Even Jesus is expected to take a fall in an Emmerich film

For those of you who did not sense a pattern in Roland Emmerich’s repertoire, the guy likes to put his characters through a lot of permanently changing scenery.  Starting small with the brainless blockbuster, “Universal Soldier,” he and his fellow auteur Dean Devlin convinced studios to allow them progressively bigger budgets for progressively bigger movies with progressively mindless plots.  To date he has made (with Devlin) “Stargate,” “Independence Day,” “Godzilla,” “The Patriot,” (without), “The Day After Tomorrow,” “10,000 B.C.,” and now “2012.”

To their credit, their movies usually have come in ahead of schedule and under budget.  But that’s kind of like saying a fat man walking on the moon is lighter.  In the interests of full disclosure, I have seen each of the above movies, except “B.C.,” and I plan on watching it when I can work it in.

To date, the modern world has ended in an Emmerich film 3 times now.  “Independence” (known as ID4) trailers came on in quite a shocking manner.  Seeing the Empire State Building and White House obliterated was memorable.  For the first time.  By now, there have been any number of movies from “Armageddon”, to “Sudden Impact”, to “A.I.” to “Transformers” I and II, and even last year’s “GI Joe” that have shown no mercy on any number of world landmarks.  By the time we reached “The Day After Tomorrow” in 2004, people were pretty bored with this stuff.  Even if it does look realistic.  By now these movies have all the worn out novelty of those pictures where the oceans have risen over the landscape of some well known city.  Cool to look at, until…squirrel!

So, here we are in 2009, and Emmerich is coming out with another end of the world picture.  Great.  So we already know that we are going to see great looking, if unrelentingly unrelentingly unrealistic special effects.  We get 5 or 6 films with great special effects each year now (and one “Avatar”… so far).  What distinguishes these films?

  1. Lead characters – Some movies, like “Godzilla” have characters you literally can’t wait to see die.  Broderick and Pitillo actually had me begging for Godzilla to get lucky.  Cusack and Peet are a little more plucky and fun to watch.  It is that simple.

    Please, step on them so I no longer have to look at that stupid hat!
  2. Misunderstood genius characters – Goldblum is the standard here, as his know it all in ID4.  Chiwetel Ejiofor does a nice turn here.  I loved him as the hunter operative in “Serenity” a few years back.  He does a nice job here giving the illusion he cares about what’s going on.
  3. President Good Guy  – My favorite has to be Morgan Freeman from “Sudden Impact,” though some will harken Bill Pullman’s kick ass pilot president from ID4.  Danny Glover does a good job here, but hey, all he really has to do is make a speech and wait around to die.
  4. President Staff Rogue Henchman – James Rebhorn’s nuke happy Sec. Defense was a standard here.  In this case, Platt follows his own muse, intentionally making every selfish step along the way to help no one but himself.  Not the greatest, but not bad either.
  5. Plucky kids – or as I like to call it, “The Little Jimmy Factor.”  At its worst, the kids know stuff that the adults are just too dumb to know.  The kids from Jurassic Park are good examples, but I work real hard to burn the image from my mind of any of the others.  This role just drives me nuts when they make the kids too smart.  Thankfully, the kids in 2012 are there mainly to be saved, with only one “Little Jimmy” moment when against all odds, Cusack’s son follows him through a perilously long underwater swim just to hold a flash light.
  6. Close calls under insane circumstances.  This movie had no less than 4 perilous and ridiculously unrealistic airplane takeoffs.  And one insane landing on a glacier.  That is 3 too many harrowing airplane moments.  Each one just added laughs.

    Seriously...once is enough.
  7. Monuments obliterated – I think less is better here.  Honestly, I never get a kick out of this.  Seeing Jesus toppled did very little for me here, most especially.  This movie just never let up, and it got old quick.
  8. The effect of losing life – We’re a long way from “The Poseidon Adventure” here.  The death scenes of many extras still work through my mind in that one.  Here, nameless, faceless figures are thrown about, incinerated, drowned, crushed and blown to bits.  Millions upon millions of computer generated figures.  To little effect, sadly.

All tolled, this movie was fun to watch comedically, rather than thrillingly.  The better the effects get, the less realistic it seems.  It is a hard thing to pull off, but James Cameron does it magnificently.  Maybe that’s because he takes a decade or so between films.  Emmerich and Michael Bay pumps these things out with regularity and the effect has been to dull the senses of the average viewer.  The result feels less and less like the first time you got that Mountain Dew rush and more like the time you found out Mountain Dew gave you diabetes.

Get's a little old after a while. I know.

*1/2 out of *****


  1. This movie was so bad it was cute. The only thing that kept me watching was the sadistic satisfaction of seeing cities being destroyed. And, like you, I’ve spotted all the “Emmerich” elements as the movie progressed.
    As for the take-offs…I’m an amateur pilot and even I know that those were unreal. I wonder why Emmerich didn’t make a Y2K film…

    By the way. imagine watching “2012” in 2015 or so. Its fail factor will have risen by then.

    • Thanks again. I appreciate your perspective. The fail factor screams so loud for me here, by 2015 I may be deaf in 5 years.

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