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2012 (8/10)

by Tony Medley

Run time 158 minutes.

OK for children.

While this is a disaster movie that nobody will take seriously, it’s instructive to know that last week a 25-foot wide asteroid missed the earth by 8,700 miles. That’s under the trajectory of lots of our satellites. In May a 40-yard wide asteroid missed earth by only 38,000 miles. We are in a shooting gallery and nobody’s watching, except amateurs. The government has nobody tracking satellites that might be on a collision course with earth. There was no official warning of either of these satellite encounters this year. The dinosaurs roamed earth for 125 million years. It is thought they were wiped out in the space of only three years as a result of an asteroid hit about 65 million years ago.

The tagline for this movie is “we were warned.” That’s the way I was feeling. I saw director-writer (with Harald Kloser) Roland Emmerich’s 2004 disaster epic, “The Day After Tomorrow” and it was one of the dumbest scripts in the history of Hollywood. As a result I entered this film “warned,” and without positive expectation.

So it was a great surprise to find a movie and script that rose above the spectacular special effects. Let’s face it, you have to suspend credulity when you enter a theater showing something like this. “Hamlet” it is not. But for an action picture, this passes muster; it keeps going at a breakneck pace. Emmerich used a B-list cast headed by John Cusack to tell a pretty good adventure story of a disaster caused by a huge eruption from the sun that causes, among other horrible catastrophes, the switching of the poles.

Cusack is joined by Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Oliver Platt, Thandie Newton, Danny Glover and Woodie Harrelson, none of whom possesses a name that brings throngs of fans flooding the ticket offices. Emmerich was wise to use his money on the special effects, because they are worth the price of admission (even if some are laughable; I guess when you are creating something like this, you can’t help but go too far), and I’m no fan of movies that rely on special effects. How much did Emmerich devote to special effects? There are 511 people who received credit for working on special effects and 80 additional who received credit for art work for this movie. All that effort is reflected in the high quality of the result.

The eruption of Yellowstone is especially effective. And, for people who might want to say that everything about this movie is ridiculous, Yellowstone has had three supereruptions that we know about, 2.1 million years ago, 1.3 million years ago, and the last 640,000 years ago. The upward movement of the Yellowstone caldera floor—almost 3 inches each year for the past three years—is more than three times greater than ever observed since such measurements began in 1923. The three caldera-forming eruptions, respectively, were about 2,500, 280, and 1,000 times larger than the May 18, 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens in Washington State. Together, the three catastrophic eruptions expelled enough ash and lava to fill the Grand Canyon. Figure it out. Another eruption is due. It can blow at any time with cataclysmic results.

But back to the movie, Cusack & Company are rushing to get to some arks all the governments of the earth have built to save the human race. Starting out, all Cusack and Peet and their children have is a beat up car, and they have to get to China from Los Angeles, which slides into the ocean right at the start of the movie. The others are fortunate to be able to fly on Air Force One. Naturally, every plane takes off racing just in front of earth splitting earthquakes that are just behind the planes as they race down the runway.

It’s a great adventure, told in a reasonably believable manner, considering that much of what is shown, especially all the close calls Cusack & Co. endure, is highly unlikely, if not preposterous. But cataclysms have happened to earth before and they will happen again. Nobody knows when.

I was cringing at the prospect of sitting through 2 ½ hours of what I anticipated would be a silly story and lots of CGI, but I have to admit that the story is good enough, the acting is well done, and the special effects mind-boggling. This movie is very entertaining.