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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » 2012 (Blu-ray)
2012 (Blu-ray)
Sony Pictures // PG-13 // March 2, 2010 // Region Free
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted February 23, 2010 | E-mail the Author
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AAAAARRRHHHHHH!!!

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AAAAARRRHHHHHH!!!

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AAAAARRRHHHHHH!!!

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AAAAARRRHHHHHH!!!

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A lot of critics shrugged 2012 off as disaster porn when it first made the rounds in theaters last Fall, but I'm pretty sure the XXX crowd doesn't take 45 minutes to get around to the first money shot.

So
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anyway, it turns out that the Mayan calendar ends at 2012. Maybe you're cynical and think, "well, their calendar's gotta end sometime", and...okay, you probably have something there. I mean, I can't waltz into Wal-Mart and get a Robert Pattinson calendar for the year 2048 quite yet...y'know, you only go out so far with that sort of thing. On the other hand, the Mayans were hundreds upon hundreds of years ahead of their time studying all sorts of other celestial bodies, so it's not out of the realm of possibility that they clued into something we haven't... Cue the ominous sting in the score! Sunspots have been flaring up quite a bit over the past few years, and as the story goes, blasts of radiation from those sunspots are overheating the guts of our planet. Like a chicken pot pie left in the microwave too long, the crust is eventually going to buckle under all that pressure and burst wide open.

...and it does. Civilization as we know it is crumbling into ruin, and in the finest Irwin Allen tradition, we see it all through the eyes of an ensemble cast of some of today's hottest stars! like Steve McQueen and George KennedyJohn Cusack, Danny Glover, and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Cusack stars as a failed author-slash-limo driver who reconnects with his ex-wife (Amanda Peet) and kids as the world falls apart around 'em. Chewie is the geologist who brings news of the coming apocalypse to the government but soon questions how they've chosen to preserve some semblance of humanity. Danny Glover's supposed to be the president but comes off more like a kindly old uncle or something. Oh, and there are a couple of aging jazz musicians on an oversized cruise ship, along with twentysomething other people scattered across the globe that I haven't got around to mentioning yet, but...whatever. They're not the point. Lotsa talking, a frantic chase against $380 quadrillion bucks of visual effects sorcery, standing like Colorforms in front of a digitally-rendered backdrop where they talk some more...lather, rinse, repeat.

2012 doesn't really have characters in the sense of...y'know, characters; they're Reaction Shots. Roland Emmerich just needed a gaggle of actors to stare slackjawed at a green screen, and eventually, a few hundred visual effects artists would drop in CGI behind 'em of the world being split down the middle. Most of these thinly-sketched characters have been gutted down to a three or four word summary, and maybe one'll score a quirky habit like Pickle-Munching or Hat-Hoarding to pass for personality.

The ambitious visual effects are the
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hook of the whole thing, but it takes forever for the first one -- L.A. crumbling apart and sinking into the ocean -- to finally rear its digitally-rendered head. Is it spectacularly detailed and breathlessly intense...? Yeah, but because 2012 was so heavily marketed around its disaster footage, I felt as if I'd already seen just about every last second of this months in advance. 2012 is also dragged down by the fact that the destruction of Los Angeles is the by far most elaborate setpiece in the movie. Not only is it downhill from there, but an awful lot of the rest of it's just more of the same. There are two frustratingly similar scenes with John Cusack careening ahead in a clunky ride and barely keeping a couple inches ahead of a road that's collapsing in the rear view mirror. One sequence has a pilot shakily navigating around Los Angeles as it collapses into ruin, and then a half-hour or whatever later, there's pretty much the exact same scene again, only now they've piled into a bigger plane in Vegas. I can halfway picture Roland Emmerich racking his brain trying to think of a way to top it, and then a cartoon lightbulb pops up over his head: wait, have John Cusack drive a car coming out of a plane! After that, it's a bunch of tidal waves crashing into stuff.

