Harry mourns a listless melodrama buried under the Spectacular Effects of 2012...
Emmerich has really got to change his game radically. His announcement on MTV today regarding two additional INDEPENDENCE DAY movies confuses me, cuz with 2012, DAY AFTER TOMORROW and INDEPENDENCE DAY - he has 3 films for his Disaster Trilogy. Aliens, Global Warming and Global Microwaving. Of the three, the film with the absolute best visual effects work, is easily 2012. Easily. The work done to destroy and reform the planet we live on is astonishingly horrifying & beautiful all at once.
These films of his seem to follow the exact same pattern. They involve the highest levels of government, a degree of global conspiracy theories, a message that at one level teaches us to mistrust our governments, while also depending on them to save our asses. There's the everyday fella, the Prez, the administration asshole, the scientist that knows not only what's going on, but also has the moral high ground. There's eccentric nationalities drawn with the most broad racial stereotypes plugged into a character. But I do think that in the entire history of Roland Emmerich, I've never been so annoyed by the sheer number of needless characters that just get in the way of the story. Instead, Emmerich wants to give us a buffet of characters...
Now, I know a lot about Buffets. Haven't been to one since the lapband, just doesn't quite work for me anymore, but have you ever walked into a Buffet place that simply had TOO MANY OPTIONS. Where they not only had potatoes, but 40 different types? Now - imagine spending nearly 3 hours looking at and trying to identify all of the ingredients while constantly cutting away to a mind-blowing scene of destruction at a scale far beyond anything we've ever seen on film. But often times, these spectacular scenes are just filler.
Let me give you an example. This example will involve a spoiler. One that may very well upset the hell out of you if you haven't seen the film yet. But frankly - it happens fairly early in the film. During the evacuation of the White House, a member of the White House stays behind. An Ash Cloud heads for Washington laying down a blizzard of ash. This character, has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. I don't care how important they were, this is a character that has written themselves off. Well - through their eyes we witness a series of ludicrously irrelevant moments of spectacle. Yet, it is just treading water. Rather than spend that time with our main characters, get us to know them, know their fear, their uncertainty. Instead we have pointless visual effects that cost the studio an immense fortune - and for what? 15 minutes that have nothing to do with anything other than shit blowing up.
Now I know - I'm the guy that loved ARMAGEDDON, INDEPENDENCE DAY and a lot of these gigantic spectacles - well, FX wise this beats those. BUT, goddamn this movie... Every character has a bittersweet goodbye with some character that is related to them. Hell, one character calls his dad on a cruise ship, where he's a jazz pianist, and as a result we meet the guy that sings with him. As a result, not only do we have a tearful goodbye between the father and son, but then later we also get the friend of the father calling Japan to say goodbye to his estranged son and to hear his grand-daughter's voice. WHY? Well it might make someone cry, but who the fuck are these characters? They're just faces with an introduction and before anything dramatic happens the set shakes and we get a dead telephone signal.
That sort of scene is repeated OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER.... Hell, we even have a Chinese laborer, who wants to save his brother and grandparents - and there's drama built over whether or not one of the last chickens on earth is gonna die. It isn't a discussion, but it is a little chicken drama that is built for no particular reason. I'm serious. It's like 3 minutes of cutaways to a chicken in peril. CHICKEN IN PERIL. Really? I'm not shitting you.
And you remember that heroic dog escaping alien fiery death in ID4. Wait till you see the miraculous doggy death escape in this thing. ROLL YOUR EYES. Then there's all the moments where little kids cry about various characters almost dying, getting mangled, being slow swimmers, etc.
Over the course of the last two films, Roland Emmerich has shown us images spanning 12,012 years - and in all that time - we have only one worthwhile character. Woody Harrelson's "Alex Jones-esque" conspiracy character at Yellowstone is worth the price of admission by himself. He & the visual effects. Everything else varies from being good to not good.
