2012 (US - BD)
Gabe thought that he was done with Roland Emmerich, but apparently not...
According to the Mayan calendar the world will come to an end on December 21st, 2012 (or the 23rd, whatever), and everyone’s favourite German blockbuster world ending director and ‘writer’ Roland Emmerich is taking advantage. In true ‘70s disaster fashion he brings along an all-star cast, including John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, Morgan Lily, Liam James, John Billingsley, Thomas McCarthy, Danny Glover and Woody Harrelson. There’s a plot in there, something about these people trying to survive massive freakin’ earthquakes, but mostly we’re talking about thing blowing up.
Here’s the thing about me and Roland Emmerich – I usually enjoy his dumbass films upon an initial viewing, but slowly learn to hate them upon second viewings and recollection. He simultaneously produces the best and worst cinematic junk food, full of empty calories, but just tangy enough to make that first bite worth the effort. Still, there was something about this director not giving up his world crushing ways that made me embarrassingly interested in seeing 2012, I just didn’t want to admit it to anyone. I didn’t want to spend any money on it in theaters, and certainly had no ‘blind buy’ plans for this Blu-ray release. I didn’t even want to put it on my Netflix queue, because then the Netflix people would know I wanted to see it. I have movies on my Netflix queue with titles like Strip Nude For Your Killer, The Killer Nun, Bloody Pit of Horror, and S.S. Experiment Camp, by the way. Luckily a review copy came in the mail a few days ago, and I was presented with the perfect opportunity to at least pretend it was a chore.
2009 was an epic year for epically bad epic movies, and (depending on one’s opinion of Avatar, which I still haven’t decided if I liked beyond its visuals) 2012 is more or less the apex of the collection, expressing its stupidity in a similar knowing fashion to the surprisingly entertaining G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra, rather than the spiteful stupidity of Transformers 2 (a movie I swear gave me the finger for two hours and 40 minutes), or the accidental stupidity of Wolverine and Terminator Salvation. Emmerich’s script makes a shocking amount of sense at its base (I’d expect the world’s governments to secretively go to private investors to save a piece of humanity), but its lack of scientific coherency, emphasis on large scale special effects over plotting or characters, and dependence on coincidence is patently ridiculous. Unlike so many of 2009’s epically bad epic movies there was never any question that 2012 was going to be anything less than an unabashedly dumb movie, and it delivers on every single one of its promises.
But 2012 isn’t just a disaster film, it’s every disaster film (note: I didn’t read any reviews of the film to keep myself spoiler free, but I’m positive some other, better critic had to have used this line before me). Emmerich appears to be going out of his way to render all past disaster films moot by referencing them, then entirely out-exploding them. You can almost see the director dancing like a prize boxer and shouting ‘Is that all you’ve got?’ while tweaking his CG enhanced nipples.
Remember Earthquake, the movie where those buildings fell down, and the asphalt was torn in twain? Screw that, 2012 shoves the whole of L.A. into the goddamn Pacific ocean. Remember those big volcanoes in Dante’s Peak and Volcano? Those were anthills compared to the triple mushroom cloud boom of a volcano the size of Yellowstone National Park. Remember The Poseidon Adventure (all three versions), where that ocean liner was flipped by a big wave? Weak sauce, 2012 demolishes an ocean liner, then buries the entire world in big waves. Some will assume Danny Glover plays the US President here in reference to Barack Obama (the commentary track even states as such directly), but everyone that watches blockbuster movies knows that black President equals the end of the world in unintended movie vernacular. Emmerich even goes so far as to include his own films in his visual quotations, which must also make 2012 the most meta disaster flick ever. More over, 2012 is the disaster film to end all disaster films. Every apocalyptic theme is included short of biological and extra-terrestrial attack is explored, and there’s nothing left to destroy, short of actually blowing the entire planet to dust.
2012 does run out of steam a bit by the time the third act rolls around and the waves take over for the explosions, but it’s the most consistently entertaining of Emmerich’s disaster flicks. Independence Day, Godzilla and The Day After Tomorrow are all about one third to one half good mass destruction movies, but fall into repetitive relative boredom when the characters are left to deal with the consequences of the big bangs, especially on second viewings. In this case there’s nothing humanity can do to stop the end of the world, so there’s no real lull in the action. More surprising is that the bulk of the drama actually hits on a larger than life, but relatively realistic level. There’s a lot of sentiment, as is both the director’s M.O., and the definitive M.O. of most disaster films, but there’s only a small subsection of eye-rolling moments. Emmerich’s comedy plays out a little better too, and his actors, for the most part, really step up to fill out their thinly drawn, cliché-ridden characters, who react in much more natural ways than most of the writer/director’s protagonists. Unlike the tepid Day After Tomorrow, the 2012 script fills out the genre requirements in that classic Earthquake manner. A few cast members feel extraneous (especially minus the alternate ending), and it’s easy to lose track of some of the minor characters, but for the most part this feels like a real, old-fashion ensemble. I’m especially impressed by Oliver Platt, who plays the film’s proper villain (aside from the world itself) as a real person, not a monster.
