In my last entry, I said, in reference to this film that it was “rrrrubbish,” and I stand by that assessment.
Leaving aside the ridiculous assumption that the Mayans were capable of, and predicted a global cataclysm at the end of the Long Count on their calendar – which, in reality, they didn’t do; one is still left with a film big on hype, yet small on delivery.
The first problem with the film is that it takes itself far too seriously. If you are going to kill off 6 billion people, at least you could have some good one-liners and jokes interspersed into the dialogue to give the audience some comic relief. What little comic relief there is seems forced and only managed to generate a mild chuckle from the audience at best.
Let’s be frank about this movie though – it isn’t about the plot, it’s about destroying the planet, and making it look good. Hell, it’s about making the audience member say, “cool! Emmerich does do that with his disaster sequences; but most of those are already available to be viewed on Youtube as part of the hype generated to get you to shell out some ungodly sum of hard-earned money at a theatre, then another ungodly sum of money to buy a small coke and popcorn (with artificially-coloured-butter-flavoured-grease) for $25.00 a person!
So, listing off the “really-cool disaster-scenes” gives us:
1) California being hit by The Big Ten – this is the mother of all earthquakes. Every fault linein California goes at once, which gives us a wonderful opportunity to see collapsing buildings, freeways, houses, falling people, cars, subway trains (which then explode,) vast botemless abysess, breaking glass, car crashes, people screaming, the entire coast sliding into the ocean, all while our Token Main Character Family manages to safely navigate through all these gratuitous CGI special effects in (a) a stretch limousine and then (b) an airplane rented by the Token Main Character and flown by his ex-wife’s new plastic surgeon boyfriend who – luckily – has taken two flying lessons. (Later, he becomes co-pilot on the world’s largest cargo plane.). After two flying lessons, he does pretty well too – successfully taking off as the runway collapses behind him, flying under falling subway trains, over falling cars – who’s occupants seem hell-bent on honking their horn as they tumble to their deaths (and can be heard from with an airplane) – and between falling skyscrapers.
While all this wanton destruction is Really Cool(tm) it’s way over the top. The detail is too high – first, Emmerich has forgotten that buildings in California are meant to be earthquake resistant. Yes, I realize this is meant to be The Motherload Of All Earthquakes, but anyone who saw the Twin Towers come down on 9/11 has a point of comparison. There comes a point where less is actually more.
2) (Probably the coolest effect of the movie) The explosion of the Yellowstone Supervolcano. This one is plausible in that yes, there is a supervolcano in Yellowstone Park, and if it does, in fact, go, the explosion will be massive. That in itself was okay, but (a) pyroclastic clouds don’t occur until the eruption begins to weaken, (b) travel faster than mach 1 – which means that you can neither outrun one in a two-engine prop airplane nor a freaking winnebego, (c) if you were in one, you’d be dead after taking two breaths – the first one fills your lungs with superheated volcanic ash which then turns to a muddy sludge, and the second breath pulls more in which solidifies the sludge; and if the ash didn’t kill you, the sulphur dioxide would; and if that wasn’t bad enough, the extreme heat would get you, (d) engines of winnebegos and twin-engine prop aircraft don’t particularly like being gummed up by fine particles of superheated volcanic ash either.
3) Las Vegas. More earthquake destruction and escape from the encroaching ash cloud (which now apparently packs enough punch to destroy an air traffic control tower, complete with the guy inside the tower screaming over the radio as he dies) and more falling buildings with Really Cool(tm) cgi.
4) Washington DC – smashed to bits by a tsunami carrying the USS John F. Kennedy aircraft carrier. Funny that The White House was the only building with the lights on…
5) Earth Crust Displacement – amusing line – “you mean to say that the North Pole is now in Wisconsin?” “South Pole, actually.” We don’t actually see this happen, but it’s spoken about and conveniently resolves a problem for our Token Main Character Family.
