2012 (Sony Pictures): Roland Emmerich’s latest big-budget blockbuster sees an ancient Mayan prophecy come true as Earth’s techtonic plates unleash global destruction after a solar flare. An alarmed US government scientist (Chiwetel Ojiofor) discovers the disaster; a limousine driver (John Cusack) struggles to protect his family amidst the chaos; the US president (Danny Glover) tries to be stoic; the chief of staff (Oliver Platt) enacts a secret plan and various other characters all respond differently to the coming apocalypse.
Although the film isn’t in any danger of winning any awards for acting or screenwriting, the set pieces are impressively rendered and the sheer scale of CGI destruction is a sight to behold, even if there are too many ”just in the nick of time’ escapes.
The transfer to Blu-ray is excellent and although sometimes high definition can spotlight weak visual effects, here they stand up very well indeed with tsunamis, earthquakes and collapsing buildings and all manner of destruction coming across in pristine detail.
The extras are fairly extensive too, the most notable being the BD-Live™ enabled movieIQ, which allows you to access updated information on the film’s cast, crew, production and soundtrack while watching the film. [Buy the Blu-ray | Buy the DVD]
Blu-ray Special Features
movieIQ and BD-Live connect you to real-time information on the cast, music, trivia and more while watching the movie
Interactive Mayan Calendar – Enter a date to reveal your horoscope and personality profile! Delve even further into the secrets by watching Mysteries of the Mayan Calendar
Picture-In-Picture: Roland’s Vision-Includes Pre-Visualization, storyboards and behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with filmmakers, cast and crew
Commentary with Writer/Director Roland Emmerich and Co-Writer Harald Kloser
Designing The End Of The World
Roland Emmerich: The Master of the Modern Epic
Science Behind The Destruction
The End Of The World: The Actor’s Perspective
DVD Special Features
Commentary with Writer/Director Roland Emmerich and Co-Writer Harald Kloser
Roland Emmerich: The Master of the Modern Epic
Stargate (Optimum): The other Roland Emmerich release of the week is his 1994 sci-fi adventure about an academic (James Spader) and a military unit (headed by Kurt Russell) who venture through a teleportation gateway to another planet.
The third collaboration between director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin – they had worked Moon 44 (1990) and Universal Soldier (1992) – was on a bigger budget and they crafted something more entertaining and polished. Here you can see the roots of the mega sci-fi success they would have with Independence Day (1996) – although we’ll politely ignore Godzilla (1998).
Stargate was one of the first Lionsgate Blu-ray releases back in August 2006, but that had hardly any extras and the audio was only lossy DTS High Resolution. This version has both the theatrical and the extended cuts of the movie, and four hours of extras, including three new featurettes, a trivia track, and a gag reel. [Buy the Blu-ray]
The Informant (Warner Home Video): Steven Soderbergh’s latest film bears some resemblance to Erin Brockovich (2000), an entertaining exposé of real life corporate chicanery concerning a biochemist (Matt Damon) who in 1992, became an informant for the FBI after his company got involved in price fixing.
What makes it unusual is the breezy comic tone and the extraordinary behaviour of the central character (who seems to be an undiagnosed manic depressive). Much of the comedy comes from the continual frustration of the FBI with their star witness who often tells the truth, but unfortunately mixes it with lies. It got a rather muted reception on the festival circuit last year, but Damon shows great comic timing in the central role, whilst Marvin Hamlisch’s score and the distinctive visuals (shot by Soderbergh under his regular pseudonym Peter Andrews), all add to the mix. [Buy the Blu-ray | Buy the DVD]
The action centres on the homicide division of an inner-city Baltimore police station, with a large and fluid cast passing through the precinct’s door during the series’ seven seasons on the air. Simon was a consultant and producer on the series and although not as good as The Wire, it is still one of the landmark US TV shows of the 90s. [Buy the DVD]
2012 was the cheesy, expensive disaster movie that came out last year (and has since been a huge international hit) but if you ever wondered how the visual effects wizards created the end of the world so convincingly, then check out these videos.
