Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Appetite for Destruction

WARNING: The following half-assed review of the half-assed movie 2012 contains a ton of spoilers, most of which you've probably already guessed. But if you haven't, and you don't want me to ruin the movie, here's a summary: don't go see it.

It’s with some shame that I admit to having recently seen 2012, director Roland Emmerich’s latest enthusiastic effort to destroy civilization. I do take some pride in the fact that I didn’t pay to see it—my boss paid for the tickets as part of our office Christmas party—but at the same time, my ticket was still paid for, and I feel bad about that.

My conscience would have been less troubled if we’d snuck into the theater for free, and managed to ruin the film for a big crowd . . . but what I would have needed to do to actually ruin this particular movie, as it turns out, is a little too disgusting to even contemplate, much less describe.

I’d like to say that I went into the theater unbiased and open-minded, but astute Bowling in the Dark readers would realize this was bullshit. I did my best, though, to keep an open mind—which in this case amounted to telling myself maybe it won’t be as shitty as you expect.

Boy, do I hate being wrong all the time.

Some might say—and, for all I know, may already have said—that Roland Emmerich is simply Austria’s answer to Michael Bay, infatuated with special effects rather than story, car crashes instead of credibility, explosions instead of, uh, something good that starts with “e.”

This is patently untrue. Emmerich is German. But he, like Bay, has shown that he’s dead set on blowing shit up regardless of the consequences to common sense, steadfastly and nobly refusing to let mundane details of science, logic, plot, characterization, or good dialogue get in the way of telling a bad story.

While Emmerich has directed at least a couple of movies that don’t feature the end of a major city, or a continent, or human civilization as we know it, he clearly has what can only be described as a raging, mega-huge boner for the apocalypse. For your reading pleasure, I’ve compiled a partial list, in no particular order, of things and places Roland Emmerich has damaged or destroyed in his movies and, in parentheses, what destroyed them:

  • New York City (monument-destroying alien lasers)
  • White House (ditto)
  • Less awesomely-explosive parts of Washington D.C. (giant laser-induced fireball)
  • New York City, again (giant lizard)
  • Los Angeles (alien lasers)
  • Area 51 (alien lasers)
  • Los Angeles, again (tornadoes)
  • New York City (water, then cold, then ice, then Russian freighters, then wolves)
  • Al Gore’s credibility1
  • Two British helicopters (cold, more cold, and one dumbass opening the door to let in the cold)
  • Los Angeles, again (earthquake, falling into the Pacific Ocean, insufficient buoyancy)
  • That guy who played Bilbo Baggins (more cold)
  • Yellowstone (volcanic explosion)
  • Las Vegas, Nevada (earthquakes, liquid hot magma)
  • Paris Casino, Las Vegas (budget constraints—too difficult and expensive to destroy the real Paris)
  • Other less-important, non–New York City parts of the Northern Hemisphere
  • White House, again (crushed by aircraft carrier)
  • Woody Harrelson (volcanic explosion)
  • Washington Monument (gravity, earthquake, tsunami—take your pick)
  • Hawaii (liquid hot magma)
  • Delhi, India (tsunami)
  • St. Peter’s Basilica (heavy-handed anti-religious symbolism)
  • Thousands of Italian Catholics crushed by toppling St. Peter’s Basilica (see above)
  • Unsportsmanlike-Conduct Jesus statue, Rio de Janeiro (director’s need to destroy something religious in the Southern Hemisphere)
  • Poor old bell-ringing Himalayan Buddhist monk, some 600 miles and 14,000 to 20,000 vertical feet from the ocean (tsunami, somehow)
The repetition in the above list suggests that human civilization really ought to build new photogenic monuments for moviemakers to destroy, but redundancy isn’t the biggest problem with 2012. And it’s not the convenient falling back onto one of its director’s favorite stock characters, the sniveling weasel politician—although he does that as well. (See below for examples, and see if you can pick out the Mad Scientist character!)

