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Centuries ago, the Mayans left us their calendar, with a clear end date and all that it implies. By 2012, we'll know -- we were warned.
For more about 2012 and the 2012 Blu-ray release, see the 2012 Blu-ray Review
Starring: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Woody Harrelson, Danny Glover, Oliver Platt
Director: Roland Emmerich
» See full cast & crew
2012 Blu-ray Review
The end of the world never sounded so good.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, February 17, 2010
The world as we know it will soon come to an end.
Reviewing a Disaster movie necessitates a delicate balancing act, unless a reviewer chooses to simply go all Godzilla on the movie and stomp it into oblivion without attempting to compartmentalize what the movie has and wants to offer versus what other pictures of varied genres and purposes have and want to offer. The Godzilla method would seem the du jour approach to a movie like Director Roland Emmerich's latest end-of-days Disaster picture 2012, his biggest and baddest movie yet, loaded with special effects and built around every Disaster movie cliché in the book. Indeed, 2012 isn't really all that different at its core than any run-of-the-mill made-for-television Disaster miniseries -- which are, in fact, disasters of the cinematic kind -- save for the fact that its budget is bigger than the gross domestic products of some small nations and it comes complete with a collection of name actors, most of whom aren't yet past their primes or long since faded into irrelevancy a decade or two prior. The budget, the actors, the skilled director, and even a surprisingly moving -- but not all that deep -- script make 2012 the pinnacle of its genre, a genre that has seemingly become the laughingstock of the film industry considering the epically bad movies that keep popping up in theaters and on video store shelves and television sets. However, Emmerich seems determined to keep the Disaster genre afloat and give it some relevance, and he has indeed made himself into the father of the modern high-dollar Disaster movie, with 2012 being his most audacious effort yet.
In the year 2009, Scientist Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Redbelt) becomes privy to information that neutrinos emanating from the sun are wrecking havoc on the Earth, causing its core to superheat. Fearful of the imminent natural disasters, Helmsley rushes to speak with Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt, Year One), the White House Chief of Staff and a man with the President's ear. Flash-forward to 2012, and limousine driver and unsuccessful author Jackson Curtis (John Cusack, Con Air) is taking his children to a getaway camping trip to Yellowstone National Park while his ex-wife Kate (Amanda Peet, Identity) works on her burgeoning relationship with plastic surgeon and amateur pilot Gordon Silberman (Tom McCarthy). At Yellowstone, Jackson meets a conspiracy theorist and small-time radio host named Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson, No Country For Old Men) who tells Jackson of the coming doom, allowing the father of two to get a head start on getting out of Dodge and heading for what Frost says is the last safe place on Earth. As Jackson races against time to save his family, he happens upon his wealthiest client, a Russian billionaire (Zlatko Buric) and his twin sons (Alexandre and Philippe Haussmann), his trophy girlfriend (Beatrice Rosen), and his personal pilot (Johann Urb), all of whom are headed to a secret facility that holds the key to mankind's survival. The group escapes death time and again to avoid a disaster that U.S. President Thomas Wilson (Danny Glover, Saw) must finally announce to a panicked world that's begun crumbling around every corner.
Not as endearing as Independence Day but not as politically-motivated as The Day After Tomorrow and not as lethargic as Godzilla, 2012 may be Emmerich's most well-balanced Disaster movie to date. Of all his pictures, it stands out as easily the most base of them all, where neither alien nor man nor a radioactive creature are the enemies but rather time and mother nature herself, and they prove to be Emmerich's most potent tandem of hostiles yet. Indeed, never before has so much been destroyed on such a grand scale and with such seamless special effects, and never before has so much death, destruction, and sheer chaos been this much fun. After the picture's slow but not sluggish open that introduces most of the film's major players -- the obligatory collection of the scientist, the President, the jerk, the broken family, the rich folks, the trophy girlfriend, and the conspiracy theorist -- 2012 begins a rip-roaring two additional hours of almost nonstop mayhem and special effects but manages to piece together a semblance of a heart and soul and develop its characters to the point that, when one or two of them inevitably kick the bucket, it actually matters and the sense of loss becomes surprisingly palpable. Still, Emmerich makes sure that the picture's emotions and characters live on the periphery where they belong in a movie like this, the director emphasizing the spectacle first and allowing everything else to fall into place as-needed and in the right time and context to achieve maximum effect with minimal interference to the dangers and disasters and visual effects that populate nearly every frame of the movie's second and third acts.
