2012's Disaster Porn is Beautiful But Boring

Master of disaster Roland Emmerich screened the first clip from his ultimate global destruction flick 2012. What we saw was every bit as disaster porn-tastic as we've been led to believe... but proved oddly short on thrills.

At the 2012 panel, Roland Emmerich said that after the wide-scale destruction in his earlier films like Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, 2012 would have to be special among disaster flicks:

I always said, "I don't want to make a disaster movie anymore." And I found a story so interesting, but then also I said to myself, "Okay, so this will be my last one, so I will make the mother of all disaster movies."

And no stone goes undemolished in the clip he showed. It starts with John Cusack as Jackson Curtis, sitting in the driver's seat of a limousine. Jackson is fiddling with the radio, listening to assurances from Schwarzenegger that the recent spate of natural disasters is over and there's nothing to worry about. He hears a crackling noise that doesn't seem to be coming from the radio. He opens the limo door and sees the pavement crumbling beneath him. As he frantically drives off, he calls his ex-wife Kate, played by Amanda Peet.

He tells her to put the kids in the car and leave right away. She turns to a small TV in the kitchen that shows Arnold (played by a look-alike, not the Governator himself) holding a press conference. She notes that Arnold says everything is fine, but Jackson is frantic and exasperated. "He's an actor!" he screams. "He's reading from a script!" Kate, sure he's overreacting, hangs up the phone. The television announces in an Austrian accent that the worst is over and, on cue, an enormous quake shakes the house, knocking the television to the ground.

The shaking continues, throwing dust and debris around the house. Kate and her boyfriend Gordon grab the kids and make a mad dash for the front door. As soon as they make it outside, Jackson appears in his limo. They pile in, but before they can get the rear door closed, another car rolls by and rips the door off. Jackson drives and the road simply erupts behind him, like someone is pulling a carpet into waves. They dodge debris, and a sewage pipe opens in front of them, coating the windshield in a thick coat of brown sludge. The adults decide they have to make it to the airport. "Take the Santa Monica Freeway," Gordon says. "It'll get you there in half the time."

"Yeah, right," Jackson replies as the freeway comes into view. The structure is simply crumbling and the gridlocked vehicles become a cascade of deadly projectiles. Jackson's years as a limo driver come in handy, and he masterfully avoids the flying sedans.

Destruction is all around them now. Buildings are collapsing, giant promotional donuts roll through the streets, the street undulates dizzily. A tanker truck whizzes overhead and erupts in fire. Finally, the limo crew runs into an object too large to avoid: a skyscraper that is simply sinking into the ground. Without any other option, they drive through the building, smashing through windows and strobe-lit cubicles until they come out the other side.

We cut to an airport runway, where the family has made it into a small airplane. Gordon is at the controls, trying to figure out how to take off by reading the manual. Jackson yells at him to hurry up — while there's still runway to take off from — and Kate snaps at Jackson to lay off. Finally, Gordon gets the plane moving, but his inexperience combined with the shaky ground are making it difficult. The plane skips a bit but doesn't stay aloft, and the ground is quickly disappearing from beneath it. As the last bit of runway slips into a widening chasm, the plane manages to stay in the air.

But of course, their trials aren't over, just because they're airborne. As they fly, two skyscrapers are collapsing into one another, and the plane must fly through the ever-shrinking triangle between them in order to escape the city.

If watching natural and man-made structures crumble is your particular flavor of eye candy, then 2012 won't disappoint. Even though Emmerich claims the effects were only 70 percent complete, the CG was impressive, creating a visually believable scenario for total urban destruction, down to each scrap of pavement. And the destruction is on a genuinely wider scale than anything I've seen before. But non-aficionados of disaster porn looking for suspense might be disappointed. The clip was strangely free of any sense the Curtis family might not escape the city, and instead played like a series of visually interesting anecdotes about their survival. So, unless Emmerich's claims of a compelling plot prove true, I suspect 2012 might be little more than a very pretty, accident-prone face.