I don't know. I'd like to think that if the Government learned there was 2-3 years of existence on Earth left, I'd like to think they would use the news to bring the world together. Not in a secret covert conspiracy, but a WORLDWIDE initiative to Create not 6 big boats to save 400,000... BUT I'd like to think we'd be building these ARKS in every country on the planet. That the world would attempt to pull it together on a giant scale.
And I get that THAT type of story doesn't fit the Emmerich brand of story-telling that he has been recycling from UNIVERSAL SOLDIER to STARGATE to ID4 to GODZILLA to THE PATRIOT to THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW to 10,000BC to 2012. Every film is about surviving cataclysmic events in spite of a distrustful and evil government that wishes to crush the average man. EVERY SINGLE FUCKING TIME.
I went into this figuring that John Cusack and Chiwetel Ejiofor would carry the film for me. But this film marginalizes both characters by hitting us with a never-ending supply of stereotypes dying or preparing to die. Now, I like visual effects and shit going boom, but other than watching the Pope die, the Sistine chapel crumble on thousands of Catholics... Why were we there? Why did the film take the time to show us that? We'd already seen LA, YELLOWSTONE, VEGAS, WASHINGTON D.C. and HAWAII go away. Remember those useless characters in Japan that a friend of a father of one of our more major characters? Well, we didn't see TOKYO and those characters ACTUALLY die - watching Tokyo go down - we at least had characters there that they attempted to set up. Vatican City? There isn't a single character or related character. Emmerich just thought it would be cool to destroy the Vatican and the center of Catholicism. I'm sure it could help box office in some places. But did it help the story? Did it affect our characters? No, none of them saw it happen. It was just 2-5 minutes about nothing but blowing the Vatican up.
At 2 hours & 40 minutes. Character development is nearly non-existent. And I know - it's crazy to say CUT THE AMAZING FUCKING EFFECTS - but dammit - I just can't help but think if this film was told exclusively from the point of view of John Cusack and his struggle to save his estranged family, not knowing about the various steps that had been taken by a secret government.
Cusack's character happened to take his kids on vacation to YELLOWSTONE. He meets Woody's amazing lunatic that happens to be right. He goes back to LA, the multi-billionaire boss has him take the Russian Billionaire's kids to the airport. The kids say something foreboding, the ground cracks beneath his car and he sets his plan in motion. We follow him as LA crumbles to Yellowstone - we're there for what happens there. He flies to Vegas - in hopes of getting a bigger plane. And then there's the flight to China - against all hope. He has a map by a crazy person. The word of a greedy self-serving Russian "mobster/enforcer/businessman" - and then he finds himself, god knows where with his family, plus his wife's new Boyfriend... Then... Without any foreshadow they find a ride, a desperate chance to survive - We experience the "end of the world" via his eyes. How even at the end of the world, one man with little to no connections... he could save his family. He could discover the new world.
That's the core story, but it is so buried amidst all of Emmerich's typical LARGER STORY. What story is larger than the family without a ticket, escaping the end of mankind? THAT'S THE STORY. THAT'S IT! Had they cut everything else - the movie would be roughly about an hour shorter. Now, the thing is - with a compelling group of fully developed characters and effects like this - I could have sat there for 7 hours watching the film. But with this threadbare group - there's just not nearly enough time to care about anyone in the film.
It is a shame. I just can't help but imagine these effects at the service of a filmmaker like George Pal and a story like WHEN WORLD'S COLLIDE. But right now, I'd rather watch WHEN WORLD'S COLLIDE 12 times in a row than watch 2012 again. Though I have to say - this is a film that on Blu Ray - your ability to skip to the effects will sate your desire for awesome visual artistry - and you won't have to sit through endless repetition.
The problem with 2012 is it wants to be a hopeful tale about how the world came together, but really - it's how the governments and aristocracy of the world came together with cheap slave labor to save themselves and a few others. Emmerich's cynical view of the world, its leaders and the basic nature of humanity is a polar opposite of someone like GEORGE PAL. Pal showed there was ugliness, but by far - he showed the greater spirit of humanity.
Here, it just never felt sincere, compelling or absorbing. I marvel at the spectacle, but regret the rest.