2012 may be mostly about collapsing buildings, flooding cities, and people surviving brushes with death in the middle near-miss after near-miss catastrophes, but it works not because of story -- this is absolutely nothing new, it's just that the picture plays out on an epically large scale -- but because it's been made with an eye towards detail and an insistence on making it bigger and better than anything that's come before it. 2012 is definitely a product of its budget, and every penny of its whopping $200,000,000 in funds was well-spent in the pursuit of building the most seamless Disaster movie of all time. Whether the physical sets or the computer-generated disaster zones, practically every shot within 2012's 158-minute runtime look fantastic, and the CGI meshes with the real-life actors and props seamlessly. This is definitely a hallmark effects film, and it's a shame it didn't make the cut for an Oscar nomination in said category, though it's hard to argue with the quality of effects as seen in Avatar, District 9, and Star Trek. Still, that doesn't change the fact that the special effects -- and their scale and intricate detail in particular -- will leave jaws agape as a plane or a speeding limousine maneuver through a crumbling city or an aircraft carrier tumbles atop a national landmark. It's spectacular stuff -- the reason the film was made, in fact -- and because it works so well, the movie, by extension, also works wonderfully for what it is and all it strives to be.
Finally, 2012 boasts a fairly strong cast not only of name actors but actors that play their parts with a sincerity rather than simply coasting along and allowing the special effects to hide what could have been phoned-in performances. As-scripted, the characters are somewhat flat and the relationships clichéd at best and phony at worst, but the performers manage to add some needed but not necessary and certainly not overplayed depth to all of the primaries. There's a relatable aura about Cusack's character, the actor portraying an everyman that manages to escape one disaster after another, and even if the plausibility of such daring and dangerous escapes could only happen in the movies, his exploits make for exciting, blood-pumping, and crowd-cheering entertainment at a base level, which is this picture's singular goal. Mission accomplished. Cusack's character's relationship with his family might be pulled from the most overused plot device in the book, but Cusack makes it work just well enough within the blistering pace and the dark context the movie establishes. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Oliver Platt form a surprisingly strong good guy-bad guy tandem, both actors turning in honest performances and playing to their characters' traits and, ultimately, their final confrontation splendidly. Ejiofor in particular makes for a great hero in a movie like this, the actor giving not only thoughtfulness to the part but also a soul that convinces the audience of his intelligence, leadership, motivations, sincerity, and strength of morals. Woody Harrelson is the film's surprise performer, the actor seeming to have as much fun here as in Zombieland and milking the unfortunately small but memorable part for everything it's worth and then some, his character serving as the catalyst for the primary adventure while delivering a healthy dosage of comic relief. Danny Glover turns in the film's only dour performance as a President with the personality of a blank greeting card and a nonchalance toward a part that, admittedly, could have been better scripted to begin with.
2012 Blu-ray, Video Quality
2012 arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080p, 2.39:1-framed transfer that's a treat for the eyes but not quite on the same level of excellence as the accompanying lossless soundtrack. Aside from slight visible banding in a few select shots, there's little room for complaint with this one. 2012 boasts incredibly rich and detailed blacks throughout, and the film's many darker scenes look extraordinary as a sense of depth and fine detailing both remain intact. Indeed, fine detail is impressive throughout the film's lengthy runtime; even the opening scene in the film that sees Adrian Helmsley descend into an underground Indian mining facility to learn of the coming doom features rich textures on metallic and other, harsher surfaces, though the film truly sparkles in above-ground and brighter locales. The special effects-laden locales and vistas remain sharp and clear throughout; whether distance shots of mountains or close-ups of cracking pavement, the transfer boasts rich details and textures and, even more impressive, the line between "real" and "effect" is almost always seamlessly blurred. The disaster scenes deliver intricate renderings of collapsing structures and all the minutia that one would expect to accompany such scenes, including massive amounts of finely-rendered debris and human bodies being tossed about. Even distant objects, such as cars rolling off crumbling bridges and roadways, are easily discernible and identifiable even at moderate-to-great distances. Additionally, colors are bold and natural throughout whether in brighter or darker scenes; no one shade appears as overbearing or, on the other end of the scale, poorly-realized or faded, and flesh tones also retain neutral and natural shades throughout the spectrum of ethnicities that appear in the film. 2012's Blu-ray transfer appears in pristine condition, with no visible scratches or debris, and a fine layer of film grain accompanies what is another strongly-realized and film-like release from Sony.
