Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Movie Review: 2012

Quick note, first of all. I’m going to be giving away spoilers. I want to discuss the movie, and I’m going to do so without pulling back so that the plot remains fresh for everyone. In terms of a spoiler free assessment of the movie, 2012 is a fun if formulaic disaster movie which does terrible, unspeakable things to science and expects the audience to believe a hell of a lot. A few loose ends bothered me, as well as how the ending progresses and the thought processes that went into the attempts to avoid the apocalypse, but overall, if you can ignore everything, it’s interesting visually. At times. If I were giving it a grade, it’s somewhere in the C/C- range. If you do not want the movie to be spoiled for you, do not read past this paragraph

So, 2012. Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor, who I was happy to see because I enjoyed him in Redbelt) is a geologist who’s meeting a colleague in India, apparently a particle physicist. The colleague informs Helmsley that a recent solar flare has changed some fundamental property of the trillions of neutrinos bombarding the earth and everything on it, such that they now interact with matter, sort of, and are heating up the earth’s core. This is all supposed to coincide in a hand-waving sort of way with the theory that, based on the Mayan long count calendar, the world will end on the winter solstice in 2012.

There are a few things about that that concern me.

Going through it bit by bit, I’m unsure how a solar flare is supposed to change the properties of fundamental particles like the neutrino. Neutrinos are produced at every moment by solar fusion, and are produced at such a rate that 65 billion or so pass through every square centimeter of the side of the earth that’s facing the sun every second of every day. Which would be a problem, if they interacted with ordinary matter. Luckily, they don’t. So they pass right through everything, only occasionally interacting. Let’s presume, for a moment, that something the sun did actually did change the nature of neutrinos such that they interact. Why, dear Liza, do they only interact with the core? It’s large and nickel and iron, primarily, but why are the neutrinos apparently still passing through things until they encounter the core? Shouldn’t the entirety of life on earth been wiped out long before we even started to notice that neutrino observatories are boiling (evidently not solely because of the neutrino-water molecule interactions, but because the core of the planet is heating up) by the new and interactive neutrinos smashing into the molecules that make up us, killing everyone off with severe radiation poisoning? And how much are the neutrinos heating up the core? It’s already several thousand degrees Celsius.

Ok. So ignoring all the problems the movie creates by blaming everything on solar flares and neutrinos (which I’m thinking was a convenient way to get to the Apocalypse by using things outside of common science knowledge), let’s get in to the actual premise. There are head nods to the Mayan long count calendar (the absurd hysteria about which the movie draws its notability from) and a few scientists pay the obligatory “How, with all our technology, could we not have known what the Mayans knew?” slam on modern science in preference of ancient knowledge. For the most part, though, there’s not enough room for it. And even though (enjoyably wacky) Woody Harrelson has a cartoon in the middle which points out that the long count calendar thing suggests that the world will end on December 21, 2012, the entirety of the movie takes place over a few days in August. How do I know this? It explicitly says that the events take place over a few days, and they show the London 2012 Olympics as being disrupted, which start on July 27th and end on August 12th. So, the Mayans correctly predicted the end of the world, but not really, and not in a way that makes sense scientifically. Hooray.

As for the actual action of the movie, it’s a standard disaster film. At no point do we really feel like the plucky American broken family isn’t going to make it. Hell, their enormous Russian airplane runs out of gas, and the earth’s crust has conveniently shifted so that not only do they not land in the South China Sea, but they land apparently about ten miles from their destination and only shot at survival. Which is convenient. I’d note that this massive crust shift has apparently occurred while maintaining the continents in pretty much their current shape (and without, say, the Indian subcontinent plowing the hell through China). Oh, and for some reason the global catastrophe that is ripping the Earth apart from the inside out hits California first, then works its way around the world from there. And the designers of the massive arks on which humanity is to survive apparently assumed that there would be no debris in the massive tidal wave for which they were preparing, and so humanity is almost destroyed. Again. And the captain of the American ship is apparently Grand Moff Tarkin.

Sorry. I got distracted by the massive amount of things that made no sense whatsoever. The family drama is pretty standard. Ex-husband dad living on his own is jealous of the attention that his kids pay to his ex-wife’s new doctor boyfriend who is portrayed, at least in the beginning, as a tool. Eventually, Dad A learns that Dad B isn’t such a bad guy after all, and we eventually end up feeling like Dad B is getting the shaft, as he’s flying the plane and saving everyone’s life while Dad A gets back with his ex-wife. Dad B ends up unceremoniously dispatched (by gears!) which no one cares about or ever mentions again. Dad A gets back with his family guilt free and everyone’s happy. Obviously.

In the meantime, though, Chiwetel (I’m referring to the character Adrian by his actor’s first name because how awesome is “Chiwetel”) convinces an Angela Merkel clone and several other world leaders to let the people that are still on the dock onto the ship, thus showing that money doesn’t buy everything and the wasteful luxury rooms upon the ark will be used for a more utilitarian purpose, saving as many as possible. There’s only one problem I have with that. The only people who are on the dock are the Chinese workers (with whom I have no problem saving) and people who knew about the project, paid, and simply weren’t let on. They’re all still people who paid one billion euros for the trip. It’s not like they’re running around, saving the salt of the earth from certain destruction. It’s still all the rich guys. It’s just more rich guys who are less comfortable. There’s nothing wrong with saving them, of course, as they’re people too, but it sort of undercuts the “only those who were able to afford ludicrously priced seats survived” that it seems like the movie was going for.

Overall, I’m not sure I’ll ever watch it again. If you liked other apocalyptic movies that don’t actually make much sense when you stop to think about them, watch 2012. And the world’s not going to end. If you worry about the world ending in 2012, you should probably send me all the money you have, as you are clearly in no state to make informed decisions about how to live, and if you’re right, it won’t matter anyway.

That was a long post. Yes.

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