2012

Apparently, someone that worked on this film is from Wisconsin. Or maybe it's some kind of in-joke. But the fact is, they mention Wisconsin three times in this flick, and the (Wisconsin) audience loved it.

As for the rest of the movie, there opinion was sort of divided. It's intense, that's for sure -- during one especially tense scene, someone down the row was heard to tell her companion that she didn't think she could stand it anymore. I kept catching myself bracing to run away, just like the people on the screen. So in that respect, screaming success. Judging by the credits, I think half of the world's image effects companies worked on making the film just that overwhelming.

But (and you knew there had to be a but), in other respects, it's a little disappointing. Once or twice, the stuff being destroyed on screen actually looked like the miniatures they were, and with all the technology that was thrown at this film, that should never have happened. As for the science... well, you always expect some of it to be either distorted or just plain wrong. Sometimes what would actually happen just isn't dramatic enough, and the filmmakers have to make people want to pay to watch. I don't really know enough geophysics to judge how close they came as far as the overall cause of the disaster, but I can tell you that their grand scheme to rescue the human race is so full of improbabilities and obvious things being overlooked, that it could only have been designed by a committee, consisting entirely of contractors who gave the lowest bid -- you know, like the usual U.S. government project.

There isn't much of a plot, either, though that's also usual for the blockbuster disaster movies. John Cusack is struggling writer Jackson Curtis, who had one of those "brilliant debut novels that marks the appearance of a triumphant, powerful voice in fiction." It didn't sell, though, because those rarely do. On top of that, his wife Kate (Amanda Peet) left him and took their kids with her because when he was writing, he didn't notice anybody else was in the house with him. The kids are the adorable Lilly (Morgan Lily) and Noah (of course), played by Liam James. And yes, the movie is very cutesy with the references. That got kind of annoying.

Anyway, while playing Weekend Dad and taking the kids camping at Yellowstone, Jackson encounters a guy who apparently lives in the park, even though I'm pretty sure you're not allowed to do that, and who broadcasts wild conspiracy theories from his own little radio station in his trailer. The character (played by Zombieland's Woody Harrelson, clearly a very busy man lately) is called Charlie Frost, but I'm pretty sure he's meant to be Art Bell, only because this is fiction, Art Bell is actually correct.

Jackson doesn't really believe a word, but because Charlie is entertaining and generous with his beer, he hangs around and listens as Charlie explains that the world is about to end and the Mayans knew it all along. That's wrong, too, but it's like the Y2K thing. It's apparently more fun to be a doomsayer.

Right after Jackson gets the kids back home to LA, bits and pieces of the city start falling into brand-new canyons or slipping into the ocean, and from then on, the destruction only gets worse and worse. Seriously, just when you think things can't possibly get any worse for the human race, they do. Things break. Bad coincidences happen. Power-hungry government science adviser (weird as that sounds) Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt) gets all power-hungry at really bad moments. When the president is Danny Glover, you'd think a science adviser would know better than to mess with him, but this one has nerves of steel.

There are lots more characters, and they do a good job making a global disaster seem global, instead of being all about the U.S. like usual. And you do get to like the characters, even some of the minor ones. There's just nothing new here, though. Well, okay, I don't believe I've ever seen an airborne plane nearly struck by an airborne train, but I for one would've liked it better if everything hadn't played out exactly as I predicted it would.

As disaster movies go, it's pretty good. So comparing it to, say, Day After Tomorrow, it's wonderful. As blockbusters go, it's also not bad. The acting is all first-rate, even from the kids. But as movies in general go, the highest I can rate it is three idols out of five. It was an excellent effort all around, but in the end, the acting and the special effects can only distract you for so long. But it is kind of cool to see a tsunami coming over the Himalayas.

Originally posted 11/2009. I've since checked with a grad student studying geophysics and discovered that even more of the science here was wrong than I suspected.

Image: 
John Cusack checks to see if the sky is falling yet.

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