2012 Blu-ray, Audio Quality
2012 splashes onto Blu-ray with an exquisite DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack. Suffice it to say, 2012's Blu-ray audio presentation leaves most every other soundtrack in the dust, and there's rarely a dull moment to be heard, not to mention the more intense disaster and destruction scenes that positively rock the listening area to its foundation and leave every speaker in the 5.1 setup begging for mercy. This masterpiece of sound uses the entire stage to wonderful effect; surround speakers go ballistic, the fronts handle primary cues with unsurpassed ease and clarity, and the low end is as tight and invigorating as they come. Musical delivery is just one of the track's many strengths; the subtle yet haunting opening piece is delivered with a wonderfully precise low end and pinpoint clarity as it maneuvers through the soundstage and sets a wonderful tone for the movie that's never as scary or relevant as the music suggests, but does befit the material on a base level very well. Directional and surround effects are seamlessly delivered throughout; helicopters buzz through the sky in several scenes and by extension tear through the listening area with a prodigious presence, while the roar of jet engines send a screaming force through the soundstage that's as marvelously real and precise as they come. More subtle atmospherics add a sense of space and realism to the track, and again each effect is meticulously placed and realistically implemented into the overall sound mix; whether chirping birds, buzzing insects, or the rumblings and constant hum of a jet engine as heard inside its belly as it hurtles towards a safe location, all spruce the track up and create a sonic environment that consistently places the listener in the middle of every scene. Of course, it's 2012's massive-scale destruction sequences that define the track. Listeners can rest assured that every major disaster is packed with sonic goodness, from incredible bass to a symphony of surround activity that's all delivered with a clarity and precision that practically fools the senses into believing that the world is indeed collapsing all around and with an alarming accompanying collection of sound effects. Also featuring exceptional dialogue reproduction, 2012 delivers a dazzling and completely immersive listen that certainly suits the film and makes this a new reference-standard audio presentation.
2012 Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Though 2012's packaging states otherwise, this is actually a three-disc set with the feature film and select supplements on disc one, additional supplements and a PSP-only digital copy on a second Blu-ray disc, and a PC/iPod digital copy on disc three. Disc one begins with an audio commentary featuring Writer/Director Roland Emmerich and Co-Writer Harald Kloser. Unfortunately, the track is fairly drab with a monotone delivery from each participant. There's little enthusiasm but there is a nice wealth of 2012 knowledge to be found, with discussions revolving around the scientific backstory of the movie and making sure the audience could accept the reasoning behind the disaster, set design and props, character creation and development, the necessity of spending the opening 30 minutes on character and plot development that's free of action and explosions, the process of writing the script and fleshing out the characters, the creation of on-set and computer-generated special effects, and more. The track is a real drag, not so much because of its content but because of its delivery.
Also included is Picture-in-Picture: Roland's Vision, a secondary video track that plays in a box atop the movie that features various cast and crew recounting their experiences in the making of the film and the background revolving around its inception; discussing the plot, its themes, and its characters; speaking on the creation of the special effects; and much more. Aside from static interview shots, viewers will also see behind-the-scenes footage that shows glimpses of the making of each relevant scene. This serves as something of a larger-scale commentary, and even though the secondary window could stand to be a bit bigger, the feature works well and is a strong accompanying asset to the supplements. Disc one also features an alternate ending (1080p, 3:39); BD-Live functionality; Sony's MovieIQ connectivity; and 1080p trailers for Armored, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Did You Hear About the Morgans?, Angels & Demons, and Planet 51.
Disc two begins with Interactive Mayan Calendar (1080p), a supplement with four options. Mysteries of the Mayan Calendar (3:53, also available separately in the main menu) provides viewers with a look at how the Mayan's calendar system works and the importance of the year 2012. Mayan Personality Profile allows users to learn about their character traits based on the tzolk'in calendar (oddly enough, users can input a birthdate in years beyond 2012, supposedly for future use by as-of-yet unborn 2012 and Blu-ray enthusiasts, assuming there's still electricity and people in several years). Finally, Mayan Horoscope provides a future outlook for users based on birthdate. Also included is a legend with explanations of various words, names, and symbols found throughout the pieces. The next supplement is Designing the End of the World (1080i, 26:03), an in-depth examination of the film's extraordinary special effects and the challenges of acting around a series of blue screen-laden sets.