Interestingly, if the earth’s crust is displaced as explained, it’s rather odd that the Himilayas and the Big Secret Ark Project built within them aren’t affected – no evidence of earthquake destruction or anything.
6) Hawaii – why anyone would (a) think Hawaii would be spared all the Really Cool(tm) wanton destruction is way beyond me; but our Token Main Characters do; only to find the entire islands demolished by the erupting volcanos and subsequent lava flows. More Really Cool(tm) effects of burning and falling buildings.
Not only that, but strangely, Hawaii isn’t affected by the Crust Displacement; so is exactly where our Token Main Characters expect it to be. Odd. Convenient, but odd.
7) Cruise ship capsized. Okay, plausible given a Really Big Wave could do this, but come on – first, the Captain would have seen it coming on radar, second, tsunamis only get big as the ocean gets shallow (and this ship was placed over some of the deepest areas on the planet) and third, anyone who knows anything about ships or boats knows that you always – always – turn your boat into the wave so it doesn’t hit you broadside. This captain clearly didn’t know what he was doing. I wonder if this was a nod to that hollywood flop, Poseidon.
8) Mega-tsunamis. The teaser trailer to this film featured a tsunami crashing over the Himilayas. That would need to be one hell of a tidal, wave – which it is – however once it gets to the Himilayas, I’d have expected it to have been carrying far more debris than it actually was.
So there are the disaster sequences, all of which are squeezed into 90 minutes of screen time (the latter part of the film). The first hour of the film is as boring as snot, given virtually nothing actually happens.
Wrapped within the them of Global Destruction is the story of our Token Main Characters – an author who, while published, hasn’t managed to make the big league, his bitter ex-wife who has shacked up with the Plastic Surgeon (Dr. Boob McGraw, anyone?) Boyfriend, who she – in her words, “loves enough.”
Throughout the film, numerous supporting characters are introduced and then killed off. One by one, as the various disasters occur. We the audience are meant to care, yet we are never really given the opportunity to engage with the characters.
Another major characterization problem is this extended family scenario sets up a love triangle. Not only is this Cliche Soap Opera at its worst, but it’s obvious from the beginning of the film the story will eventually result in a reconcilliation between the husband and the ex-wife. Supporting characters in the story include the Rich Russian Businessman, (who is killed off) his two kids (who aren’t killed off – you can’t kill off kids in movies; that’s just wrong,) and his Buxom Blonde Girlfriend. We learn as the story progresses that Dr. Boob McGraw is the guy who gave Buxom Blonde Girlfriend her surgery, and the Rich Russian Businessman is the client of the Token Main Character Novelist Guyn who took a job as a limo driver to make ends meet. Just a little bit of a cooincidence there, but that aside, it would make sense to have Dr. Boob and Buxom Blonde hook up while Token Main Character Guy and Ex-wife reconcile. Instead, we end up seeing Dr. Boob get mangled to death between two great big gear wheels, and Buxom Blonde drown.
The problem I have with Buxom Blonde is that she gets trapped in the second of a series of three water-tight comparments on a Great Big Secret Ark. The outermost watertight compartment, as water comes flooding in should, in theory, fill up first. Now, the ceiling of these compartments is a mesh floor. Clearly, the builders of these ships used the plans for the Titanic in their construction project.
With respect to Dr. Boob, when he gets killed off, the Bitter Ex-wife looks sad for about five seconds then takes an, “oh, well” attitude.
If our characters don’t care about each other, we won’t either.
A far better Token Main Character family would have been Russian guy with a dead wife, two kids, and not even introduce Buxom Blonde or Dr. Boob. Simply make the son a 17-year old studying to be a pilot! Problem solved, and no cliche cop-out resolutions needed.
Finally, Emmerich tosses in some Humanitarian moral issues for good measure, including a debate between Sleazy Politician Guy and Head Science Guy over the value of human life. I guess on top of killing 6 billion people, we need a message on morality rammed down our throats as well.
So, with that, I say again: “Rrrrrubbish!”
Rating on a scale of 1 to 10: Pi.