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Thank God The Damned Dog Survived

November 25th, 2009

So, I spent part of my vacation day at the theater watching 2012.

Don’t look at me like that. I’ve seen what you do with your time.

Yes, I knew going in that it was nothing more than disaster porn. But hey, I grew up in the days of Irwin Allen. I saw Earthquake in Sensurround. I watched Shelley Winters drown again and again. And goodness knows how many times When Worlds Collide aired on WGN-TV’s Family Classics. Someone’s mother dies of cancer? That’s heartbreaking. Millions of people perish in a fiery abyss? That’s entertainment!

Of course, there was also the Roland Emmerich factor. To be charitable, the man’s work isn’t known for intricately plotted scripts and deep characterizations. Yet I enjoyed Stargate and yes, Independence Day. (Shut up about the computer virus, already. It was a fun movie and I don’t care.)

In the end, my desire to see the earth burn won out over the scars I’ve carried since Emmerich’s Godzilla remake.

The disaster porn portions of 2012 were great fun, but unfortunately the rest of it was more Godzilla or The Day After Tomorrow than Independence Day.

2012

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now. Yes, the “end of the Mayan calendar in 2012″ thing is bullshit. Doesn’t matter. I read Silver Age comic books; I’m not all that worried about scientific accuracy or spurious folklore in my popcorn flicks.

Fortunately, aside from a few “the Mayans knew this was coming” references, the 2012 apocalypse apocrypha doesn’t come up all that much. For the most part, 2012‘s scenario owes more to old-timey sci-fi disasters like Crack in the World or the aforementioned When Worlds Collide. Rising temperatures within the earth’s core buckle the crust, causing colossal earthquakes, subsidences and tsunami.

The disaster scenes, especially the harrowing flight through a collapsing Los Angeles, are an E-ticket amusement park attraction. That’s not a criticism. But they definitely have the feel of an out-of-control Indiana Jones ride.

Now, that scene in the trailer with John Cusack’s plane staying just ahead of cracks in the earth and falling debris? Pretty much the whole first half of the film is like that. Cusack barely escapes L.A., then barely escapes Yellowstone, then barely escapes Las Vegas. His character has an impenetrable shield of script immunity. Nothing is gonna stop him surviving the end of the world and reuniting his broken family.

I found it amusing that I’ve been to every one of the U.S. locations marked for destruction. Santa Monica? Check. Hawaii? Check. It was like my most destructive vacation video.

I got a kick out of the audacious and ridiculous disaster scenes. I’m pretty sure that I spotted the Pope being crushed in the collapse of the Vatican.

But when landmarks weren’t going splat, it was rough going. The whole John Cusack and his estranged spouse and her new husband angle played out in the most pedestrian manner possible. And with few exceptions–notably a cameo by Woody Harrelson as a pickle-eating conspiracy theorist–there wasn’t a lot of humor. I like Cusack, but in terms of cocky heroics, he’s no Will Smith.

Plus, did I mention that is was 158 minutes long? (When Worlds Collide was 83 minutes.) Just when the whole thing seems to be wrapping up, there’s an entire third (or fourth) act where they’ve got to pull the thing out of the thing before the other thing hits a really big thing.

It should not be a spoiler that John Cusack survives. Never mind that it would’ve been more dramatically appropriate for him to die in defense of his former family and their New Dad, or that it would’ve been somewhat unexpected for a big star like Cusack to be ground between two enormous gears. (Modern filmmakers forget that Gene Hackman–the star of The Poseidon Adventure–went down with the ship.)

This is a Roland Emmerich film. And that means that not only does Cusack make it to the credits, so does the dog.

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