I suppose it had to happen. There's been a huge amount of nonsense posted on the internet, by those whose grasp of reality is somewhat tenuous, concerning the claim that the Mayans predicted the end of the world on 21 December 2012. As it happens the Mayans did no such thing, although the degree of nonsense involved would be no less if they had; I discussed this on this blog on 6 March 2009. Anyway, someone in Hollywood got to hear of this and spotted a money-making opportunity, so we now have a dramatic film about it. Naturally, I just had to watch it…
I'll pass quickly over the the gibberish which the film-makers used to provide a pseudo-scientific explanation for the mechanism which would bring about global disaster. I'll give them one credit for the fact that the Mayan believer in the film was portrayed as a raving nutcase, but since it all came to pass as the Mayans "predicted" that isn't worth much.
Let's move on to the film - how did it work as a drama? The start was not at all promising, with the same tired old Hollywood cliches trotted out; the hero coping with a broken marriage, his wife's new partner, and sharing custody of their young kids (who are frequently in danger, of course, but survive, of course). This reminded me of the recent War of the Worlds film which focused on such family relationship issues to such an extent that I gave up watching out of sheer boredom. 2012 isn't quite that bad, so I stuck with it and we soon get into the strength (actually, the only point) of the film, which is the CGI vision of the end of the world. And I have to admit it's pretty dramatic, with huge earthquakes and tsunamis, canyons suddenly opening up and cities disappearing into them, followed by floods across the world.
The problem is that the film-makers seemed to be so bewitched by all this that they didn't bother overmuch with a plot, providing instead one relentless chase scene as the hero and his family struggle to get to China where several arks (vast armoured ships, each housing tens of thousands) designed to ride out the disaster are waiting (they get there, of course). The last part of the film is an anti-climax, with the hero struggling to solve a technical problem with their ark (work which he delays, despite its urgency, in order to have a passionate heart-to-heart with his ex), which seems very minor-league stuff after the colossal disasters we've witnessed.
It doesn't help that the hero (played by John Cusack) and his family are not particularly engaging or likeable. There's a much more interesting and appealing combination of Chiwetel Ejiofor as a scientific adviser and Thandie Newton as the US President's daughter, but they have only secondary roles. Ejiofor gets to make the big moral speech about how they should open up their ark to let in thousands of people left stranded, an action which very nearly results in the destruction of the ark. All very noble, but no-one mentions the surely important issue of how much food they have on board to last whatever time it will take before the land stabilises again and they can start growing crops; did they all have to go on a starvation diet to cope with the extra numbers?
As an aside, this moral dilemma reminded me of one of those table-top disaster management exercises which took place in the UK some years ago. The scenario was that an outbreak of a highly infections and highly lethal disease had occurred in a hospital, and the task was to decide what to do to stop it spreading. The winners (in terms of minimising casualties) were the team who opted for stationing snipers all round the building and shooting dead anyone who tried to leave. This was regarded as abhorrent by the more moralistic participants, but their "humane" approaches resulted in predicted death-tolls in the tens of thousands. Me, I'm with the snipers…
A couple of unnecessary details jarred with me. One was a news flash that the 2012 London Olympics had had to be abandoned because of the rapid onset of world-wide geological disaster. Anyone with the vaguest interest would know that they are to take place in the summer, not December. The other was the sight of an elderly lady with some corgis entering one of the arks - obviously intended to suggest the Queen. This is the duty-driven daughter of the King who, in the darkest days of World War 2 when London was being bombed daily and a German invasion believed to be imminent, refused to leave Buckingham Palace and was observed in the grounds practising with his revolver, preparing to make a last stand against the invaders. I can imagine the Queen ordering Prince William to flee the country and take refuge in order to continue the line, but herself? Never.
So is 2012 worth watching? If you like disaster movies with spectacular CGI, then yes it is. But you'd better set aside whatever critical faculties you possess if you hope to enjoy it as a drama: I suspect that the internal application of a moderate quantity of alcohol might help!