Emmerich has $2.7 billion of the all-time worldwide box-office share. Michael Bay has $3.5 billion. Apart from sharing an intense revenue stream by making insipid popcorn flicks, they also share another thing bad reviews. In fact all major event movies are diagnosed with the same, uniform dilemma.
So 2012, the mega-budget end-of-the-world movie by disaster-hungry Emmerich has its fair share of angry reviews. As Manhola Dargis of the New York Times points out “He's bombarded Earth with alien death rays, big-footed it with a rampaging reptile and put it into deep freeze” and “he cracks the planet like a nut, splitting its crust, toppling its mountains and cities, and laying its every creeping thing to inevitable tedious waste.”
The films Dargis refers to are Independence Day, Godzilla and The Day After Tomorrow. Emmerich's other high-concept spectacles include the dimension-hopping sci-fi Star Gate and the old-world debacle 10,000 B.C.
So far, in recent history, Emmerich has only strayed once from his bold sci-fi custom, and that was the Mel Gibson-starrer, The Patriot. However, it too was built around one of his hackneyed formulas familial reconciliation.
Now that I think about it, all big-scale alien invasion or destruction movies are based on this concept. In The Day After Tomorrow, Dennis Quaid searched for his ice-trapped son. In Independence Day, Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman had family members to mourn or protect. In War of the Worlds, Tom Cruise and his estranged kids scatter from death-ray firing alien tripods (the last one is by Steven Spielberg).
In 2012, Emmerich and collaborating music director-turned-producer and screenwriter Harald Kloser potboils the estranged family angle and the clichÃ©d human pathos and builds this around impressive, almost realistic special effects and brazen corporate branding.
The formulaic kin wedged in the middle is of Los Angeles-based writer and limo driver Jackson Curtis (a stolid John Cusack), who runs away with his kids Noah and Lilly (Morgan Lily and Liam James) ex-wife Kate (Amanda Peet) and her plastic surgeon/amateur pilot boyfriend Gordon Silberman (Tom McCarthy). They escape Los Angeles' destruction by an earthquake, followed by another escape from the obliteration of the Yellowstone National Park by the erupting Yellowstone Caldera.
Another character introduced earlier, Charlie Frost (a slightly batty, yet enjoyable Woody Harrelson), a conspiracy theorist who airs a radio show about the end of the world, bites the dust here.
In an additional story thread we see other stock supporting characters seeing hell, as a tsunami topples the ship USS John F. Kennedy into the White House and the President (Danny Glover), who heroically stays in office. Now, representing the White House is geologist Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt, hamming it up as) a sleaze politician, and the script-mandatory First daughter and love interest, Thandie Newton.
Meanwhile, Jackson and Co. with added-cast members, crash land their ride, an Antonov An-225 plane, into the snow-covered Himalayas where giant rescue ships, dubbed as the “arks”, are taking select 400,000 people and animals for future preservation of the planet — until that too is hit by a massive tidal wave. Yes, that's a lot of damage.
But Emmerich's family angle and multiple story threads work as well as they need to within explosions, tidal waves and whatnot. In the end, the characters are as disposable as the script.
Perhaps, if Emmerich and Kloser would have been daring enough to try something Deep Impact, Armageddon or other disaster films haven't done, the event would've been a m ore enjoyable enterprise than the one it turned out to be. At least Emmerich knows how to make a train crash look good on screen.
Running 158 minutes, 2012 is rated PG-13 for blood less mass destruction of computer-generated folks.