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2012

Year: 2009
Studio: Columbia
Director: Roland Emmerich
Producer: Howard Kloser/Roland Emmerich
Writer: Howard Kloser/Roland Emmerich
Cast: John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt, Danny Glover, Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton

Once upon a time, the entire USP of cinema was its scale. If Roland Emmerich and CGI had existed in the 1920s, right now we would have been hailing him as the prophet for a new medium, as visionary as Orson Welles.

At the end of the first decade of the 21st century, we're far more discriminating as a culture, and just doing 'big' isn't enough. Of course, it's enough to fill studio coffers and ensure they keep asking you back to helm more blockbusters, the profits from 2012 having swept away records like the mile high waves that sweep the world clean in the movie.

But history will remember 2012 as an overblown turkey with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, Emmerich apparently having thrown every crazy idea he had about a global apocalypse onto the screen. If we could go back in time and tell moviegoers of the 1920s and 30s that we have much more respect for small scale, subtle films they'd probably laugh at us. Big – they'd scoff – is what the movies are for!

Emmerich is firmly rooted in that same old-style aesthetic, using the latest tools to do his bidding. He's much more interested in showing us the most insane stuff he can dream up, the kind of stuff even kids playing with Lego bricks hardly imagine. Los Angeles falling into the San Andreas fault? Rio's Christ the Redeemer toppling down the mountain? St Peter's Basilica toppling into Vatican Square? Yellowstone National Park going up in an inferno that would rival Krakatoa? Do 'em all, and throw some characters torn straight from a Disney playbook in to run from them.

Not many critics fault the visuals (if they do, nothing is going to make them love a movie that celebrates the size of the screen like this), but almost all of them fault Emmerich's pat characters and dialogue, the divorced Dad (Cusack), humane egghead who finally gets the floor (Ejiofor), sniveling government type (Platt) et al. They're all devices around which the enormous set pieces spin and anchor, and while it's true the film would be just a special effects reel without them, it's a corny film with great special effects.

Despite all that, there are faults with the effects too. If anything, there are way too many. The Los Angeles destruction scene was seamless even after two viewings, but the destruction got so much bigger and more cartoonish with each new sequence the movie – in hindsight – blew it's CGI wad too early. The final few sequences of huge metal ships churning and floating through the Himalayan mountains looked like scenes taken straight from a videogame about a sci-fi world of the far future. The entire final third feels far too divorced from reality.

But from the minute you sit down to watch a Roland Emmerich movie, you're decidedly divorcing yourself from reality. A few scientific-sounding script clunkers explain away a big boys' movie about destruction for it's own sake, a PG movie were billions perish and we collectively call it a good time popcorn movie.

Emmerich has said this is his last global disaster movie, but without the good time and popcorn, will he be able to do anything else?

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