Easily deserving of the moniker "The King of the Disaster Movies," Roland Emmerich delivers yet another CGI-laden extravaganza with '2012' meant purely for popcorn entertainment. The movie never strays from the same generic and formulaic plotlines seen in nearly all of the director's films -- a dysfunctional family in turmoil that must overcome personal issues in order to survive a common adversity. With highly-implausible and preposterous (but nevertheless thrilling) scenes of pandemonium and hell on Earth, this summer blockbuster is the disaster movie to end all disaster movies. This furiously chaotic sci-fi epic is a visually surprising flick that is as entertainingly exciting as it is a satisfying two and a half-hour diversion.
Also typical of most of his movies, '2012' arrives with a large ensemble of characters that never stay in front of the camera for longer than is absolutely necessary. John Cusack stars not as the hero but as a single-father novelist with heroism written all over him. This is because he never really thinks of himself as a hero, but just a man desperately searching for ways to save his family. Unlike Oliver Platt's character, who is some sort of government official, Cusack's Jackson Curtis is called upon numerous times to pull off some really brave and heroic feats. His ex-wife is Amanda Peet, with whom we see him act as amicable as any limo-driving former husband can act when she's moved on with a wealthy, successful plastic surgeon (Thomas MacCarthy). While camping with his kids (Morgan Lily and Liam James), he meets a crazed radio host (Woody Harrelson) and learns the world will come to an end soon, which in movie language is about two minutes.
The man actually responsible for making the discovery three-years earlier is Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), another character who, when pushed hard enough, must also step up to fulfill his heroic duty. He spends most of his time running around in a vulnerable panic as his scientific research proves to be off by a few months, then days, then hours, until literally by half an hour. Isn't it funny how in movies mathematical predictions can be done within less than a minute to conveniently heighten tension regarding imminent doom? Danny Glover plays a very dutiful and admirable President, who also makes some tough decisions, while his First Daughter (Thandie Newton) doesn't really seem to do much at all. A few other minor characters pop up, but our attention is mostly focused on the survival of these folks.
Comprised almost entirely of special computer effects, '2012' is all fluff and pageantry with hardly anything going on below the surface. To be sure, Roland Emmerich, along with co-writer Harold Kloser (better known for his musical score than his writing talent), took some time to learn about the most popular theories surrounding the mystery of the Mayan calendar and the year on which it ends. But it's mostly all fear-induced cacophony about an unknown future mixed with a dash of some recent scientific speculation. This may explain the purpose of Woody Harrelson's character -- hysterical, deranged eccentrics always get the strangest passionate followers. Of course, the large amounts of hearsay spouted throughout the picture (again, from Harrelson's Charlie) is all in the name of fun and excitement as it makes for grand, exuberant spectacles of pandemonium.
It's no secret that Emmerich is a long-time advocate for global warming awareness. And in '2012', as in 'The Day After Tomorrow,' the topic serves him well for constructing what could be the most over the top portrayal of cataclysmic mayhem. With 'The Towering Inferno' and 'The Poseidon Adventure' listed as some of his all-time favorite movies, it shouldn't come as any surprise that many of his action adventures feature some sort of catastrophic event as the focal point. And they almost seem to suggest a subconscious desire to outdo them. But what's really appealing about Emmerich's films is how he captures pop-culture trends and interests while still in the moment and turn them into large-scale displays. Though they'll never be seen as high art (far from it), it does show he has an ear and an eye for what the general public wants in a summer blockbuster.
Roland Emmerich has also been quoted as saying that he'd like to think that his movies impart some kind of message to his audience. Does he succeed in doing this with '2012'? Maybe. Is it anything this will change the world? Hardly. But with some near-flawless CGI effects to depict the end of times, we are at least entertained by the apocalypse from the comfort of our home theaters. The formulaic narrative, silly dialogue, and scientific inaccuracies really should be ignored as they're only meant to push the story forward and accomplish one end result -- to entertain and amuse with the implausible. Even the cast is there only to achieve that goal, and they get the job done. '2012' is all about the spectacular and fantastic visuals that capture the imagination, and that's part of the fun in watching movies after all. To dig any deeper would prove more foolish than the movie itself.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment gives fans two options to choose from: a single disc version and a Special Edition, which was the one provided for review. The studio brings Roland Emmerich's '2012' to Blu-ray on a Region Free BD50 disc and housed in a three-disc keepcase with a shiny cardboard slipcover. The first disc contains the movie along with a few special features, and the second is a BD25 Blu-ray accommodating the remainder of the supplements. The third disc is a Digital Copy for portable devices and an exclusive to hi-def owners. After two skippable trailers, viewers are greeted with the standard menu option while motion clips play in the background.
'2012' definitely makes a big splash on Blu-ray, delivering an impressive visual experience that will have fans cheering as planet Earth meets its destructive demise. The 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer (2.40:1) displays an ultra-clean and glossy presentation that is faithful to its theatrical showing (or at least from what I can remember). It's a great-looking picture to be sure, but it also arrives with some small annoyances which keep it on this side of reference.
Every minute detail is distinct and resolute in any number of scenes with great outlining in a variety of objects. Nowhere else is the image's sharpness more evident than during the many scenes of CGI disaster as every person scuffling and grappling for safety and protection is plainly perceptible amidst all the well-defined rumble and mayhem. Adding to the striking picture quality are the rich and dynamic black levels, furnishing the flick with pleasing dimensionality. Shadow delineation is equally excellent as background info is observable in the darkest portions of the frame. Contrast is spot-on, with crisp gradations in the grayscale and wonderful visibility and clarity of random items in the distance. Colors are vividly saturated and accurately rendered at the same time that facial complexions appear warm, natural, and revealing.
While the encode shows no glaring signs of edge enhancement or noise reduction, there are a few quips worth noting which subtract from a five-star presentation. Considering how sharp the image looks, the scenes that appear slightly softer by comparison are made more apparent and textural details are noticeably smoother. There are also a few negligible instances of banding which don't hinder the picture greatly, but they are there nonetheless. In either case, these issues are very minor and likely ignored while watching the movie.
The biggest thing of concern is a result of the use of HD cameras, which give the film an unattractive, artificial, and digital appearance several times throughout. It may not be a consistent issue, but it's noticeable enough to be a critical distraction. Imagine the movie looking very cinematic and warmly appealing one minute, then suddenly switching to something straight out of 'Cloverfield' or 'Public Enemies' the next. Had the entire presentation looked all digital to the very end, this really wouldn't be a big deal, but the constant switching back and forth for folks with big projection screens, this is rather irksome and puzzling. Ultimately, this is just to caution our readers to expect the visual distraction as part of an otherwise excellent transfer.
On another side note, there are a variety of characters speaking in foreign languages throughout '2012'. Unfortunately, the subtitles accompanying the narrative are not contained within the image proper. As result, this makes the movie unsafe for viewing on Constant Image Height projection screens.
Being a modern-day disaster flick, you would expect this DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack to be nothing short of superlative aural ecstasy. In many cases, I would agree with this sentiment and not hesitate in labeling this high resolution option as undoubtedly reference quality. But one small, persistent nitpick, that after a while becomes a bothersome deficiency in the design, prevents me from praising it as a godsend of five-star audio presentations.
On the positive side of things, the lossless mix is quite phenomenal and most assuredly one of the best things we've heard on Blu-ray in a while. In fact, I imagine the track will quickly turn into the demo disc of choice in many home theaters as it sounds exactly how you'd expect a summer blockbuster to sound. Listeners are marvelously encompassed with such heightened energy that one can't help but feel fully immersed by all the destructive action. Surround use is continuously active, creating a terrific 360-degree soundfield from beginning to end. Discrete effects are sharply well-rendered and pan between each speaker with great precision and without the slightest amount of effort while imaging is ceaselessly engaging and expansive. Dialogue is perfectly balanced amidst all the action and never outdone by all the commotion and pandemonium. Even in its quietest moments, atmospherics are clear and non-directional whilst the musical score fills any voids with a room-penetrating mid-range and detailed fidelity.
The one slight limitation, which may or may not be observable by certain viewers, is an unconvincing low end, especially for such a loud popcorn flick. This is not to suggest that the bass is wanting or weak. As a matter of fact, it is quite accurate and at times particularly punchy and bombastic for those selected scenes of explosive eruptions. But there's something about the lower frequencies that never truly feels persuasive or all-encompassing. Many on-screen events, particularly the earthquakes sequences, appear to lack intensity and a realistic force which ideally should extend far into the room, yet they don't. Again, many may not think this a major impediment, but for those who love their bass, it's a bit of a letdown. If we simply ignore this one small nitpick, this lossless mix is pure reference quality, and one that will surely be used to demo the sound system.
For this Blu-ray edition of '2012', Sony ports over the same special features found on the DVD equivalent but spreads them out on two BD discs. Fans will be content with the selection, but the exclusives are where you'll find all the excitement.
Roland Emmerich delivers another large-scale, end-of-times apocalypse feature that wows with the spectacular visuals and excites the imagination with an entertaining premise. '2012' is purely a popcorn blockbuster that surprisingly works better than Emmerich's previous efforts despite the plot's implausibility. The Blu-ray arrives with excellent video, a demo-worthy audio presentation, and is loaded with special features. Fans, and home theaters enthusiasts, should be very happy with this purchase, which comes recommended mainly for the A/V reference qualities of the disc.