2012(Sony): The latest CGI disaster-porn blockbuster from director Roland Emmerich is based on the idea that the world will end in 2012 due to an ancient Mayan prophecy.
A large group of people have to deal with the apocalypse: alarmed scientists (Chiwetel Ojiofor and Jimi Mistry) discover the disaster; an everyday guy (John Cusack) struggles to protect his family amidst the chaos; the US president (Danny Glover) tries to be stoic; the chief of staff (Oliver Platt) enacts a secret plan for survivors and lots of people die. Although it is a ludicrous, overblown roller coaster of a film, Sony can expect a huge box office haul for what is essentially a delayed Summer blockbuster. Read my more considered thoughts on the film here. [Nationwide / 12]
Directed by Ang Lee from a script by James Schamus, it stars Demetri Martin, Imelda Staunton, Henry Goodman, Liev Schreiber, Emile Hirsch and Paul Dano. Despite premiering at the Cannes film festival earlier this year a combination of moderate reviews and tepid word of mouth means it probably won’t make too much of an impact here. [Apollo Picc Circus, Curzon Soho, Empire, Odeon Covent Gdn. & Nationwide / 15]
Harry Brown (Lionsgate UK): An elderly ex-serviceman and widower (Michael Caine) looks to avenge his best friend’s murder by doling out his own form of justice on a contemporary South London estate.
Although Caine has been doing the rounds promoting this film, it could struggle against the juggernaut of 2012, its restrictive 18 certificate and the fact that it looks like a poor man’s Gran Torino. [Nationwide / 18]
Amelia (20th Century Fox): A look at the life of legendary American pilot Amelia Earhart (Hilary Swank) who disappeared while flying over the Pacific Ocean in 1937 in an attempt to make a flight around the world.
Although once touted as a possible Oscar contender, some brutal US reviews and distinct lack of buzz mean this will be a short flight at cinemas for this biopic directed by Mira Nair. [Nationwide / PG]
IN LIMITED RELEASE
The White Ribbon (Artificial Eye): Director Michael Haneke returns with this sparse and chilling tale of strange goings on in a German village during 1913-14.
When one of the villagers begins to suspect that the blonde, blue-eyed children may have something to do with dark atmosphere engulfing the community, the film becomes a meditation on how their generation would embrace the Nazis and Hitler.
It premièred to huge acclaim at this year’s Cannes film festival, winning the Palme D’Or and is also a refreshing change of pace for Haneke after the US remake of Funny Games.
Shot in stark black and white without any score (reminiscent of Peter Brook’s film version of King Lear), it is a disturbing and unsettling experience, which will linger with audiences prepared to give their full attention. A brilliant portrait of the subtle roots of social evil and one that should do healthy arthouse business. [BFI Southbank, Curzons Mayfair, Richmond & Nationwide / 15] * Find out where it is showing here *
The lack of buzz would suggest a Charlie Kaufman-style experiment gone wrong and a minor dent in the UK box office this week. [Curzon Soho & Key Cities / 12A]
We Live in Public (Dogwoof Pictures): A documentary focusing on the life of dot-com entrepreneur Josh Harris, and his exploits over the last decade.
Something of a hit at Sundance earlier this year, it will get a limited release at UK cinemas but positive online buzz will perhaps lead to greater success on DVD. [Greenwich Picturehouse, Odeon Panton St., Ritzy & Key Cities / 15]
The Magic Hour (104 Films): The story of a hustler who gets in trouble with a gang boss in the port town of Sukago agrees to make good with the don by putting him in contact with a mysterious hitman. [Curzon Soho & selected Key Cities / 15]
Tulpan (New Wave Films): Set in Kazakhstan, the film follows the journey of a recently discharged Russian sailor who visits his sister along with her older husband and their three children. [New Wave Films / 12A]
The latest CGI disaster-porn blockbuster from director Roland Emmerich is an insane roller coaster ride in the mould of his previous films.
