Roland Emmerich (of Stargate and Independence Day fame) is doing a new movie called 2012, again about the end of the world. This guy smashes up so many little models of the White House that he’s single-handedly keeping the miniature manufactory industry in business.
I’ve been looking at the trailers, and they’re done in exactly that sort of coy style that promises a garden of visual delights but doesn’t show them in a way that is at all satisfying. There are little flashes – what looks like a giant Brazilian statue of Jesus cracking into pieces; the dome of St Peter’s toppling over; an entire city sinking into the ocean – which then cut to John Cusack looking scared, but not nearly as scared as an actual human would be when confronted with, e.g., dozens of car-sized meteors hailing down on his Winnebago.
And this is what always bugs me about Roland Emmerich films. He presents me with the idea of fascinating disasters, but either his imagination is not as good as mine or I’m one sick puppy, because my vision of said disasters is always more interesting than what he comes up with. To give one example: part of the 2012 eschatology is predicated on the idea of ‘polar shift’ – an amusing amalgamation of geomagnetic reversal (a real scientific phenomenon) and the theory that some weird celestial catalyst might tilt the earth on its axis so that the poles become equatorial and the equator becomes polar (not a real scientific phenomenon, or at least not since the Precambrian era). Apparently ‘polar shift’ will cause earthquakes, tsunamis, etc., etc., and in the 2012 previews we are treated to some frankly dull imagery of a Los Angeles motorway collapsing, some buildings falling down (hey, that doesn’t impress me, I’ve seen that in real life now about, oh, eight years ago), and aerial views of flaming buildings collapsing into giant crevasses. The closest we get to ‘wow, that’s kinda awesome’ is a scene of ocean waves cresting over the Himalayas and exploding the obligatory Tibetan monastery.
What Emmerich doesn’t seem to get is that pictures of disasters aren’t that compelling unless they really show the scale of the thing. Polar shift? Forget Los Angeles, which isn’t very pristine even on its best days. Show us the whole earth, twisting around like a mad tennis ball in mid-space, oceans sloshing, volcanoes erupting. St Peter’s collapsing? Forget hairline cracks in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (which isn’t, by the way, in St Peter’s). The dome of St Peter’s is absolutely enormous – why not show it rolling down the hill and squashing Ostia? The trailers also show more than a few shots of wildly escaping airplanes slicing off the pinnacles of various buildings with the tips of their wings. I think we all know that when a fibreglass wingtip runs into the Washington Monument, it’s not the monument that’s going to crash and burn.
The rest of the film looks pretty predictable – professionally unsuccessful main character trying to save his children and ex-wife (why is it always an ex-wife in this guy’s movies, by the way? I know 50% of marriages end in divorce in the US, but the whole ‘I’m sorry I’m a nerd, I still love you’ routine was already lame when Jeff Goldblum’s cable guy/computer genius did it in ID4). The noble president struggling against the inhumane advice of his slimy advisers. Humanity uniting in a small space (in this film, Noah’s Ark aircraft carriers). No doubt there will be a heart-wrenching and self-sacrificial fatality. Perhaps even a lovable pet (‘Boomer!’). I’m sure at the end the characters will emerge into the wreckage to start building their new world, because it’s altogether too much to hope for that the film will conclude with everyone dying slowly of starvation in the clusterfuck that is (a) global farmland now covered in salt water and (b) suburban Californians with no agricultural skills.
The reason I started writing about this film, however, is entirely unrelated to the eye-tease visuals or mechanical plot. It was this teaser-trailer, which made me laugh out loud. YouTube won’t let me embed it, so here’s a description:
An elderly Tibetan monk is running up a mountain, sandals flapping, red robes, twisting in the breeze. He finally reaches the tiny temple at the summit where, huffing and puffing, he enters and sees another monk ringing a bell. Interspersed with these scenes are black screens bearing the words ‘How would the governments of our planet prepare six billion people for the end of the world?’ in stark capitals.
Creepy marimba music, oddly in time with the winded monks’ bell-ringing, plays in the background. Cut to distant view of snow-capped Himalayas. What’s that behind the mountains? More mountains? No, it’s water! Some of it begins to pour down the snowy slopes. The temple, in this aerial view, looks very tiny and vulnerable. Inside it, the monks can see the water bearing down on them, but they keep on ringin’ that bell. They don’t look particularly concerned, and are still ringing when the water engulfs the temple, breaking it into tiny pieces. In the aerial shot, you can’t even see the distant mountaintops any more – they are entirely underwater now.
Black screen again: ‘They wouldn’t.’
Then: ’2012. Find out the truth. Google search: 2012.’
By the time we’d got to ‘They wouldn’t,’ I’d forgotten who they were and what it was they wouldn’t do. Oh yeah, they were the government, and they wouldn’t prepare us for the end of the world. I’m not sure whether Emmerich is implying that governments are untrustworthy bastards and we’d be better off preparing ourselves, or if he was snarking on them for not looking after our sorry asses. Either way, I laughed, because we all know there’s sweet fuck-all the government can do when all of Washington has been crushed under the rolling hull of the aircraft carrier USS John F Kennedy and bits of the Kremlin have washed up on Mt Everest.