The sheer scope and spectacle of its visual effects are the
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driving force behind 2012, and yet they make up a relatively tiny percentage of a bloated runtime that drags on for two hours and thirty-eight minutes. 2012 is at least too long by half. If you're gonna introduce 14,000 characters in a movie that's longer than the theatrical cut of Apocalypse Now, make 'em compelling enough that I'd want to spend that much time with them. If you're going to make a movie about mankind being pitted against the end of the world, have the balls to set some stakes. Barely anyone in the movie -- and that includes the extras far, far, far in the background -- dies on-camera. They either tumble out of frame, or you're supposed to guess that they keeled over when a phone call abruptly cuts out for the eighteenth time. Because the scope of the destruction is so massive and the people in front of the camera barely seem to be a part of it, 2012 just never manages to get the blood pumping, even with as detailed and ambitious as the visual effects behind this Armaggedon may be. There's not a sense of "geez, how's John Cusack gonna get out of this one?!?" so much as "man, CGI sure has come a long way".

The movie gets bogged down with far too much lazy, artificial sentimentality and melodrama as well. I just never found myself caring about anything that was happening. A half-battalion of completely boring characters slowly trudge through an uninvolving, paint-by-numbers plot -- there's even the disaster movie mainstay of The Family Dog That Has to Be Rescued at the Last Possible Second, not to mention a hand coming out of an off-screen crevasse and a triumphant sting in the score as his love interest looks on breathlessly -- and even the visual spectacle quickly starts to feel lethargic and routine. If you're going to churn out a big, dumb blockbuster, why not at least have some fun with it? There are splashes of lame, forgettable humor...old biddies going 11 miles an hour while Los Angeles crumbles behind them, more than one "poop smells bad!" gag, and a vengeful middle finger...but pretty much every last frame of 2012 is ominous and scowlingly serious. The movie clearly didn't get copied on the memo about how ridiculous it really is. I mean, one of the biggest pieces of drama swirls around whether or not the U.S. government should clue people in that the end of the world is right around the corner, but by the time it comes to a head, California is a couple hundred feet under the Pacific Ocean, Yellowstone National Park is a smoldering volcano, and who knows how many tens of millions of people have been killed by earthquakes and tsunamis from one end of the globe to the other: they've probably clued in that the end is right around the corner, fellas.

The best thing I can say about 2012 is that it's not aggressively awful...just boring and a whole helluva lot longer than it really should've been. All this hollow, bloated visual effects spectacle has going for it is the disaster porn, and you can score most of that for free in the high-def trailers you probably already have on another Blu-ray disc. Not even a little bit recommended, but if you've gotta watch 2012, I'd say Rent It.

Oh, purists should note that unless I'm completely misinterpreting the audio commentary, this Blu-ray disc changes the ending quite a bit from 2012's theatrical release. Even though the original ending is on the same disc as the movie itself and is also presented in HD, there's no way to use seamless branching or anything to splice it into its proper place...the original ending can only be viewed as an extra.


Video
The movie's a bloated, overindulgent trainwreck, sure, but...y'know, at least it looks nice. 2012 is kind of a knockout in high definition, and at its best, the clarity and rich detail it delivers are nothing short of breathtaking. Contrast is robust, black levels are consistently deep and inky throughout, and 2012 boasts an almost tactile sense of depth and dimensionality. The texture is so clean and smooth that I assumed the entire movie had to have been shot digitally, though as it turns out, the bulk of 2012 was indeed captured on film. (Some of the live-action footage near the climax absolutely is digital, though, and the difference is strangely jarring.) There are admittedly a few scattered moments I wish were a little crisper or more detailed, but for the most part, I'm very impressed with the way 2012 looks on Blu-ray.

2012 is letterboxed to preserve its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1, and its AVC encode spans both layers of its BD-50 disc.


