2012: Disaster Thriller Is Our Worst Nightmare

L-R: Morgan Lily and John Cusack in 2012. Courtesy of Sony.

Roland Emmerich’s 2009 sci-fi disaster thriller, 2012, offers thrills and destruction at the end of the world with amazing visuals to boot.

We follow the film through the lens of two different characters, geologist Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and novelist Jackson Curtis (John Cusack). On a trip to India in 2009, Adrian learns that neutrinos are heating up the Earth’s core. This information is quickly presented to White House Chief of Staff Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt) and President Thomas Wilson (Danny Glover). It results in the world leaders starting to make plans in 2010 to build nine arks in the Himalayas. They fund the project by selling spots to the world’s wealthiest people for $1 billion a piece. Talk about telling us which lives matter or not!

By the time 2011 comes around, First Daughter Laura Wilson (Thandiwe Newton) is playing a role in moving artwork to safety. But in spite of her being the president’s daughter, she doesn’t know the complete truth. Don’t think the government is above a cover-up because they certainly kill people for telling the truth!

It isn’t until 2012 that we meet Jackson, his former wife Kate (Amanda Peet) and their children, Noah (Liam James) and Lilly (Morgan Lily). Kate, Noah, and Lilly are all living with Kate’s boyfriend, Gordon Silberman (Tom McCarthy). Jackson takes the kids camping at Yellowstone but the Army takes them in after they get caught trespassing. Lucky for them, Adrian is there and is familiar with Jackson’s book. But as the military evacuates the park, conspiracy theorist Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson) tells Jackson all about the end of the world. It’s only after Jackson’s boss, Russian billionaire Yuri Karpov, suddenly leaves that Jackson realizes Charlie is right about the end of the world. He gets to his family right as the earthquake hits Los Angeles. From there, it’s off to the Santa Monica airport to find a plane and safety.

They escape LA and head to Yellowstone just in time to retrieve Charlie’s map containing where the arks are located. They barely arrive in time because because the supervolcano erupts in a massive explosion. Needing a way to get to Tibet, they fly to Las Vegas, meet up with Yuri and family and take off in his plane. Yuri might have tickets for the ark but for Jackson and everyone else, getting to safety is not easy. By sneaking on board, they get caught in the gate as it opens. This causes massive flooding inside the ship after the tsunami hits. Without repairing it, they’ll have no chance upon hitting Mt. Everest. But of course, you cannot just sneak on board without having some dramatic stakes! President Wilson dies in DC and the Vice President’s plane crashes so Anheuser is the new guy in charge. He is a complete jerk!

Is it sad that it is so much fun watching Los Angeles get destroyed? Okay, fun probably might not be the right word. It’s certainly a mixture of being both nerve-wrecking and thrilling? You really fear for everyone as they try and get out of harm’s way. These films certainly don’t make it easy! If there’s anybody who knows how to make a disaster movie, it’s Roland Emmerich. This film came on the heels of both The Day After Tomorrow and Independence Day. The amazing part of watching all these disaster films is seeing how the visual effects technology improves through the years. Volcano and Dante’s Peak are from 1997 and it’s like comparing apples and oranges!

Harald Kloser and Roland Emmerich’s screenplay is based on the belief that the world would end in December 2012. Inspired by Graham Hancock’s Fingerprints of the Gods, the main destruction comes by way of Earth’s Crust Displacement Theory. This idea goes hand in hand with the cataclysmic pole shift hypothesis. What it means is that there is the idea of rapid shifts of the poles and they come with all kinds of calamities. It’ll come with floods and all sorts of tectonic events. In 2012 alone, there’s no shortage of earthquakes, volcanoes, or tsunamis. I’ve seen a number of disaster thrillers over the years–many of them in January 2022 alone for headspace reasons. It doesn’t get much better than this film.

If 2012 has any faults, it might be having a run time of over two and a half hours. But if you’re going to tell a film about the end of the world, it cannot be done at under two hours. Regardless of length, the film’s action alone is so quickly placed that the run time honestly doesn’t even matter. If I have to choose between 2012 and Avatar, I’m choosing 2012 all day, every day. I cannot get into the specifics of whether the science is right or wrong. While I’m a sucker for disaster movies, science is not one of my strong suits. I’ll leave the science to the scientists and stick with worrying about the planet. It’s scary to think about the fact that we could be enjoying life in one moment and then running for our lives in the next.

A good disaster thriller must contain both thrills and massive destruction–2012 has both in great quantity. Is the film preposterous? Certainly. is it impossible to not look away? You know it!

DIRECTOR: Roland Emmerich
SCREENWRITERS: Harald Kloser & Roland Emmerich
CAST: John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt, Thandiwe Newton, Tom McCarthy, George Segal, with Danny Glover and Woody Harrelson

Sony released 2012 in theaters on November 13, 2009.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.