A movie still from the new film “2012” depicting the end of the world.
Credit: Columbia Pictures
be excused for wondering what, exactly, German director Roland Emmerich has against
With his new film ?2012?,
the ante, depicting a global disaster caused by terrestrial instability. John
Cusack stars as Jackson Curtis, a
The film tackles a variety of weighty questions, such as: If the end of the world was coming, what would you do? If only the government knew, who should be told? If there was a way that some people could survive, who should decide who lives and who dies?
In the case of a true global catastrophe, is there really any point to announcing it to the world? Put simply, if everyone?s gonna die in 36 hours and there?s nothing anyone can do, what?s the point in telling people? Assuming you had perfect knowledge, why bother? Some people would panic, others wouldn?t believe it anyway, and others would try to write and market their book on it overnight.
These are interesting questions, but unfortunately get lost amid the film?s shouting and explosions and crashes. About a half dozen subplots appear, several of them awkwardly aborted in the rush to get to the disaster scenes.
are the implausibilities ?
and I?m not even talking about
But to criticize a disaster film for being implausible is itself a bit silly. People don?t go to disaster movies to see rich emotional tapestry or ?Memento?-like airtight logic; they go to see stuff get blowed up. And on that level, it succeeds.
Destroying the world is not easy, and the filmmakers used a variety of special effects techniques to bring global disaster to the big screen. From a visual effects standpoint alone, ?2012? is a remarkable achievement. The actors were often on moving sets ? none of that cheesy original ?Star Trek? technique of throwing actors to the floor while shaking the camera to simulate explosion concussions. In many of the scenes, the objects are actually collapsing around the actors, as giant gimbals and hydraulic lifts jostle and jolt the sets. Some of the scenes are remarkably effective (a shot of a giant wave overtaking a cruise ship is genuinely chilling, reminding me of ?The Perfect Storm?), while others just look like a cartoony video game.
The film is basically a retelling of the Noah?s Ark flood story, and has nothing to do with the date 2012. It could have been set in 1995 or 2013, but the 2012 angle made a perfect hook for the film: Why not tie it in with the supposed end of the world, allegedly tied to the end of the Mayan calendar in 2012?
surprisingly, Columbia Pictures is taking full advantage of the New Agey 2012 doomsday
discussion/panic/concern to help promote the film. Over the past year or so,
many people have suggested that the year 2012 will bring some sort of
significant change, either catastrophic
disaster (as in the film) or perhaps a new age of enlightenment (as in what
did not happen with the so-called Harmonic Convergence in 1987). The link
between global catastrophe and Mayan calendar-based prophecy is tenuous at
best. Some ads for the ?2012? film begin with the phrase ?The Mayans warned
us,? though of course the Mayans did not ?warn? anyone?they simply had a
calendar system that happens to ?end? in 2012, much as our Gregorian calendar
?ends? on December 31. The Mayans never said the world would end that year, and
have shown irritation and contempt for the way that their culture has been
co-opted into pop culture notions and
New Age and doomsday authors have been cranking out 2012-themed books at an amazing pace over the past six months; there are literally tens of thousands of such titles in print, with more hitting the bookstores every day. It seems that anyone with access to a keyboard and an opinion on 2012 (or prophecy in general) is out there trying to cash in. It will be interesting to see how many of those will be for sale on Amazon.com for one cent on January 1, 2013.
I interviewed director and cast of ?2012? for LiveScience.com; you can see the videos of the interviews at Newsarama. Of particular interest is my interview with Chiwetel Ejiofor, in which he discusses how his character struggles to maintain scientific integrity in the face of political influences. After the Bush administration?s well-publicized anti-science stance and overt attempts to bend scientific research for political ends, this point seems especially relevant.
Though 2012 is not a great film, it does have some interesting pro-science aspects that skeptics and science folks should take note of. While John Cusack is the lead star, the hero of the film is really a black scientist, Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Helmsley is the president?s chief science advisor, and it is he who first discovers the impending danger. The film somewhat realistically portrays the difficulties of scientific uncertainty?how sure do you have to be to sound the alarm? This is not an academic question, and arises in discussions of scientific prediction on a wide range of topics ranging from asteroid impacts to global warming.
Not only is
the scientist the hero, he is also the film?s major moral compass. There are no
evil, white lab-coated scientists in ?2012?, there are only scientists doing
their best to save humanity (and a few nerds thrown in for good measure). ?2012?
is a completely humanistic disaster film; the catastrophes are not the work of
angry gods, nor magic spells,
but nature itself. The film shows prayer failing miserably to stop the
destruction (even the Pope in the
These are wonderful, humanistic, pro-science depictions that I?d hope to see in more films; it?s a shame to see them buried amid so many CGI disasters and explosions in ?2012?.
- The Truth About 2012 Doomsday Hype
- 10 Failed Doomsday Predictions
- Video - 2012: Roland Emmerich Speaks
Benjamin Radford is managing editor of the Skeptical Inquirer science magazine. He is author or co-author of three books on skepticism and science literacy. They can be found on his website.