Disney Apocalypse: Why 2012 Sucks
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It is among the most wondrous mysteries of the ancient world: how did the Maya, a civilization that preceded Rex Reed by millennia, know about plot spoilers?
By ending their "long count" calendar precisely on the 2012 winter solstice, the most advanced Mesoamericans allegedly gave away the date of the world's end. The details of what will happen are a matter of debate among the 2012-ers, both professional and amateur. But those who bother to write and speak about 2012 agree that something big and very possibly bad waits on the other side of the countdown -- which might as well have begun with last week's release of the Roland Emmerich blockbuster.
Not surprisingly, Emmerich chose to run with the most catastrophic interpretation of the soon-to-expire pre-Columbian calendar. The director has always used the biggest hammers at his disposal, from Godzilla, to aliens, to climate change. This time, 2012 end-time theory offers the ultimate canvas for the director's Bosch-meets-Benji style. According to his version of it, the 2012 climax comes fast and furious when solar flares, gamma rays, and "evolved" neutrinos combine to wreak atmospheric and tectonic havoc on our home planet.
Amazingly, say the starry-eyed soothsayers, the Maya saw it all coming. Centuries before Cotton Mather's Puritans invented the Rapture Bunny to pass those long New England winter nights, they figured out the exact date, one tied to the observable events of a solstice and higher-than-usual sun flare activity.
If it seems a little eerie that the Maya picked a day that lines up with solstice and sun flares, it really shouldn't. Solstices and sun flares are common cyclical events. The first occurs every six months, the second every 50 to 100 years. Despite the 2012 publishing boomlet, there is zero scientific evidence backing up theories of impending calendric cataclysm in three years time. Throw in the modern Mayans' own disavowal of apocalyptic readings of their own calendar, and the 2012 doomsday freak-out looks doubly dubious. We moderns don't usually take seriously the teachings of ancients who practiced ritual toddler sacrifice. Yet when it comes to the end of the Mayans' peculiar calendar, a growing number of Amazon.com shoppers and History Channel viewers seem eager to make an exception.
In honor of the plot spoiling Mayans, here's another 2012 giveaway: the new Emmerich film is worse than anyone predicted. There are those who may tell you that it is so bad that it is actually good. Don't believe it. If you want to see what the end of the world looks like, see John Hillcoat's The Road, not this Disney apocalypse.
The movie finds its hero in the Dad-of-the-Year heroics of John Cusack, a failing novelist. Cusack's character takes his brats camping and meets a short-wave radio conspiracy spaz (Woody Harrelson) and the scientist (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who is in the process of ringing the alarm over impending doom. Cusack then leads his family through a mind-numbingly improbable apocalyptic adventure-course, pausing to enjoy Hallmark moments that would get laughed out of a creative session for the next Maxwell House campaign. An hour after the film should have ended, Cusack is still at it, performing a feat of underwater endurance not seen onscreen since Sho Kosugi's ninja B-movies of the 1980s. He and his family then sail boldly into the Year One dawn, which looks and sounds like a combination of Ronald Reagan's 1984 reelection commercial, "Morning in America," and a diaper ad. (The film's last line is actually a blatant product placement for Huggies Pull-Ups.)
If the story arc and idiocy level sound familiar, it's because the expensive template used for 2012 is the one Emmerich pressed five years ago in The Day After Tomorrow. It's becoming a very popular template. Steven Spielberg is using something similar for his 2010 remake of When Worlds Collide, the 1951 sci-fi classic that first used the myth of the American Adam in the context of secular apocalypse. Hopefully, When Worlds Collide will flop and achieve burnout for a genre that should never have existed in the first place: the planetary holocaust feel-good movie. But that's unlikely; 2012 is already one of the year's biggest hits.