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November 18, 2009 > Movie Review: 2012 - Superb special effects overcomes a weak plot

Movie Review: 2012 - Superb special effects overcomes a weak plot

By Joe Samagond

Viewers leaving the theater after watching 2012 (2009) will fall in two clear categories - one will hail the special effects, the other will dismiss it at a mindless extravaganza with no substantial story. I fall in both categories!

Roland Emmerich is back - he has both directed and co-written the script with composer Harald Kloser. He wowed us with The Day After Tomorrow (2004) - and his latest work held me spellbound. Emmerich definitely knows how to push our buttons with this genre but beware that it is a lengthy move.

The film is inspired by the idea of a global doomsday event coinciding with the end of the Mayan calendar's current cycle - around December 21, 2012. Massive destruction fills the screen as Emmerich's spectacular production destroys the world as we know it. Famous landmarks crumble, cities are destroyed, tsunamis wash away countries and giant cracks in the earth swallow millions of people. Emmerich has retaken his position as the leading disaster film maker of our time.

While special effects are truly the centerpiece of this movie, the actors deliver good performances as well. Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) does well as a divorced writer who occasionally works as a limousine driver, while his ex-wife Kate Curtis (Amanda Peet) and children live together with her new boyfriend, Gordon (Thomas McCarthy). Curtis is trying hard to maintain a good relationship with his children and takes them on a trip to Yellowstone where he first gets an inkling of the coming apocalypse. He encounters Charlie (Woody Harrelson), who also excels as a bizarre radio host excited about all the chaos around him.

Chiwetel Ejiofor delivers a convincing performance as Dr. Adrian Helmsley, US scientist and White House adviser, who helps uncover the coming doom and a voice of conscientious leadership when tough choices need to be made. Oliver Platt does a fine job as an ambitious government official giddy with power. When world leaders understand the end is near, they draw up an ambitious plan to build high tech "Noah arks" in the Himalayan mountains as a means to perpetuate the species in the new world. In order to fund this enterprise, they offer preferred and guaranteed seating to those willing to part with $1 billion. The new world is also very interesting with a US state serving in a new location as the South Pole and the world's tallest mountain now found in South Africa (move over, Everest).

This movie tries too hard to be optimistic in the face of impending doom. But you have to acknowledge the superb special effects - ranging from the complete destruction of Los Angeles, Vatican City, Washington DC (which gets wiped out by USS Kennedy) and the rolling oceans that just wipes out huge land masses. It is an enjoyable movie while being simultaneously silly and unbelievable.
Rated: PG-13 for intense disaster sequences and language
Runtime: 2 hours 38 minutes

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