Beyond all the stuff blowing up and sinking, I should point out that Emmerich and his editors produce one genuinely brilliant scene where a woman chops a chicken’s head off for emphasis. There’s a moment where the chicken really appears to understand its conundrum, and is relieved when it appears it won’t be killed, without a single digital effect or augmentation.
2012 is a pleasant surprise as a film, but this Blu-ray release is a bit of disappointment in terms of video quality. The 1080p, 2.40:1 transfer is usually sharp, detailed, colourful and consistent, but it has some major problems with digital blurring during the more intimate, non-special effects heavy sequences. I have a real distaste for digital blurring or ‘smoothing’, and have taken the proper steps to avoid it in setting up my set, which makes an excess stand out quite a bit. I’m not sure what cameras were used for the film (imdb.com points towards a mix of elements), but the look is cheap. These bits, which are unfortunately the norm, stand in total opposition to the big special effects scenes, where the digital environments look positively perfect. There’s so much extreme detail to enjoy during the severe demolition that a second viewing with the pause button employed is almost required. Emmerich’s earlier films tend to utilize one or two defining hues ( Godzilla was very green, Day After Tomorrow and Independence Day were very blue), but 2012 is more defined by deep black shadows than colours. The hues are hyperactively bright and full, but there are many to choose from. Some of the darker and bluer scenes are perhaps a little too dark, and the soft white highlights tend to be a little too saturated, but these are likely choices made in post. Despite all the strange blurring the more stagnant elements are pretty sharply separated, especially the contrasting warm and cool elements, which feature little to no edge enhancement. It’s a mixed bag, but the money shots come out correctly.
2012 is fit with a Jesus Christ, tie down the valuables DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. The early acts feature some of the mix’s more creative moments, including some abstract rear channel noises that are slowly revealed to be an approaching helicopter, or a bunch of zippy, swooshing effects that represent establishing wide shots. These bigger moments are the exception to a relatively mundane rule. The sound design is obviously more impressive during the really explosive moments, and audiophiles have their pick of epic destruction sequences to show off their systems to guests. I pick the L.A. plane escape myself. The scene starts slowly, then explodes into impossible rumbles. The channels boom with both big crumbling building and streets, and tiny textural details like car alarms and shattering glass, which fill out most of the directional requirements. The Yellowstone volcano scene is even louder (it definitely features more fiery explosions), but the fine details are lost in the heavy bass, so the experience isn’t quite as lovely. The same applies to the giant wave scenes. The mix will win no awards for subtly or details, but it certainly does the job. The music, by Harald Kloser and Thomas Wander, fulfills the bulk of its disaster movie requirements, without drawing too much attention to specific themes. There’s nothing memorable about the music, but it’s set well on the mix against the really loud moments, and don’t overwhelm the emotional moments.
There is a two disc release of 2012 available, but I’m reviewing the single disc version for this review. The extras start with a commentary from writer/director Roland Emmerich and co-writer/co-composer Harald Kloser. This ESL track is pretty lethargic, but the giggles and German accents go a long way in maintaining listenability. The most interesting thing about the exercise is the lack of owning up to what I called ‘homage’ in my review. The commentators mention the basic structure of the story in terms of the classic ‘70s norm (and point out their North by Northwest and Jaws call outs), but rarely acknowledge the bits they’ve clearly ripped from other films. Also amusing are moments where Emmerich bemoans the deletion of even more over-the-top mass destruction, which was deemed too silly by test audiences. The commentary is augmented by MovieIQ PiP extras.
The only other extra, besides some Sony trailers, is an alternate ending (3:40, HD), which features mostly finished special effects. Unlike so many alternate endings, this one is actually reasonably substantial. No spoilers here.
This might be the most unfortunate home video release date of all time. There’s no way Sony could’ve known that Haiti would be hit with a devastating earthquake in January, or that Chile would be hit by the fifth biggest quake in 100 years days before the release, but the only thing worse would be a special edition re-release of Executive Decision on Tuesday, September 11th. Bummer is the word that comes to mind. Unfortunate release dates aside, I’m going to have to go on record as a fan of 2012, much to my surprise. Apparently I’m not quite as opposed to stupidity as I want to think I am. The only other film of 2009 that delivered more on its trailer’s and director’s promise was Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell. If you enjoy this brand of junk food you’re in for a treat. This single disc Blu-ray is missing many of the two-disc set’s extras, and features a hit and miss high definition transfer, but the money shots look great and the DTS-HD track is exactly as bombastic as it should be.
Reviewer Note: These images are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 2nd March 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English and French, Dolby Surround Audio Description Track
Subtitles: English SDH, French
Extras: Director and Co-Writer Commentary, MovieIQ PiP, Alternative Ending, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Roland Emmerich
Cast: John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, Morgan Lily, Liam James, John Billingsley, Thomas McCarthy, Danny Glover, Woody Harrelson
Genre: Action and Adventure
Length: 158 minutes
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