Sunday 11 April 2010

2012 (2009) [Blu-ray]

Sunday 11 April 2010
DIRECTOR: Roland Emmerich
WRITERS: Harald Kloser & Roland Emmerich
CAST: John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Danny Glover, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, Woody Harrelson, Thomas McCarthy & Jimi Mistry
RUNNING TIME: 158 mins. BUDGET: $200 million
Roland Emmerich has anointed himself with Irwin Allen's "Master Of Disaster" crown, purely because he's the only modern director similarly obsessed with making celluloid catastrophes -- usually in both senses of the word -- with Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, et al. It's a pity he can't compete with Allen in terms of story or characterisation, but he's fortunate to be active in a filmmaking era where everything is possible thanks to CGI. Emmerich's thirst for disaster is unquenchable (like his audience's, fortunately), although 2012 raises the stakes to such an extreme that the only way he could top himself would be to go interplanetary and remake When Worlds Collide. That might actually happen, think about it.

2012 uses a Mayan doomsday prophecy as its basis, but that's ultimately a scrap of Fortean trivia that enables Emmerich to mastermind sequences of worldwide catastrophe and theme park-style peril. A gigantic solar flare, detected in 2009, has caused agitated neutrinos to destabilize the Earth's core, meaning the entire planet's surface is about to be displaced -- resulting in gigantic earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and volcanic eruptions. As disaster movie lore duly dictates, this will mean a particularly bad day for a select group of characters as they fight to survive the elements, while blundering from one expensive set-piece to the next.

Our de facto hero is struggling sci-fi author/limo driver Jackson Curtis (John Cusack), divorced dad of two kids (Liam James, Morgan Lily) he fathered with med student Kate (Amanda Peet), who's moved on and is dating plastic surgeon Gordon (Thomas McCarthy). While on a weekend trip with his kids at Yellowstone National Park, Jackson gets wind something strange is afoot when they find a whole lake's drained and is being investigated by the government, before crossing paths with conspiracy nut/pirate radio jock Charlie (Woody Harrelson), who's convinced the end of the world is nigh. Curiosity piqued, more signs and clues present themselves to Jackson, until he's convinced doomsday is indeed inevitable, and imminent, so must try to keep his family safe against all the odds.

The broader story centred on the White House, with President Thomas Wilson (Danny Glover) one of many heads of state who've been preparing for The End these past few years, primarily to finance the construction of gigantic Arks in China to be used as humanity's best hope of survival. He's advised by hunky Dr. Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), one of the first geologists to learn about the problem to begin with; obstinate Chief of Staff Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt); and his beautiful daughter Laura (Thandie Newton).

I was fully prepared and expecting to hate 2012, as I haven't really enjoyed any of Emmerich's movies since Independence Day (and even that film's charms have faded over the years), so it was a genuine surprise to find myself enjoying 2012 nearly every step of the way. I think the primary reason this movie works is that, like ID4 before it, the script is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, there's a genuine sense of panic, and the story takes a fun turn into pulp sci-fi -- which came as welcome relief compared to the arch moralizing of The Day After Tomorrow.

2012 just has a tangible sense of humour about itself, basically; from casting a terrible Arnold Schwarzenegger doppelganger to insist "de vurst iz ovaah" seconds before L.A literally shakes itself apart (in a sequence constructed exactly like the craziest theme park ride ever), clich├ęs like vagrants holding "The End Is Nigh" placards on road sides, a Russian billionaire saving his two Augustus Gloop-like kids only to swan dive to his own death, the mandatory cute-dog-in-peril sequence, Queen Elizabeth bustling to safety with her corgies, and many other moments of hilarity that supported 2012's intentions to give audiences a big, dumb thrill ride they can actually laugh along with. The only sign that Emmerich may have been serious about all this, is his stated desire to do a post-apocalyptic sequel for TV, which was quite rightly shot down in flames. The fact he may have been filming this with a straight-face only fills me with more happiness at how beautifully wide of the mark 2012 ended up.

Blu-ray Review

Picture: (2.40:1, 1080p/AVC MPEG-4) I never doubted it, but 2012 certainly delivers the goods in glistening high-definition, with a detailed and pristine transfer. Blacks are deep and there's good three-dimensional "pop" to most scenes, particularly in the standout FX-heavy sequences. Colour and contrast is also extremely good, although the HD cameras do sometimes give everything an artificial veneer, meaning certain sequences look more "video-gamey" than they might have otherwise.

Sound: (English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround, French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround) I had high hopes for a DTS sound-mix of 2012, given the film's obvious potential for something extraordinarily active and immersive. For the most part, I wasn't disappointed; the surround sound has great fidelity and certainly wrapped me in its action sequences, but I have to say the bass levels weren't as rich and booming as I was hoping for.

Special Features

Audio Commentary: An average yakker from director Roland Emmerich and co-writer Harald Kloser, with the usual anecdotes and information on how certain scenes were achieved, together with some discussion on the science behind the movie's conceit. I wouldn't recommend you listen, but I've heard worse.

Roland's Vision (PiP): If there's one feature exclusive to Blu-ray that I think has been of genuine value, it's these Picture-In-Picture extras. They're essentially a visual way filmmaker's commentary, with interviews and other goodies thrown in. 2012's PiP isn't that great compared to some of the format's best examples (Watchmen, say), but you may enjoy parts of it.

Alternate Ending (HD, 4 mins.) We could have ended the movie with survivors of a cruise ship? Glad they avoided that.

Trailers (HD) A collection of promos for "Armored", "Did You Hear About The Morgans?", "The Imaginarium Of Dr. Parnassus", "Planet 51" and "Angels & Demons".

Deleted Scenes (HD, 5 mins.) If you want to watch scenes that were quite rightly cut , then be my guest. There's nothing of interest here for anyone with taste and standards.

Roland Emmerich: The Master Of The Modern Epic (HD, 10 mins.) A featurette that massages Emmerich's already swollen ego, as 2012's cast and crew heap praise on a man whose success is primarily contributable to ILM's eggheads.

Music Video: Adam Lambert's "Time For Miracles" (HD, 4 mins.) Self-explanatory and awful.

Making Of The Music Video (HD, 3 mins.) Self-explanatory, awful and unnecessary.

Interactive Mayan Calendar (HD) A four-minute featurette on the "Mysteries Of The Mayan Calendar", a legend for deciphering hieroglyphs, a "Mayan Personality Profile", and a "Mayan Horoscope". Quite fun, very silly. I'd check out the latter two, for a giggle.

Designing The End Of The World (HD, 26 mins.) For a movie like 2012, it's really the featurettes about the special-effects that most people want to see, so this meaty insight will satisfy most people. I've seen so many of these that I think I could wander into ILM and get a job by now, but it's still amazing to see the work and time that goes into the briefest shot.

Science Behind The Destruction (HD, 13 mins.) A diverting little featurette about the science the movie exaggerates and its relevance to the Mayan Calendar's prophecy of doom. Hardly essential, but okay.

The End Of The World: The Actor's Perspective (HD, 8 mins.) Forgettable talking heads of the actors who were just standing in the way of ILM's visuals.

Countdown To The Future (HD, 22 mins.) This is a longer and more involving version of the "Science" featurette, and is actually quite intelligent and entertaining to watch.

Extras: MovieIQ and BD-Live. Does anyone use them, though?