Caught the blockbuster disaster movie 2012 last night having been attracted by the wall-size cut-outs of California tipping into the sea on display at my local Odeon. Hollywood does the date-sensitive apocalypse predicted by various sects and dishes up a full meat feast for the eyes.
Unfortunately, this is a film realised by giants and scripted by midgets. It's directed by Roland Emmerich of Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, so you know it looks good. But as usual, the CGI teams walk away with the accolades while the writers take the walk of shame as the weakest link.
Unusual solar flare activity is discovered to be causing the Earth's crust to shift disastrously as the centre heats up like a microwave oven, raising volcanic activity to primordial levels. As tectonic plates sink into the planet's molten magma a host of Hollywood stars are wiped out by a geological smorgasboard of earthquakes and super-tsunami. Audiences end up playing guess-who'll-be-around-for-the-end-credits with John Cusack, Thandie Newton, Danny Glover (a black president, no less) and Woody Harrelson all vying for survival.
Who can fail to be thrilled by the brilliant effects as California slides into the Pacific Ocean and the world as we know it is destroyed by forces of nature beyond our puny control? Current American anxieties about a world turning upside down are presented in sci-fi form — literally in the case of the north and south poles being reversed with the south pole shifted to Wisconsin. (Hey, I have friends who moved to Wisconsin but they're coming back home to Old Blighty.) But the characterisation is featherweight and it feels like the filmmakers didn't know which tone to strike: a light-hearted Indiana Jones-style series of near-death adventures, or a sombre philosophical exploration of all our deepest existential fears as humanity and its decrepit offspring of capitalism lurch towards a horrible end.
Divorced author and part-time limo driver for Russian oligarchs Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) and his cute kids, Noah and Lily (geddit?) repeatedly escape imminent death by fleeing in an assortment of boy-toy cars and planes while chased by a mightily pissed off Mother Nature who harbours what looks like a personal vendetta against our little nuclear family. Roads and runways tear up behind their getaway vehicles, the Yellowstone Park caldera erupts all over him, but he can always miraculously outrun and outwit natural forces. These scenes are spectacular but silly and prove the law of diminishing returns: after the umpteenth time he cheats death, courtesy of the CGI maestros, you cease to care.
Curtis may be facing the elimination of the species but the family is a sacred institution so he has to restore equiibrium by getting his wife back. Human extinction is just an exciting background to getting the nuclear family, under threat from a hostile world, functioning as normal: Mummy, Daddy, two kids and a yappy dog. His final trial is to outlive the final biblical flood which engulfs Mount Everest, even. (Is there actually enough sea water to do this?) He does. Were we ever in any doubt?
I found the callousness of the film pretty disturbing. After all, while Curtis is being cute and avoiding wipe-out in scenarios reminiscent of fairground rides, you see people dying all around him. And yet the characters give no response. The deaths have no significance except to add a bit of colour. So much for no man being an island and us being part of the continent — the continent is crumbling and it's every man, woman, child and dog for themselves.
Reflecting a real-life tectonic shift in values, only those in 2012 with mega-money to buy themselves out of the situation stand a chance of survival: a billion euros for a seat aboard one of the vast "arks" being built secretly in Tibet by the Chinese ('coz it's the roof of the world, innit?). A bit like the current stratum of super-rich cleaving off from the rest of society, leaving us behind while they start wars, hoover up billions and treat themselves to million pound handbags.
Croesus wept! I mean, g'bye Dubai in the real world, that monument to selfishness and stupidity. Man-made islands built by slave labour, desalinated water shipped in so you can fill your swimming pool and play golf in one of the most arid areas of the world. No wonder some Supreme Force took one look that is the affront that is the palm-shaped island complex and the two-fingered salute of the tallest towers in the world and said, "Right, matey! I'm 'avin' ya!" (Is it coz I is Cockney?) Dubai's economic implosion may very well take us down with it.
I was shocked to read this week that so great is the wealth gap that the Fabian Society is warning that we are headed for Victorian-style poverty in the UK. In the world of the movie, we are all stuffed while the richest 400,000 human beings get to repopulate the planet in a novel form of de-evolution. Do you see what they did there?
BTW, I am writing this during yet another broadband outage at the Virgin server. A small taste of the end of civilisation to come, and it's very annoying!!!