When Sony Pictures hired Emmerich to make 2012 they clearly weren’t doing so in the hope that he would make an intimate examination of how governments respond to a global crisis.
Armed with a huge budget he has constructed an overblown cocktail of his greatest hits: Independence Day (in which the world is devastated by aliens); Godzilla (in which a city is devastated by a lizard); The Day After Tomorrow (in which the world is devastated by global warming).
The story has a similar template: alarmed scientists (Chiwetel Ojiofor and Jimi Mistry) discover the disaster; an everyday guy (John Cusack) struggles to protect his family amidst the chaos; the US president (Danny Glover) tries to be stoic; the chief of staff (Oliver Platt) enacts a secret plan and various other characters all respond differently to the coming apocalypse.
In essence, this is a modern day remake of 1970s disaster movies like Earthquake with advanced CGI and production values. It is very cheesy and workmanlike, although the sheer scale of destruction was beguilingly impressive.
Going in I had a fair idea of what to expect (clichés, perfunctory performances, clunky dialogue, overblown set pieces, absurd scenes where characters cheer and clap in unison) and it all came true, but a few things stuck out.
Firstly, it is very long for a mainstream film at 158 minutes but actually passes quite quickly, mainly because the action sequences come thick and fast and have a bizarre, rapid absurdity to them.
Secondly, the CGI is impressive on one level in its reconstruction of a global apocalypse but the use of it is often flawed as the tension is frequently undercut by the ludicrous just-in-time escapes, worthy of Indiana Jones at his luckiest.
Thirdly, the product placement is so ubiquitous it becomes vaguely humorous. There are lots of Sony Vaio laptops. There are lots of Sony TVs. Everyone uses a Sony phone.
The only thing missing were PS3s but it’s handy to know if the world ends, Sony have got the consumer electrical goods sorted.
The fact that the three most noteworthy aspects of the film are the length, the visual effects and branded electrical products tells you a great deal.
The acting? Well, it’s pay cheque performances all around with everyone trying to make the clunky dialogue sound OK.
Cusack and Ejiofor have been shrewdly cast though, as they are likeable actors who lend the production a sheen of credibility it doesn’t really have.
But seeing the likes of George Segal, Danny Glover and Thomas McCarthy in wafer thin roles is alarming. Is this really the best major studios can offer talent like this?
Despite the critical mauling this film will undoubtedly take (deservedly for the most part), the gnashing of teeth over it is not just about the film. It is partly because this is film is going to make a lot of money.
As I came out of it, the reasons for its impending success became clearer:
The concept is simple to understand around the globe (“The world ends in 2012. Or does it…?”).
Disaster movies by Roland Emmerich tend to do well.
The mystical Mayan crap is actually going to be taken as fact in the same way The Da Vinci Code was.
Lots of nationalities are (clunkily) represented in the form of token Americans, Russians and Asians.
It is carefully designed to appeal to certain countries as there are shots which look like they could be specific for certain territories. (For instance, in one scene Cusack finds a London tube map (!) but I reckon in different countries he finds something relevant to where the movie is shown. Ditto for a similar scene involving famous world figures in which I (and UK audiences) saw a famous lady and her dogs. I’m sure in other countries it will be another relevant figure.
But the final fact worth bearing in mind in mind is that this is essentially a summer blockbuster which just happens to be opening in November.
My guess is that the bad critical buzz and word of mouth will dent the grosses a bit, but watch out for how many people see this in cinemas, on DVD/Blu-ry and on TV.
Sometimes I’m asked why films like this and Transformers 2 do so well and part of the reason is that they are so heavily marketed with tantalising eye candy (“Ooh, look at the CGI destruction!”) that it is the cinematic equivalent of class A drugs. People know it’s bad, but still go anyway because they want a bit of escape.
I could be wrong. People might be put off by the lack of a decent script and stay at home, but this feels like a Hollywood fairground ride many will be queuing up for.