The Mayans, the wise race of ancients who created hot cocoa, set December 21st, 2012 as the end date of their Calendar, which the intelligent and logical amongst us know signifies the day the world will end, presumably at 12:21:12am, Mountain Time. From now until zero date, we will explore the 50 films you need to watch before the entire world perishes. We don’t have much time, so be content, be prepared, be entertained.
The Film: 2012 (2009)
The Plot: Disaster filmmaker extraordinaire Roland Emmerich gives audiences his vision of how the world will end in this 2009 blockbuster. As the clock ticks closer to December 21, 2012, geologists and other scientists discover various anomalies happening to our planet. Solar flares are tossing neutrinos across space, and they are impacting the Earth’s mantle. They predict global catastrophe as the crust shifts and the Earth’s plates rearrange. Eventually, massive earthquakes wipe entire cities off the globe while one family, led by John Cusack, makes an escape in a limousine of awesomeness.
The Review: I never expected to pine for the days when Roland Emmerich would make his standard disaster movies and not try to get so esoteric. Last year’s Anonymous may have been loved by fans of Elizabethan history and Shakespeare conspiracy theorists, but it was a royal bore for someone like me who doesn’t know the whole story to begin with. Not once did a volcano open up and swallow up the Globe Theater. No molten asteroid tore through the production of Richard III. Aside from the snoozer of a script, there wasn’t a single disaster in that movie.
After blowing the box office away in 1996 with Independence Day, Emmerich became the go-to guy for wide-angle, massive-attack disaster movies. He followed up with Godzilla, which was a disaster in itself, but like all Emmerich blockbusters, the scenes of destruction were still fun to watch. In 2004, Emmerich laid waste to the planet en masse with The Day After Tomorrow, and shortly after delivered its sister film, 2012.
Let’s face it… 2012 ain’t a great movie. If you’re talking story and characters, it’s absolute crap. There are no memorable characters in it, and the logic of the plot unravels as soon as you start to think about it. We are conditioned to want the protagonists to survive, but the characters are such assholes you’d personally rather die in the destruction than start society again with these idiots. It’s a bloated film at 158 minutes long, and it often gets repetitive.
However, the reason this movie is so fun isn’t because of the people in it (except maybe Woody Harrelson, who plays a granola-crunching conspiracy nut that successfully predicts the end of the world). It’s fun because of the ultimate destruction depicted on screen. There’s no need for giant alien robots tearing along the freeway or huge monster manatees from space. Emmerich’s villain of choice is the natural world. And unlike The Day After Tomorrow’s global warming culprit, it’s an unavoidable fate.
Forget Earthquake. Forget The Poseidon Adventure (both of them). Forget the oodles of airplane disaster films from the 1970s. No one quite does destruction like Roland Emmerich does. This is what pushed 2012’s modest U.S. success to be an international sensation with almost $800m worldwide.
What’s even more amazing about 2012 and the planetary scale of violence is that it somehow fits squarely in PG-13 territory. For all the people who are squashed like bugs, they are dispatched bloodlessly into gaping holes in the Earth’s crust. That allowed the MPAA hand down the family-friendly rating, but it doesn’t stop the many uncomfortable questions from kids to their parents as to why this sort of thing would happen to innocent people. After all, people being burned alive by superheated magma? That’s some planetary torture porn shit right there.
The thing that continues to fascinate me with 2012 is its schizophrenic nature. On one hand, the audience gleefully watches thousands of people die in horrible ways. On the other hand, it has a bewilderingly positive message about human nature and wetting the bed (yes, the movie’s ultimate triumph comes in a bed-wetting storyline). It’s racially progressive because it features a black President (and we know that shit’s never gonna happen), yet the only couples you see with a ghost of a chance of surviving are all segregated by race. 2012 is a glorious mess of contradictions, making it a big screen car wreck that you cannot look away from.
But why spend 158 minutes watching this film when you only have 248,100 minutes left to live?
While The Day After Tomorrow is still a superior movie to 2012, there’s a certain eeriness about watching this film in the last half of the last year. We just strolled past the summer solstice, which means we only have a scant six months until doomsday. That’ll make you sleep soundly at night, right? If not, you’ll see some of the most inconceivable action and destruction in 2012, so you can rest assured that this is definitely not how the world is going to end. Southern California won’t fall into the ocean. Honolulu won’t become a lone island in flames.
And the end of the world certainly isn’t going to be predicted by a doped-up Woody Harrelson showing his plumber’s crack on a mountain in Yellowstone National Park. After all, Roland Emmerich is currently working on the film White House Down, coming to theaters sometime after the apocalypse in 2013. You’re welcome.