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Sunday, 2 May 2010

This wasn't the still from the movie 2012 that I wanted to put here. What I wanted was the shot of the arks steaming three-in-a-row across the calm, post-apocalyptic sea toward the Cape of Good Hope. Bringing restless humanity back from the New World to the first inhabited continent.

But that picture is not included in the promotional trailer. More's the pity.

In a nutshell, the movie is visually striking, serving up disaster in dollops large enough to satisfy the most jaded tastes. Criticism of the weak plot sorta miss the point.

Most interesting of the characters is Woody Harrelson's Charlie Frost, a dedicated end-time observer who lives in a campervan on the grounds of Yellowstone National Park. He has sussed out the entire devious plot behind the deaths of numerous people killed by the government to keep quiet some fairly disquieting astronomical developments and the massive engineering project that has been launched to save humanity from extinction.

The science behind the disaster is not, of course, spelled out in detail. What it comes down to is that there is a period of solar flares that spits out neutrinos that attack the earth's matrix, causing the hot stuff under the crust to heat up. The crust 'destabilises' causing massive movements of the earth's surface.

This tectonic shift is humorously brought home to us. Having left North America behind, aboard a giant Antonov jet freight carrier, Jackson Curtis (John Cusack), his family and wife Amanda's new boyfriend Gordon Silberman (Thomas McCarthy) decide it's better not trying to refuel on Hawaii as the island chain is now engulfed by volcanic eruptions. As they fly over the Pacific, low on fuel, they see mountains. It's the Himalayas, which have shifted 1000 kilometres east on top of the rapidly-moving continental plates.

Naturally, they escape the doomed aircraft on board a Bentley (! Curtis, a novelist, supplements his meagre income from writing by chauffeuring for a rich Russian expatriate and his bratty children).

Having escaped California on aircraft, the troupe, which includes Jackson and Amanda's two children, try to get onto one of seven arks built by world governments. These fantastic craft are waiting for the expected tsunamis high up in the mountains of Tibet.

A lot of others, mainly people rich enough to have been able to afford the $1 billion price tag, are also waiting. But there seems to have been a glitch in the system. The US president has stayed behind in Washington, so command of the mission switches to Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt). Anheuser argues with scientist Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) over the wisdom of allowing this mass of humanity onto the craft. The clock is ticking, with a wave expected in minutes.

Helmsley wins that argument, but it may be too late for everyone. The reason for this is that the cargo door cannot shut. Getting Curtis and his clan of renegades onto the boat caused a pneumatic wrench to get stuck in the gears driving the doors. It's now a race against time to extricate the equipment from the mechanism before the ark will crash into the looming bulk of Mount Everest, which is now being washed by billions of litres of ocean.

It all turns out OK, of course, except for Gordon who gets crushed by the gnashing gears. Rack up one point for the nuclear family.

This little drama is overshadowed by the heated spat between Helmsley and Anheuser, which is one that comes down to safety for the chosen elite or compassion for the clamouring majority. Set aside the fact that those people waiting on the dock for salvation are wealthy. Compassion is an important message that does not get lost on the audience. "What kind of stories will we tell out children," asks Helmsley at one point during the set-to.

It's a good point, and one that highlights the good intentions of the movie makers. Criticisms of the plot's clunky underpinnings are not unwarranted. But the fantastic special effects compensate for any weakness in this area.

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