Audio
It
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kind of goes without saying that 2012's 24-bit, six-channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is about as close to reference quality as it gets. I mean, Roland Emmerich couldn't make a movie where a guy stubs his toe against the coffee table without working spastic split-surrounds and foundation-rattling bass into the mix, and this is a flick about the surface of the planet being shredded apart. The lossless audio really is spectacular. Some of the dialogue gets drowned out every once in a while, sure, but otherwise, every last element in the mix is sparklingly clear and distinct. The scale of all this destruction summons a hellish low-end...thunderous, devastating waves of bass. The surrounds are hyperaggressive too: cars tumbling off a collapsing overpass, the blast wave of a supervolcano leveling everything within who knows how many miles, a tidal wave flinging a battleship into the White House...even some oversized grinding gears once the climax rolls around. Lower-key moments are reinforced with a remarkably strong sense of atmosphere and directionality as well. I'm really not left with much of anything to gripe about at all...it's an astonishing effective soundtrack and easily the best thing about this Blu-ray disc.

A second DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack has been dubbed into French, and there's an English Audio Descriptive Service track on the bill too. Subtitles are limited to just English (traditional and SDH) and French. Since this is a movie with an intensely global scope, not all of its dialogue is delivered in English. Some moments are subtitled, and owners of constant image height projection rigs should note that those subs are either rendered completely in the letterboxing bars or at least spill over into them.


Extras
2012 spreads its extras across two Blu-ray discs.
  • Audio Commentary: I didn't think much of the movie, no, but for whatever reason, I kinda dug this commentary track with writer/director Roland Emmerich and co-writer/composer Harald Kloser. They're personable, likeable enough, and don't have any trouble shouldering a two and a half hour conversation. It's the completely random notes that drew me in more than any of the nuts and bolts of putting a film like this together: the Chinese censors insisting that their army look more friendly, helming a movie in British Columbia that's unconventionally hoping for a torrential downpour, Zlatko Buric sounding completely different in the
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    ADR booth after sloughing off forty pounds, a nod to North by Northwest I completely missed, hiring an architect acquaintance to field some goofy Flash animation, and a couple of actors winding up being more skilled divers than the pros Emmerich and company had hired. I was kind of cringing at the idea of spending another two and a half hours slogging through 2012 again, but I wound up being surprised by how charming I found this commentary. I'd say it's worth a spin.

  • Roland's Vision: My reaction to this picture-in-picture feature that runs throughout the length of the film is a little more mixed. The biggest problem is that while this extra covers quite a bit of ground and interviews many of the key members of the crew, their comments are generally limited to just a few sentences at a time. Many of these segments seem too short and cursory to be able to offer much meaningful insight into the making of 2012, and notes about the storytelling rarely amount to much more than a recap of the plot. The most noteworthy standout, though, is the destruction of Las Vegas, and the mindset and visual effects behind that sequence are explored in impressive detail. The initial disinterest in following an arc set in Washington, melding aspects of a nuclear explosion into a supervolcano eruption, the concepts and designs behind the transportation for what's left of humanity, and a debate of the morality behind what of civilization deserves to be preserved are among a few of the other highlights. Also featured here are animatics, storyboards, different passes of the visual effects, and even a quick peek at some conceptual art. "Roland's Vision" is worth skimming, at least, but I would've preferred that it go into more detail into each of these topics rather than give them such a cursory pass.

  • Deleted Scenes (9 min.; HD): The centerpiece of the deleted scenes reel is what I guess is 2012's original theatrical ending, with some "oh, he's not dead after all!" revelations and cheerful nods to a few other plot points you probably thought had slipped Roland's mind. The version in the home video cut is definitely the stronger of the two. The other additional scenes are all pretty forgettable: more with the bratty Russkie kids, President Danny Glover wistfully reflecting on his past, some climactic cold-cocking, and a ::sniffles!:: apologetic tag near the end. Pretty pointless all around.

  • Interactive Mayan Calendar (HD): The ancient wisdom of the Mayans has been crammed onto this Blu-ray disc in case you're eyeing a horoscope or a personality profile. The kinda-sorta-not-really funny thing is that it's all based on the date you enter, and the Mayan calendar goes way past 2012 if you want. Didn't actually try to see if the disc would call me out on that, though. There's also a legend identifying some of the Mayans' glyphs. Finally, the four minute featurette "Mysteries of the Mayan Calendar" breezes through the many moving gears behind their calendar, the Mayans' detailed explorations into time and astronomy, and quickly mulls over what might happen when 12/21/12 rolls around.

