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2012

Roland Emmerich. Perhaps it’s a weakness on my part, but I tend to forget just how dismal the vast majority of his endeavours have been. A new Emmerich extravaganza rolls around, the trailer offers up broad, large-scale mayhem and I duplicitously cancel my disbelief and think: ‘Yeah, big stuff, a world in peril, buildings ripped in half by vast crevices opening up in the shitstormed planet, apocalyptic nightmares writ large. Who cares about how crap his films are? This is a bomb-subtle ride I WANT TO GET ON!’

I don’t hate myself for this goodwill. It’s perhaps a remnant from decades gone by, when pretty much ALL films, particularly disaster movies or sci-fi epics, offered up everything I wanted. I didn’t ask for much, and I often got more. ‘V’ the TV series, if you watch it again, has its moments, but it’s pretty shocking on the whole. Nostalgia can do terrible things. At the time, it was a terrifying assault on Earth, humans you cared about being nicked for food, lizards masquerading as humans (with peely-off skin!), an epic tussle for the future of our planet. Ultimately, I’m easy pickings for this kind of film.

So I still have this supine expectancy when given any encouragement. Memories of Godzilla being truly abysmal are gleefully cast aside. John Cusack is onboard! He’s not just being ironic and paying for a new condo! I’m ready for Armageddon and Earth getting ravaged by all manner of shit! Etc.

Then you watch it. You buckle up for the funride. You switch your brain off and wait for your senses to be bombarded with glorious catastrophe and John Cusack looking pained as houses collapse and he legs it from state to state avoiding the snapping jaws of CGI death. The pre-amble unfolds. The madness is imminent. But…

Big but. Never in popular cinema has such little regard been paid to character. These are ciphers. Okay. This isn’t Rachel Getting Married and never strives for that. It’s a marquee mash-up with no time for such deliberations. But Emmerich serves up the most feebly perfunctory suggestions of human beings I’ve ever seen outside Australian soap opera. We are informed, more than anything, about the relationships between the protagonists through shameless exposition and off-the-peg plot-advancement dialogue.

There is the implicit understanding that we wouldn’t care anyway, and we’re only here for the fireworks. So here’s ‘A’, they’re doing such and such and ‘B’ is really important to them so they need to avoid ‘C’…let’s just topple shit, shall we? The upshot being that there is rarely a sense of remote concern, let alone mortal danger or dread. It’s the work of a little kid in a sandbox smashing up all his toys just for the hell of it. Which, in theory, might be quite fun to watch. Emmerich, however, really has gone to great lengths to make the end of the Earth as unstirring an event as you could possibly imagine.

Nothing as large-scale has ever been as uninvolving or blandly realised outside a crap console game. You will suffer the strange experience of watching the world get the shit kicked out of it whilst checking the remaining running time. It is an innocuous dribble of a film.

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