EVEN WITH his big-budgeted visual effects, Roland Emmerich cannot manage to save his disaster film from disaster.

A seasoned director of the sci-fi-cum-disaster genre with his films Independence Day, Godzilla, and The Day After Tomorrow, director Emmerich has self-styled the alleged December 21, 2012 Mayan doomsday prophecy into something that involves obliterating landmarks and razing the three states he loves to destroy in previous films, namely New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington.

But in this era of visual effects and high-definition pictures, disaster films are a dime-a-dozen, following a formula passed from one catastrophic picture down to another. Emmerich suffers the most in this case by stuffing into the script certain elements of the disaster genre that we have all seen before.

The movie centers on Jackson Curtis (John Cusack), a writer fresh from a divorce, who learns of an impending catastrophe that might end humanity, and thus risks his life to bring his two kids and ex-wife into safety. Luck seems to play a big part as Jackson is able to drive a vehicle in an impossibly fast pace, perfectly swerve away from road obstacles, leap across canyons, and unbelievably survive without a scratch.

But the film is not entirely unreal, as it depicts situations closer to reality, such as the ineffectiveness of governments. And like most of Emmerich’s other films, the strength of 2012 is its astounding visual effects that could surprise even the most cynical viewer. The downside is, a huge chunk of runtime is dedicated to the actors reciting their bland dialogues and the omnipresent “goodbye world” speeches. Humor is also present in the story but written in all the wrong places, making certain scenes look awkward and ridiculous.

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As the movie progresses, the story loses its angle and the audience soon finds out that the 2012 premise is not actually required for this film to run. Emmerich directed this film out of the Mayan prophecy, but dedicated only a measly three-minute scene to explain the prophecy itself. He mostly concentrated on doing what he loves best, which is walloping the globe with off-scale calamities as people struggle to survive.

Clichés are unforgiveable; certain moments in 2012 are directly borrowed from films belonging to the same class of “disaster porn” (for example, a divorced father saving his two estranged kids is reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, and tidal waves crashing into the city is like the one from Deep Impact), making 2012, despite its advanced technology, essentially recycled litter.

The film also overplays “close call” scenes which result in sights of disbelief, such as Jackson falling off a newly-formed cliff but miraculously holding on, and a plane close to crashing but flies away at the very last second.

Emmercich’s latest offering is an exhilarating ride, but lacks substance. This could very well be titled “just another disaster movie.”

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