’s investigations and proposed solution, the main focus is on everyman Jackson Curtis (a half-assed, half-successful, author, with two kids and an ex-wife); who comes face to face with numerous natural disasters after he breaks into a quarantined area of Yellowstone National Park, and meets a conspiracy nut (Woody Harrelson, Zombieland) who knows exactly what’s going on and tells him about ships that the government have been building to save a select few, and from there on Jackson races through massive earthquakes, falling buildings, volcanic eruptions, and several cities being hit by storms or simply falling into the sea, in order to save his family, and link up with the one rich man he knows that might have a seat on the illustrious ships.
Unlike The Day After Tomorrow, the majority of the action doesn’t take place in the aftermath of the horrific disasters, but during the disasters themselves, and follows the efforts of a small few who are trying so desperately to survive. In that respect, it’s much more similar to Deep Impact (minus the giant comet), and actually lifts several short shots and scene elements straight out of that film. 2012 is also much more science oriented than The Day After Tomorrow, and shows just how inaccurate scientific predictions can be; as even though the scientist’s predictions in the film are correct, their timeframe is way off.
The movie has quite a big name cast that includes Danny Glover (playing a president that is a clear nod to Obama, and although he plays the part very well it is a total cliché, as he’s the strong and humble president that’s not afraid to put himself in harm’s way to save the lower classes; a selfless character seen in just about every disaster movie), Woody Harrelson (who plays a fairly comical yet important part as the nutbag who’s pieced together the whole conspiracy from his RV), Amanda Peet (Identity, as another clichéd character; Jackson’s ex-wife who’s torn between her past and present loves, and does little except scream for the hero to protect her children), Thandie Newton (RocknRolla, as the daughter of the President), and Chiwetel Ejiofor (American Gangster, as the main American scientist; a similar, though less quirky, character to that played by Jeff Goldblum in Independence Day).
Also joining the cast is Oliver Platt (Executive Decision), who plays one of the chief advisors to the President, and is wonderfully portrayed by Platt; as (again a total cliché) a scared and cowardly, completely selfish, bureaucrat that has no friends, and is more than willing to damn just about everybody else in the world so long as he gets to be safe; who appears here in his best big screen role for years. The film’s most important role however goes to John Cusack, who’s not exactly known for his action roles, yet does a very good job of playing the father forced to go to extreme measures to save his children (even if he does seem more comfortable when he’s playing the half-assed dad that spends the majority of his time glued to his pc), and generally plays the part fairly convincingly; with a good range of emotions and a needed sense of urgency (even if he doesn’t always look as strong as he should).
2012 is a very long film, with a runtime just short of 2 hours 40 minutes (although most disaster flicks tend to be fairly lengthy), but never becomes boring because of how much there is going on; unlike The Day After Tomorrow, the action doesn’t simply end after an effects laden opening half hour, and even during the science sections, or the clichéd speeches about basic humanity, it is never dull because there is a huge amount of action going on all around.
The effects are pretty special and as life-like as can be (despite a few instances of obvious, and terrible, blue-screen footage), which is a pretty impressive feat considering the overall scale of the effects projects, and the fact that they run constantly for the entire length of the movie.
In short 2012 will please any fan of disaster movies (there’s no doubt that it is the best disaster movie released for over a decade) or action/adventure movies alike, simply because it’s a non-stop, adrenaline fuelled, race of a film, and despite how clichéd the plot elements and characters are (every single character and plot element has been used in dozens of movies and TV shows before), viewers will want to find out if Jackson and his family make it out alive, if the government’s plan works, and most importantly, anyone who watches will be gawping in amazement at the stunning visual effects. It’s a fun filled ride of a film, that’s only feels like it lasts half its runtime, thanks to a scorching pace, a predictable yet well written script, and some great performances all round.
2012’s 1080p transfer is almost as stunning as its many scenes of utter destruction, as it boasts an excellent level of fine detail (often most evident during CGI disaster shots where every shard of glass from a collapsing building, or every cracked pavement, or fleeing civilian, are easily discernable), black levels that are truly deep and rich (a good thing for a movie that is surprisingly dark), and excellent shadow delineation that makes object detail look crystal clear in the shadowy depths of any shot.
Contrast levels are perfect, and every colour is well saturated and nicely rendered (with fleshtones looking warm and natural), however there are a couple of minor technical issues with the transfer that prevent it from being perfect; while there is no visible edge enhancement or noise reduction, the print does suffer from a few issues of minor banding (although not significant enough to spoil the movie they are still evident), and as well as some scenes being notably softer than others, there is a clear and jarring jump in quality when the picture moves between scenes shot on regular film, and those filmed digitally.
