2012: Global Salvation Through Global Destruction


Judging by his string of disasterrific movies—Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, and now 2012—director Roland Emmerich is a firm believer in global salvation through global destruction. Mankind, despite selfish and self-destructive impulses, is good, can be good, can come together in peace and harmony, at one with the planet that sustains it. All that needs to happen is for most of the Earth's population to be killed off first.

Still, Emmerich seems to further think, as long as we're going to destroy the world, we might as well do it in the most awesome and spectacular way possible, right? On that front, at least, 2012 more than delivers. Not content merely to be another Big, Dumb Blockbuster, it aims for something greater: to be the Biggest, the Dumbest, the Blockbusteriest.

And with its never-ending parade of glorious, ludicrous, and utterly improbable catastrophes, it more or less succeeds. 2012 is the sort of movie so aggressively hyperbolic and devoutly over-the-top that it makes traditional descriptive labels obsolete and thus requires the invention of whole new words. My suggestions? How about catastrophaganza—the subgenre to which 2012 (and most of Emmerich's oeuvre) belongs—and retardiculous—a combo word to describe its barfy blend of low-quality yucks; treacly, social-welfare obsessed melodrama; buzz-word-laden psuedo-scientific babble; and gleefully apocalyptic pyrotechnic spectacle.

Unfortunately (perhaps), that spectacle requires not only the cataclysmic collapse of most of civilization, but the untimely deaths of several billion people. Not that Emmerich seems to mind too much; he doses his destruction with a hefty shot of camp, as if the correct reaction to the loss of another couple hundred million lives is "holy molten lava, Batman!"

But maybe that's just his way of staying positive in the face of doom. After all, 2012 seems to express an earnest hope that, from the smoldering ashes of modern civilization, humanity will triumph, reforming and rebuilding itself into a fresh and functional egalitarian society. All faiths, all creeds, all people, and perhaps all of Hollywood's B-list mediocrities (the film's sprawling cast of expendables, including John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetal Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, Woody Harrelson, Danny Glover, and more, is big enough to fill an ark—which eventually it does) can work together to put aside their differences in a vast celebration of global, equal togetheriness. Well, almost all, anyway: In 2012, both the knowledge of the impending apocalypse and the planning for its survival is limited to the member countries of the G8. Sorry, South America and Africa.

Granted, that was probably just an oversight, for in 2012, you can always figure out who the evil characters are by their attitudes toward scarce resources. Bad guys always argue—or, more accurately, sneer—that limited time and resources sometimes require people to make difficult decisions about how to allocate what you have in order to survive. Good guys always speechify to the effect that even to acknowledge such choices causes us all to be a little less human. Moronic? Probably. On the other hand, maybe there's a certain logic to the sentiment given the inevitable trajectory of so many of the director's movies: Who needs to worry about scarce resources when the bulk of the world's population winds up dead?