I rarely go to movies these days, being content to wait for the releases to go to DVD or cable TV. But disaster movies need to be seen on the big screen (and with a crowd) for the special effects to have maximum impact. So my friend K and I, feeling the need for a good "The world's a blowin' up, and we're all a goin' to die!" experience, went to see "2012" on Saturday. I highly recommend it.
Disaster movies can fail in one of two ways. One is the "Titanic" way, taking so long to do the set-up that we get impatient for the doom to come. The combination of love story and death saga obviously punched enough girlie-flick and guy-movie buttons to gross the most money of any movie ever, but true diasaster-film fans felt like shouting at the screen, "Would you just sink the damn boat, already!"
The other way is the "The Day After Tomorrow" way where the director uses up all his good special effects in the first hour then bores us to death for the second one. The last part of TDAT was just a long trek through ice and snow. If I want to experience that, I'll go outside my own house in February.
But "2012" gets it right. For one, thing, as Roger Ebert says, it's about the best a movie of this kind can be:
You think you've seen end-of-the-world movies? This one ends the world, stomps on it, grinds it up and spits it out.
And the timing is right, too. Roughly the first quarter of the movie is set-up, introducing us to the characters so we care about them and building up the disaster to come with small then bigger clues. The last quarter is the race against time -- which characters will make it and which won't? The half in the middle is just pure, mindless destruction.
If I had to compare it to another movie, I'd choose "When World's Collide," from 1951 when special effects weren't very special, and the only disaster epic I recall right now that went all the way and actually destroyed the world. (SPOILER ALERT!) "2012" doesn't go quite that far, but close enough. And the end shot is so reminiscent of the one in WWC that I wondered if it was some kind of homage.
("Titanic" qualifies as an end-of-the-world movie in the same way that movies such as "Towering Inferno" and "The Thing" do -- a select group of people you are made to care about are in a confined location and experiencing a collective threat to life as they've known it.)