Nevertheless this is still an impressively clean and well made transfer that manages to stay true to its theatrical showing, and has no problems big enough to spoil the film for regular viewers; meaning that for the majority it looks suitably impressive, and whilst not quite obtaining a level of reference quality, is still more than an adequate transfer.
Likewise the audio track for 2012 (a 5.1 DTS HD-MA mix) is suitably impressive and boasts superb directional effects that are always seamlessly delivered, perfect positioning, and a level of clarity and precision that makes it a truly reference quality mix. The dialogue is excellently represented, and perfectly balanced, to the point that it always sounds great (even when the world around the characters is literally falling apart), and positioning is spot on; meaning that nothing important ever gets drowned out by the busy and aggressive surround elements that fill the entire room with perfectly placed, and chosen, chaotic effects.
There’s barely a dull moment during the soundtrack, as even in the quieter scenes there’s a good deal of subtly atmospheric sounds emanating from the surround channels, that gives a real sense of space and creates a truly realistic environment. On top of that the leveling is spot on because, despite the tracks aggressive nature (which actually makes it feel like the world is falling down around your living room), the track never gets so loud that it would damage listeners ears, or disturb the neighbours (as most soundtracks on movies of this nature would). The bass is also brilliantly leveled, and sound appropriately powerful; lending a real sense of weight to a number of effects (including eruptions, explosions, and floods), but is never overly, or needlessly, loud.
All in all this is a truly reference quality track that fills the soundfield with perfectly placed, realistic sounding, effects that really bring the apocalypse to life. Dialogue and leveling are excellently represented, and although the bass is superb, it may not be quite weighty enough to please the kind of fans that like their explosions to make the house vibrate.
The Blu-ray edition of 2012 comes packed full of extras from the DVD version, including an audio commentary with Roland Emmerich, and his co-writer Harald Kloser, that contains a good deal of interesting information about character development, the film’s production, and the science behind it, but remains fairly dull as the pair provide a very droll delivery throughout; a short collection of some fairly forgettable, and wisely removed, deleted scenes; an alternate ending that was also rightly removed as it is too optimistic, long, and wholly unnecessary; a short feature (entitled ‘Roland Emmerich: Master of the Modern Epic’) in which the cast and crew praise the director’s work (only useful to fuel Emmerich’s ego); interviews with cast members discussing their unique input to the movie and what it required of them; a thorough look at the science behind the film (‘Science Behind the Destruction’); and an insightful featurette examining the films special effects (called ‘Designing the End of the World’), that includes interviews with the designers behind the visual effects, and discussions about the challenge of acting around blue-screen sets.
Also included as Blu-ray exclusive features are the addition of MovieIQ and BD-Live capability, as well as an Interactive Mayan Calendar; that includes an explanation of the calendar itself and the importance of the year 2012, as well as horoscopes and personality profiles (some interesting information but mainly a fluff piece); and a Picture-in-Picture commentary track that features storyboards, interviews with the cast and crew, and some behind the scenes footage, and beats the audio track in terms of quality as it is much more likely to maintain interest.
Overall 2012 comes with a well thought out selection of special features that is sure to please both fans of the film and Roland Emmerich’s other work, and casual viewers alike; the commentary tracks aren’t the most interesting (the audio track is all but guaranteed to put listeners to sleep), and there are a couple of useless additions (the Mayan Calendar feature, and director praising feature), but the majority of features are both interesting and insightful (visual effects feature, and science discussion), making them worthwhile inclusions.
The Bottom Line:
Calling 2012 a newer Day After Tomorrow would be doing it a great disservice, as 2012 is so much more; it’s more like Deep Impact on acid; the action starts right from the beginning and doesn’t finish until the credits roll, and although the characters, the idea itself, and the plotlines, are a two-dimensional cliché, it stays interesting and engaging for the entirety of its two and a half hour runtime.
The effects look fantastic (for the most part), the cast is just as spectacular (even if having supporting stars such as Danny Glover, Woody Harrelson, and Oliver Platt, tend to upstage John Cusack) and play all of their respective parts excellently (although Cusack is more suited to High Fidelity types roles than action ones; but never looks too out of place here), meaning that viewers will really want to know what happens to them, and be excited the whole time, as the pace never once lets up.
The quality of the Blu-ray is extremely high; there is a couple of minor issues with the picture, but the video quality is still stunning (and people with average setups will be hard pushed to notice the problems), the sound is near perfect, and there’s a wealth of extras that contains some filler material, but is for the most part very interesting and informative.
In short, 2012 is the best disaster movie that’s been released in years, and the Blu-ray release brings viewers as close to the cinema experience as is possible (with stunning video and sound quality), and is sure to be enjoyed by anybody that likes a good bit of effects laden escapism. The story is far from intellectually taxing, and has been since many times over, but it’s still a thrilling ride while it lasts, and would prove to be a sound blind buy for any film fan.