The biggest problem with 2012 is that it’s completely, utterly preposterous. And yes, I expect and even look forward to a tiny bit of preposterousness in my movies. Even a good disaster movie requires our willing suspension of disbelief, but this one asks for two and a half hours of suspension of thought . . . which is about fifteen minutes past my limit. The lowlights include, but are not limited to, the following examples:
  • The Earth’s core overheats thanks to neutrinos. In real life, these particles pass through our bodies harmlessly by the tens of trillions every second, but in the movie they're dangerous because they’ve mutated. Mutated neutrinos. And they’ve mutated so that they heat up the core of the Earth, but nothing they pass through on their way to the center of the Earth—like, say, air, land, people, the oceans. 
  • John Cusack’s limousine can outrun earthquakes, which may explain why it can make the a thirty-six-hour round trip from L.A. to Yellowstone and back—including a night’s stay—in what appears to be about twenty-four hours. 
  • A twin-engine prop plane and a thirty-year-old camper outrun a pyroclastic flow.2 At one point, John Cusack's character outruns it on foot
  • The hellish volcanic firestorm that obliterates Yellowstone National Park, drops ash on Washington D.C. (2,200 miles away), and blots out the sun worldwide, musters only enough of a breeze locally to knock apocalypse nut Woody Harrelson giddily off his feet.3 
  • The entire surface of the Earth (which is, by my math, very large) shifts by thousands of miles in a matter of about twenty hours, conveniently placing the lost, crippled, low-on-fuel Russian cargo plane directly above its desired landing spot, without causing the slightest bit of catastrophic air turbulence. 
If you see this movie in the theater, that dull thumping you will hear is not a sub-woofer, it’s the sound of logic being kicked repeatedly in the crotch for 158 minutes.

All that said, though, I can’t bring myself to simply warn you away from this movie. It scored off the charts on the Unintentional Comedy Scale—I haven’t laughed so hard at a movie since The Hangover—and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy myself. But when you leave a movie about a global apocalypse and the near-end of the human race, is enjoyment really the right thing to be feeling? I don’t think so, which means either I’m a bit sick or 2012 was crap. So go check it out and let me know if I’m a bad person for getting a good belly laugh out of the end of the world. Do me a favor, though—if at all possible, sneak in without paying; you’ll help me sleep better tonight.

1. Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth apparently re-used glacier footage from The Day After Tomorrow. The problem is that the glacier footage was wholly computer-generated—i.e. fake, made-up, not real—which strikes me as kind of a no-no in a documentary. And, of course, it should be noted that this particular fake footage was taken from a movie that had nothing to do with weather that could happen in the real world.  
2. A pyroclastic flow (a “fast-moving current of hot gas and rock” occasionally thrown out by erupting volcanoes) can travel at speeds up to 450 miles per hour—faster, even, than an American RV.  
3.The film tries to redeem itself a few moments later by incinerating Harrelson’s character on the spot, but I’m sorry, that’s just too little, too late.


  1. Wish you would have told me there were some spoilers in your post - thanks. Now I know how it is going to end. Bet you told people that the ship was going to sink in J.C.'s Titantic. You suck!

  2. You mean the world doesn't end and John Cusack lives at the end?? Is there even a reason for me to see it now? I also think you have somewhat of an intolerance for Italian Catholics. Why do you presume they are the only ones that get crushed at St. Peter's? The Russian Catholics, Jews, Buddists, Muslims and Jahova's Witnesses, not to mention the atheists, are saved? Why do you hate Italian Catholics??

  3. Oops, sorry, Jake--I've added a warning to the beginning of the post. I know it's too late for you, but it should save our other three readers. Oh, and by the way, at the end of "Apollo 13," they make it home safe. HA!

    Mr. Bandit: my statement about the Italian Catholics is accurate. In a deleted scene for the movie--one that I'd just made up in my head--it's explained that only Italian Catholics were hanging around the Vatican that day. All other religions and ethnicities were home washing their hair.