The date 12-21-2012 may be looming large and ominous in the minds of some people. According to the ancient Mayan calendar, it signals the end of the world, as we know it. Whether that’s true or simply the result of tired stone workers going home for dinner is yet to be seen. In the meantime, Director Roland Emmerich, the man behind other apocalyptic films like The Day After Tomorrow, Godzilla and Independence Day, has created a disaster movie reminiscent of catastrophe scripts like The Poseidon Adventure and Dante’s Peak.
In this story, John Cusack plays Jackson Curtis, a divorced dad who is taking his kids (Liam James, Morgan Lily) camping for the weekend in Yellowstone National Park. When they arrive in the wilderness, he is surprised to find the landscape has changed significantly since he was there with their mother Kate (Amanda Peet) years earlier. After the trio crosses into a restricted area and is roughly apprehended by gun-toting soldiers in military combat fatigues, Jackson suspects something is up.
Meanwhile, Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a geological scientist working for the U.S. government. He, along with others (Jimi Mistry, John Billingsley), are charting radical changes in the Earth’s inner core—variations that threaten to cause extreme seismic activity in the not-so-distant future. However, their predictions for cataclysmic demolition begin to unfold much earlier than expected, leaving mankind poised on the brink of total annihilation.
For those with enough money or political clout, a survival opportunity exists. But for the masses, of which Jackson and his family are a part, there is little hope. Still, that doesn’t stop this deadbeat dad from tackling every option he can find to save his former wife, her new husband (Thomas McCarthy) and the kids. Driving a limousine, he careens down buckling city streets, squeaks under falling Interstate bridges and blasts through glass-plated office buildings in an effort to get out of the crumbling core of Los Angeles. The difficulty of the feat ramps up as the small group grows to include Jackson’s wealthy employer (Zlatko Buric) and his family.
To be truthful, anyone with even a fifth grader’s knowledge of science will know this script isn’t based on fact. Planes take off even as the runway cracks and falls away below them. Characters perform herculean tasks that would require more strength than the average freelance writer could possibly possess. And despite the total destruction of the continent, cell phones, with unbelievably good reception, remain usable until almost the final moment.
However, putting science aside, 2012 is a classic popcorn flick where guessing who will make it and who won’t is part of the fun. The visual effects, which depict the obliteration of iconic structures and statues as well as the California coastline sliding into the ocean, are amazing, even if the epic production occasionally becomes too caught up in the enormity of the destruction on screen. Fortunately, despite the devastation and the nastier side of human nature that are frequently seen, the storyline rebounds with redemptive acts of heroism and humanity, even from politicians. While 2012 might not lessen anyone’s fears about the future, it at least offers audiences a lively distraction from their present day problems.