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Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

Let’s Blow Up the Planet!

How is it possible that some critics have given 2012 a pass?

I’m not an elitist. I understand that sometimes you just want to put down your twelve bucks and see a spectacle. I don’t always need my films to be contemplative or poignant, sometimes I enjoy seeing a purely visual feast that shows me some really cool things I haven’t seen before.  All I ask is that it doesn’t insult my intelligence and that it follows the rules that it has set up.  It’s also nice if there could be a particularly original or audacious moment or two.

When I am very famliiar with 2012 director Roland Emmerich’s work. I remember what an event it was to see Independence Day in the theater when I was a kid, and how much I enjoyed the hoopla surrounding it — so much so that I enjoyed the film mostly because of the excitement of it all and seeing the crowd around me get completely sucked in by the overt manipulation. It was a fun time at the picture show.  But I remember my stepfather telling me over and over again, after he had seen it, that it was a copy of the original War of the Worlds, that Hollywood doesn’t make anything new anymore and everything’s been done before and been done better.

At the time, I thought my stepfather was crazy for suggesting that Independence Day wasn’t original or that the effects from a movie in the ’50s could even compare to the effects in that film.  He bought me the VHS of War of the Worlds and so I watched it and afterwards, I thought, “wow, that was a much richer movie experience. The effects were there in service of the plot and characters, not as a substitute for the plot and characters.”  I told my stepfather that he was right, it was a bad copy of a better film and I realize I’m becoming a fuddy-duddy just like him, telling everyone I know that Hollywood doesn’t make anything new anymore.  Now both of us can be found at family gatherings watching TCM together.

But the point is that 2012 is perhaps the least original film I have ever seen.  Literally every moment, every scene, every line of dialogue is something you have seen or heard before. It is a compendium of disaster movie clichés. You want Poseidon Adventure? You got it. Who cares if it was remade a few years ago? You want Volcano?  Bam, supervolcano.  You want fireballs to shoot from the sky like meteors in Armageddon?  Here you are.  You want to see religious and cultural landmarks get destroyed like in every other modern disaster film?  This is it.

Call me crazy, but I’m not as keen these days on seeing the world destroyed as a form of entertainment.  Watching the deaths of billions of people just doesn’t do it for me anymore.  But I’m actually kind of offended by the way this particular film uses real-life disasters – tsunamis, buildings destroyed, massive earthquakes – as fodder for a dumb story that doesn’t really have a point. The world gets destroyed, shit happens, deal with it, look at these cool special effects. We have had real-life horrors in the past decade and have witnessed thousands killed my tsunamis, hurricanes, etc. and while I think it’s fine to use natural disasters in your films, I think to reference those events and make light of them the way this film does is indefensible really.  It’s genocide as amusement.

I started keeping mental notes in the first ten minutes about all the dumb things that occur 2012 and then I gave up because I couldn’t watch the movie anymore if I focused on all the idiocy.  I will just say that I was particularly amused by how calm the non-pilot new boyfriend of Amanda Peet’s character when he’s flying his tiny plane away from utter destruction.  The look on actor Tom McCarthy’s face is one of utter stability. These people aren’t trained for this, yet they somehow can fly planes, use defensive driving techniques, outrun fireballs, etc.

I especially love the skepticism of Amanda Peet’s character even after she was in a supermarket that was ripped apart. John Cusack is racing over to her house to save the whole family and she’s acting like nothing important happened in her life in the past 24 hours, despite the fact that she almost fell down a hole into the center of the Earth. But no, it’s Saturday and it’s time to make the kids breakfast and take them to ballet recitals.  It’s stuff like this that is so easily fixable; to simply make a character react in the appropriate manner is not that hard.

But that’s not even the tip of the iceberg. The film doesn’t even work on a basic story level.  The film is tangential at best, flitting about to different parts of the world with barely drawn characters getting killed. One character, an Indian scientist, figures to be a prominent part of the film, then is forgotten about for two hours until he dies. George Segal is on a cruise ship and is goofing around, then calls his son for the first time in years right before his son dies.  We don’t really know much about the back story there, it just kind of happens and we move along.

There are story threads all over the place and they are left hanging a lot, which would be bothersome if we ever actually cared for a moment about any of them.  My favorite moment of the film is when the main family finally gets on the boat that will save humanity and then the filmmakers realized that they need to kill off Cusack’s competition for Peet’s affections, so they do that quickly and then everyone forgets about him. That includes Cusack’s son who had grown very attached to McCarthy’s character.

To keep two of the main threads linked tenuously, we have Chiwetel Ejiofor’s White House science guy reading Cusack’s character’s disaster book. And then Ejiofor perpetually quotes from the book like its gospel; it would be like the President’s top science advisor continually quoting Michael Crichton at every turn.  “Well, I’m a scientist and I predicted this event.  But instead of boring you with the ins and outs of what’s happening, I’m going to tell you this brilliant quote about humanity.  No, it’s not by Aristotle or Nietzche.  It’s by a shitty author who wrote a genre book.”

In the end we’re faced with the fact that pretty much everyone on Earth, save a few hundred thousand, has died.  Somehow this is supposed to be a hopeful and happy ending that humanity is now going to rebuild itself.  I think it’s usually a pretty sad ending when most of humankind has been wiped off the face of the planet, but that’s just me and we know I’m a nutjob.

The acting is as good as it can be in a film like this.  I admire the choices of having Cusack, Peet, McCarthy, Thandie Newton, Ejiofor, and Woody Harrelson hanging around and it’s always fun to see Oliver Platt chew green screen.  I can accept the fact that everyone needs a paycheck once in a while – look at Nicolas Cage – so I forgive them for being in the film.  But I can’t forgive the film for wasting these talented actors in cardboard cutout characters.

More and more, I feel like my stepfather. I know that young people are going to see this film and be amazed by the “originality” of it all.  And I feel bad because they aren’t going to be crazy film geeks like you and me, who will seek out those better films that 2012 apes.  But on a personal level, watching a film like this – that, granted, is diverting at times – makes me not want to see films like this anymore.

When I began writing this column, I talked about how I had a need to see everything I could – from the great to the horrible – but I’m beginning to feel like I shouldn’t waste my time with movies like this.  Especially because I could have told you everything about it without having seen a frame; there’s little enjoyment in knowing every trick the filmmaker has up their sleeve.  And special effects, as wonderful as they can be, don’t draw me to a theater anymore.  I just want to see good stories.  So I thank you 2012 and Roland Emmerich, for helping to kill my passion for film.
– Noah Forrest
November 16, 2009

Noah Forrest is a 26-year-old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writers and do not neccessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon