Monday, November 16, 2009

Things That Chap My Ass About Big Budget Disaster Movies


Ever see this poster?


We went to see the big budget Roland Emmerich disaster movie, 2012.

It’s a lot like that poster.

It’s fairly shallow, but no less awesome for all of that.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to give anything away. No spoilers.

2012 is exactly as advertised, an end of the world flick on steroids with a double espresso. Emmerich said that this was going to be his last disaster flick, so he wanted to throw everything into it he could think of – and it’s pretty obvious that he did just that.  The movie is long at 158 minutes, and roughly 157.9 minutes of that is nonstop holy friggin shit! action. Emmerich had a number of super ultra mega special effects scenes in mind - the kind of thing he does in such loving detail, like the giant alien beam-O-death in ID4 spearing down through the Empire State building – and he strung them together with something that vaguely resembles a plot if you squint your eyes tightly enough.

Don’t get me wrong here, we got exactly what we expected – a screaming rollercoaster ride of a movie. There isn’t anything deep about 2012, you’ll find no penetrating insights into the human condition, no Oscar caliber performances, no Rosebud moments - and if you’re the kind of guy who can’t watch a movie without picking out all the scientific flaws, well, you’re probably going to have a cardiac infarction about ten minutes into this movie.

But, if you’re the kind of person who likes to see shit get blowed up, this, my friend, is your dream date movie. If you loved Independence Day, you’re gonna like 2012, you might even love it.

Some highlights without giving anything away:

- Cusack is Cusack, i.e. John Cusack plays the same character he’s played in everything from Better Off Dead (one of the best romantic disaster comedies EVAH!) to Serendipity (a cute so so romantic movie). I don’t expect much range from John Cusack, but he’s a likable enough actor that I really don’t care.  Woody Harrelson on the other hand, is a complete hoot, the guy damned near stole the movie even though he was only on the screen for a relatively short time. 

- A whole damned city slides into the ocean. It is totally awesome.

- There is a big damned volcanic explosion. It is totally awesome.

- There is a whole shitload of giant tsunamis, because seriously what kind of disaster movie doesn’t have giant tsunamis? They are totally awesome.

- A lot of stuff, OK, the whole damned world, gets blowed up. It’s totally awesome.  Seriously, these are some of the best GCI special effects I’ve ever seen, there are some very cool moments.

- There is a whole slew of hat tipping to other great disaster movies including Emmerich’s own movies, some blatantly obvious, some less so. It’s fun picking them out.

- It’s got Thandie Newton (sue me, I like Thandie Newton). It’s got Chiwetel Ejiofor (someday I’m actually going to learn how to pronounce his name).

Like I said, there’s nothing deep about 2012, it’s not even as deep as, and not nearly as emotionally satisfying as, ID4, but it’s a hell of a lot better than Emmerich’s other disaster flick, The Day After Tomorrow. It’s getting mixed reviews, one of my favorites is by Gina Carbone of Seacoastonline who called the movie “The Ron Jeremy of disaster porn” – and she meant that in a good way.

If you like disaster movies, go see it in the theater. It will be much diminished on the small screen. 


Now, some things I feel need mentioning. First the audience:

- Kids. Look, it’s a goddamned Roland Emmerich movie. What the fuck are you doing bringing your goddamned 4 year old to it ? Seriously, are you retarded? The kid doesn’t have the attention span to make it through a 30 minute episode of The Bear in the Big Blue House and you brought him to 158 minute long movie? A Roland Emmerich movie? Did you hear his terrified questions during the movie? “What’s that?!” “What are they doing?!” “What’s happening now?!” “Are they going to be OK?!”  The only thing that makes me smile about this is the fact that the kid is going to wake up screaming every single night for the next month. Have fun with that, asshole parents.

- Time. The movie start times are posted on the big fucking sign out front. They’re in the paper. They’re online. Read them. Buy a goddamned watch. It pisses me off no end to have you idiots drifting in ten minutes after they turn off the lights.  I want to watch the previews (Cammeron’s Avatar, holy six trunked rampant randy elephant god, I gotta see that!), I want to watch the movie, without you chowderheads all standing in the aisle pissing and moaning that all the good seats are taken.  Show up on time.  Find a seat. Sit the fuck down. SHUT UP.  Or I will spit half chewed Ju-Ju-Be’s in your ugly girlfriend’s hair.

- Popcorn. Dude, you have lips. Use them. Close you mouth when you chew. You sound like like Mr Ed with a mouthful of saltwater taffy. I mean, seriously here shitforbrains, when your bovine like lipsmackin’ can be heard three rows away over the sound of a Roland Emmerich disaster movie you have a goddamned problem. Don’t make me come back there and superglue your face shut, because I will.


And then there are the things that chap my ass about movies themselves:

- The Countdown Voice.  You know, the computer voice that keeps stating the really obvious impending disaster. “The earth will explode in five minutes…the earth will explode and everybody will die in four minutes…the earth will explode and everybody will die and the rocket engines will fail in three minutes…the earth will explode, everybody will die, the engines will explode, and the aliens will eat your brain in two minutes…” Hey, it was a great way to ramp up the tension in Alien, but when they parodied it in Galaxy Quest, directors should have gotten a clue.

- The computer screens with the impossible graphics that anticipate completely unexpected events.  The super reliable computers that never crash, hang, or fail to connect. Take the tactical displays in ID4 for example, how is it that the computer screens just happened to have a special vibrating line to represent the alien forcefield around the giant fifteen mile in diameter flying saucers (which they also just happened to have a symbol for)?  No seriously, I’ve worked on government computer systems for over half my life, I’ve operated combat systems and tactical display systems and I can tell you that just getting the defense contractors to make the damned thing show the correct time is a challenge - and these guys toss in an alien invasion symbol library for free? Suuuuure. The world is ending, shit is getting blowed up, the earth’s crust is cracking open, the aliens are zapping the crap out of our cities, towering columns of super cold air are freezing entire countries, lightening is crashing, sea are rising, the wroth of God is nigh – and the computer voice keeps counting down the minutes and the screens show impossible graphics without glitch or fail.  Probably a good thing they didn’t contract with Microsoft, eh?

- They should have the computer programmers do the engineering. How is it that in every one of these movies there’s always some incredibly stupid engineering issue to overcome that nobody ever anticipated? Deep Impact, the computer codes to unlock the nuclear weapons aren’t on the ship.  The crew has to call back to Earth to get them. What. The. Fuck? You’ve got one chance. One. The ship is going to have to fly into the comet’s coma, debris like swimming through a shotgun blast, high speed gas geysers, shit getting blowed up, sun hot enough to melt lead, a billion miles from home – and it never occurred to anybody that they might lose communications?  Dude, I can’t make my cell phone connect in Wal-Mart, it never occurred to the mission planners that the astronauts might not be able to phone home? There’s a real serious moment of this exact thing in 2012, it involves a big damned door and the engines.  We can’t start the engines unless the door is shut. What? You’re preparing for the end of the fucking world and it never occurred to you that shit might not go exactly as planned and that maybe an override might be a good idea? Doh! Who trusted these idiots with the survival of the human race?


I could go on.

And on.

But it’s late and I need to go to bed.

Tell me, what chaps your ass about big budget disaster flicks and the folks who go to see them?


  1. You know I can never stop laughing about how easy it was for a man made operating system like Mac or Win, to interface with an alien one.

    That was the most ridiculous and most hilarious part of ID4 for me, when two of the main characters fly the captured space ship into the mother ship and manage to not only network with the alien space ships computer, but plant a virus as well.

    Hey...maybe the virus was just them trying to upload the Windows operating system!

