Directed by Roland Emmerich
Written by Harald Kloser
and Roland Emmerich
Starring John Cusack,
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet
Things fall down, things blow up - you don't need to be Nigella to cook up a disaster flick. The recipe for disaster, unlike for Bundt cake or success, is awfully easy: Ships sink, planes plummet, volcanoes erupt, the Earth quakes, waves go tidal, towers get infernal. Better yet, the bigger the calamity, the simpler the mix. Check out the evidence here: Want to heat up the Earth's core, then bring its crust to a roiling boil and the whole planet to a bitter end? No problem. Just take one Mayan prophecy, sprinkle in a bunch of wonky neutrinos, and voilà - goodbye world. And hello Roland Emmerich, a man who loves nothing better than to put the kaboom into doom. Yes, it's 2012, and do you know where your children are?
Jackson does. He's the divorced writer with two kids and a pretty ex-wife and a whole lot of underappreciated literary talent. Writers of disaster flicks do enjoy sticking themselves into their plots. Anyway, at the outset, Jackson doesn't realize our planetary home is fast approaching its demolition. By contrast, Adrian the science wonk has known for a few years now. He's even told America's first black president who - ain't it the way with first black presidents - has inherited quite the global mess. However, the prez has made an executive decision: to inform other sage world leaders, yet not the panic-prone people themselves. In the interim, said leaders have devised an escape plan, but more about that latter.
First, with a reputation to uphold (forged on Independence Day) for blowing up monumental stuff, Emmerich has business to take care of. He starts out daintily enough, content to wipe California off the map. Happily, Jackson, along with those two kids and that pretty ex-wife and her tag-along boyfriend, is driving the one car capable of racing a microsecond ahead of the cracking fault line, all the while dodging fallen bridges and toppling buildings. So enchanted is the director with this visual feat, we soon get to see an instant replay, albeit with a small aircraft subbing for the now-discarded car.
Repeat again, with a clumsy RV in lieu of that small plane. And once more, but this time with a way bigger airplane built to cross oceans and thus dodge way bigger things that fall down, like mountains, and even bigger things that swell up, like tsunamis. Occasionally, what with the world ending, someone takes a quiet moment to make a goodbye phone call to someone else, whereupon the score stops pounding, the oceans cease their roar, and a single tear flows. After watching three such identical calls, I would have thought even the greediest god of repetition would have counted himself appeased. Then came the fourth.
By now, after a Roman detour to pad his statistics ( poof goes the Sistine Chapel's iconic ceiling), Emmerich and his same old same old have taken us and a very busy cast deep into disaster's second hour, and then on to China. There, cleverly hidden in the Himalayas, is the aforementioned escape plan: an ark. Actually, seven arks, similar to Noah's in their devotion to species continuation - giraffes and elephants and brainiacs two by two - but definitely higher-tech and with seat prices that reflect an inflation of biblical proportions. For those in the know, a berth to Beyond costs a cool €1-billion a person (no mention if that includes a fuel surtax).
So naturally, even as the flood waters rise and the world's clock ticks down and the darned ark can't get its motor running 'cause some darned obstacle is stopping the hydraulic door from sealing the darned air-tight hatch, an ethical debate ensues. Is it fair that mainly the rich should survive? Or, since they are rich, has nature already selected them as fit for survival? Then again, as one would-be Plato speculates, "Maybe we should have had a lottery?"
Speaking of random selection, the performers include John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Danny Glover, Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt, Thandie Newton and Woody Harrelson. In the name of good apocalyptic fun, I'll leave you to guess who plays who. Hint: Bewigged and even wiggier than usual, Woody does not play the first black American president.
Second hint: Save for the lucky ark-ivists, the entire world's population dies, but not so you'd notice or care. As always in Emmerich's rollicking Armageddons, the cannon speaks with an expensive bang, while the fodder gets afforded nary a whimper. Of course, that's just part of disaster's simple recipe: Blow us up, then blow us off.