Roland Emmerich: The Master of the Modern Epic (1080i, 9:31) features cast and crew praising the work, vision, and style of the famed Disaster movie director. Science Behind the Destruction (1080i, 13:19) offers viewers a slightly more thorough examination of the science that sets the stage for the events in the movie. Next up is The End of the World: The Actor's Perspective (1080i, 7:34), a short piece that looks at the film's ensemble cast and the strengths they brought to the project. Countdown to the Future (1080i, 22:03) is a piece that takes a look at the Mayan calendar, the importance of the year 2012, and the possibility that the end-of-the-world prophesy may be coming true. Also included on disc two are five deleted scenes (1080p, 4:55); the "Time For Miracles" music video by Adam Lambert (1080i, 4:19); the making of the "Time For Miracles" music video (1080i, 2:43); and 1080p trailers for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Michael Jackson's This is It, By the People: The Election of Barack Obama, and "Breaking Bad." Disc two also contains a PSP-only digital copy of 2012. Unfortunately, it was unavailable for sampling at the time of publication, but this section of the review will be updated as this package's release date approaches. Disc three contains a standard PC/Mac digital copy of the film that, unlike the PSP edition, was available for downloading and sampling at the time of publication. Sampled on a Second Generation iPod Touch, viewers will find a watchable but somewhat problematic 1080p transfer that's nicely colored, strongly detailed, and sharp, but falls victim to excessive blocking and other compression artifacts. On the other hand, the soundtrack is nicely presented with crisp dialogue, sound effects that traverse from one side to the other, a fair low end, and sharp dialogue. Obviously, both presentations pale next to the Blu-ray, but for fans wishing to view the film on-the-go, the quality proves acceptable for such endeavors.
2012 Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
A few years prior to the movie's namesake, audiences are treated to a big but not completely dumb End-of-the-World flick that itself is far from being a disaster, even if anyone who seems hellbent on faulting it for not being the next Gone With the Wind would otherwise have people believe. No, 2012 isn't Gone With the Wind -- nor does it want to be -- but darn it if it isn't big, fun, and even a bit moving in places, a perfect popcorn movie that's everything it promises to be and even just a little bit more but without reaching for unattainable or unreasonable heights. 2012 has its flaws -- few movies don't -- but they're easy to ignore considering they're positively dwarfed by the film's scope, scale, special effects, sound, and even just a little bit of heart amidst the disaster movie clichés and formula construction. 2012 is easy to dismiss outright but hard not to enjoy once the lights dim and the curtains open, Director Roland Emmerich's picture the bearer of bad news but the bringer of one of the year's most entertaining and surprisingly effective movies. Sony's Blu-ray release does the film proud, the three-disc set featuring an excellent 1080p transfer, a stunner of a lossless soundtrack, and a host of extra content. Why not pick up a copy of 2012 on Blu-ray; in a couple of years, it won't matter anyway. Right?
2012: Other Editions
2012 Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Blu-ray Sales, March 29-April 4: It's Elementary (Update) - April 8, 2010
Sherlock Holmes was the top selling title on Blu-ray during the week ended April 4, according to Nielsen VideoScan. Guy Ritchie's reimagining of the world-famous English detective sold nearly three times as many BD copies as number 2, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The ...
• Blu-ray Sales, March 22-28: Big Toy Sale (Update) - April 1, 2010
The Blu-ray release of Pixar's first feature movie, Toy Story, and its sequel Toy Story 2, got first and third place respectively in the Blu-ray sales chart for the week ending March 28, according to Nielsen VideoScan First Alert. The Oscar-winning drama The Blind ...
• Blu-ray Sales, March 15-21: New Moon Shines - March 25, 2010
The Twilight Saga: New Moon was the top-selling title on Blu-ray during the week ended March 21, according to Nielsen VideoScan. Despite the "female-driven nature of the franchise" (to quote Summit's home entertainment president Steve Nickerson), 17% of the 4 million-plus ...
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