    Great post Jim, you hit all the high notes for me. :)

  2. People coming in late- check.
    People crunching popcorn- check.

    You forgot the idiots texting away because they can't possibly be out of contact with the universe for more than 30 seconds. (What, are they all waiting on a kidney?) Look, you idiots, I'm trying to watch the big screen in the front of the room, I don't need to see all of your flashing cell phones. Plus, because you were so busy texting, you lost track of the plot, and have to ask your buddy- who also is lost. Save your 10 bucks and stay home with your texting. And while you're at it, get your damn feet off the seatback!

  3. So you don't like the little UFO symbols and stuff on the computers?

    Intelligence Guy #1: See here General...in this empty space? If we had a symbol for the UFOs, there'd be a few here. Check that; there'd be a whole fucking buttload. But we ain't got no UFO symbols programmed in, so you'll just have to 'magine 'em.

    General: What about that force field our jets keep running into? Where is that on the scope?

    Intelligence Guy: Oh, that one's easy! See here where all them jet planes just sorta kinda wink out? That's where they're hittin' the force field and blowin' all to shit.

    General: You do know this is a movie and someone could have come up with a symbol or two so we'd have something to show on the screen, right?

    Intelligence Guy: Well, we useta do that all the time, but apparently, it chapped Jim's ass, so we done cut it out.

  4. Jim, you missed the obvious in your criticism of real-world computer contractors, who are nerds. Nerds, Jim. Which explains two things: (1) why the computer displays--and not just in movies, which are completely realistic on this score--are coded for the alien invasion and (2) why they can't actually handle mundane tasks without crashing.

    "Dude, this totally sweet! I set it up so when there's an alien invasion the system will automatically load this boss symbol set and detect any EM shields which will be represented by this cool graphic I coded."

    "Uh, that's cool, man, but the system keeps crashing when a user moves the mouse left-left-right-left and we have to ship the code tomorrow. You got a fix for that?"

    "Sure, dude. Tell those dumbass users to stop moving the mouse that way. Now you want to help me finish this code for the automated laser defense grid so we can get some Halo in before three a.m. or what?"


  5. Eric,

    Good point(s) -- but you forgot to mention the special symbols that only activate during a zombie attack. Everybody knows those are way more important than alien invasion symbols.

  6. Many years ago there was some Defense system named SAGE. No idea what it stood for anymore.

    A former boss had been an AF Tech on the project.

    The SAGE used a 9" CRT to show maps and bombers symbols, different symbols different bombers. The techs could create new symbols if needed. Pressing a light pencil on an area cause the display to expand and change to show that area. For about 68 this was tippy top secret and bleeding edge.

    My former boss was told not to try to make the AF a career choice when the Comander (with several stars) discovered a hulu girl dancing on the display. The techs had too much time on their hand and this big computer (probably had 64 K of ram).

    He was even less amused to discover that if you hit her navel with the light pen, she lost her skirt.

  7. What I love is overly complicated -- and slow -- computer displays. Take Jurassic Park. The slowly updating 3-D fly-in to the buildings representing executables and directories. "Oh I know this, it's UNIX." Shut the fuck up -- that's not UNIX. That's a green wireframe interface simulation that you've never seen before.

    Sorry, can't fix the DOOR LOCKS yet, because I'm still learning to fly this cursor over this cityscape...

    Yeah, right. Still pissed off about that interface...

    Dr. Phil

  8. Yes, John Cusack tends to play similar characters in most of his movies.

    BUT his hitman shoot-out scene with Dan Aykroyd in Gross Point Blank has got to be one of the funniest scenes he's ever done! I also loved that his real life sister Joan played his hilarious administrative assistant, who knew more gossip dirt on the assassin rings than anyone!

  9. I love big explosions. *drool* o.O

    But I find it ironic that you caution all the science-nitpicky types, and then proceed to nitpick all the tech. ;)

    Also, Warner's story: that's awesome. :D

  10. WendyB,

    Cussack had a deal with the studio that he'd do so many of the movies they told him to if he could get 1 or 2 of the ones he wanted made. Grosse Point Blank was one that the studio had to pony up for to make the deal.

    Totally his choice.

    That says something.

  11. Thandie Newton resembles Rosario Dawson.... are you sure you're not Scalzi in disguise?


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