  • Countdown to the Future (22 min.; HD): So, is civilization as we know it really going to come to a screeching halt when the calendar flips over to December 21st, 2012? "Countdown to the Future" tries to find an answer by hitting up scientists, true believers, and...hey, why not?...a Mayan shaman. Following a look back at the Mayans' explorations of time and space, we learn about the possible correlation between sunspots and seismic activity, the impact this
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    radiation could have as the magnetic field that protects us continues to weaken, and just a few of the many other natural dangers that could snuff out humanity. "Countdown to the Future" has that kind of basic cable sensationalistic streak to it, but this is also by far the most detailed of the several "could it happen?" featurettes on this disc.

  • Designing the End of the World (26 min.; HD): The longest of 2012's making-of featurettes explores the nine-figure visual effects work behind a blockbuster with such a staggeringly ambitious scope: the extensive planning behind every last shot, how a couple of lines in the script can demand weeks or months of designing and R&D, and how the production made it a point to blend physical sets with CG whenever possible. Each of the key effects sequences is tackled at length, delving into the specific challenges in bringing them to life. There's also behind-the-scenes footage capturing everything from a catapult flinging cars several hundred feet to an RV leaping off a bluescreenable ramp.

  • Science Behind the Destruction (13 min.; HD): This featurette starts off by recapping the earliest days of the project, teaming up with a geologist to flesh out a plausible explanation for the end of the world before the Mayan concept had ever entered the fray. The history of the Mayan calendar is recapped yet again before tearing into the connection between the Earth and the Sun, shifting poles, a weakened magnetic field, and the domino effect this sort of cataclysm might have. Aside from the introduction about how the elements of the story first started to take shape, pretty much all of this has already been covered in "Countdown to the Future".

  • Roland Emmerich: The Master of the Modern Epic (10 min.; HD): If you're up for a ten minute Valentine with a parade of actors talking about what a visionary master craftsman Roland Emmerich is, then here you go. It really is at least a little meatier than that, touching on Emmerich's attention to detail, collaborative bent, and relaxed mood on the set even with the eighteen quadraseptazillion things he's juggling on a project this massive.

  • The End of the World: The Actor's Perspective (8 min.; HD): Wait, shouldn't that be Actors'...y'know, plural? Whatever. Roland Emmerich and company speak about lining up the cast, and each of the key actors has a chance to quickly comment about his or her performance. Just how physically grueling this shoot was is a particularly frequent point of conversation, and there's also a bit of discussion about how a blockbuster without compelling characters is a hollow, empty visual effects spectacle. This is where the sarcastic cough goes, I guess.

  • Music Video (7 min.; HD): Not only do you score a music video for the Adam Lambert ballad "Time for Miracles", but there's also a three-minute making-of with a peek at Lambert in the recording studio, some
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    chatter about the song, and a bit of footage from the set of the video.

  • Online Interactivity: I couldn't get my pre-release copy of 2012 to hop onto the Internet, but this is indeed a BD-Live enabled disc. 2012 also sports a movieIQ feature that'll identify the actors on-screen and whatever songs are playing in the background as the flick plays, and it'll lob out little chunks of trivia every once in a while too.

  • Trailers (HD): Each of the first two discs in the set serve up their own sets of high definition trailers. I don't recall seeing a clip for 2012 itself on either of 'em, though.

Digital copies are offered for use on iTunes and Windows Media-powered devices as well as PSPs, so no matter what mini-media device you lug around, chances are you can play 2012 on it. This 3-disc set is packaged in a slightly wider case than usual and arrives in a glossy cardboard sleeve.


The Final Word


Um, you could try nuzzling up next to that, or just stick with the trailers for 2012 instead. Pretty much all of the best digital disaster footage has been crammed in there, and you won't have to slog through two and a half meandering hours of stiff, uninvolving melodrama to get to the good stuff either. I really wouldn't recommend 2012 sight-unseen, but if you're a fan of the flick -- and with a worldwide box office take topping $769 million, someone out there sure likes it -- the movie really has scored a spectacular release on Blu-ray. Rent It.
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