Does anyone remember how ominous it was when calendar turned from 1999 to 2000? Alarmists warned that Y2K might make all our computers fail, and I suspect that we’ll feel the same way – in retrospect – when December 21, 2012, comes and goes, despite so-called end of the Mayan calendar. But right now, it’s doomsday at the multiplex as Roland Emmerich (“Independence Day,””The Day After Tomorrow”) draws on every cataclysmic disaster movie you’ve ever seen for this Noah’s Ark flood concept.
The archetypical characters include the reluctant Everyman hero, Jackson Curtis (John Curtis), a failed novelist/divorced father who works as a limo driver for a Russian billionaire (Zlatko Buric). Jackson’s taking his children (Liam James, Morgan Lily) camping in Yellowstone National Park, where he discovers that his favorite lake has dried up because the temperature at the Earth’s core is rapidly rising and the Tectonic plates are moving. His ex-wife (Amanda Peet) is the strong mother who’s now living with a Porche-driving plastic surgeon/amateur pilot (Tom McCarthy), and, of course, there’s the nutjob, alarmist radio host/conspiracy theorist (Woody Harrelson), perched on a mountain-top. Meanwhile, a conscientious government scientist (Chiwetel Ejiofor), alarmed by an increase in solar flares and neutrino activity, had previously alerted the President (Danny Glover), his art-collecting daughter (Thandie Newton) and chief-of-staff (Oliver Platt), who have made plans to evacuate the planet via the Himalayas.
If you ignore the gobbledygook of geology and physics, what’s remarkable are the overabundance of CGI visual effects, repetitively featuring earthquakes collapsing skyscrapers and destroying cities, like Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro, and monuments, like St. Peter’s Basilica, followed by volcanic eruptions and monstrous tsunamis submerging what’s left. (That’s how the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy wipes out the White House.) To achieve close-ups of this absurdly catastrophic mass destruction, Emmerich and his production team built several outdoor stages on gimbals that, literally, shook the actors fleeing down the streets amid the mayhem.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “2012”is a formulaic, frenzied 5. It’s a spectacular but ultimately silly blast.