The James Clayton: True dread after Doomsday

James wonders why he's not excited about the arrival of Roland Emmerich's 2012...

Doomsday – as directed by Roland Emmerich – is upon us and I find myself totally disinterested. Friday the 13th strikes me as a pretty inauspicious date for a major blockbuster opening, and I think I’ll heed the omens and avoid seeing the cataclysmic action and apocalypse porn of 2012 at the cinema.

Maybe I’m not enthused at the arrival of 2012 because I’m bored of the apocalypse. Facing up to what I think is fair to describe as a surfeit of ‘End of Days’ scenarios in pop culture, I predict that when Armageddon really does rear its ugly head and threaten the Earth, we’ll simply shrug indifferently and exclaim, “Pfft, you took your time, didn’t you? And is this all you’ve got? I wouldn’t have bothered even putting on make-up if I knew you’d be this anticlimactic. Go on, get on with you. Are you going to annihilate us or not?”

Whatever form the world’s end takes, it’s going to be pretty stark and unspectacular when compared with the kind of catastrophe envisioned by Emmerich in 2012. The Mayans may have predicted it (as proudly boasted by the bombastic trailer), but I doubt that even the most imaginative ancient Mesoamerican prophet envisioned the all-out carnage and devastation that the German director is doling out on our poor planet and its pitiful inhabitants.

Over the course of two-and-a-half hours, 2012 promises a whistlestop tour of destruction dropping in on the demise of the world’s most iconic monuments with much CGI and eye-popping special effects spark.

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Yet, as the tourist hotspots are reduced to ruins and wrecked in ridiculous style, it’s worth bearing in mind that you don’t necessarily need to make a movie ultra-noisy and über-brash to send audiences into the depths of their existence to dwell on their mortality (as Up has powerfully proved).

With all its zealous annihilation, 2012 looks over showy to me. I’ll settle for some subtlety and be compelled into the horrific realisation that humanity is doomed without all the fuss and flashy pyrotechnics, thank you very much.

But yet, what really distresses me is not the excessive doom mongering and the idea that Earth is going down in a blast of big, dumb CGI disasters, but something else. I think what scares me about apocalypse flicks is not the idea that world is going to end, but rather the issue of what doesn’t end. Crucially, who survives and thus stands as the lasting legacy of obliterated humanity ready to take civilisation forward from the new square one? Many a time, it’s at this point in the movie that I really feel the existential anxiety.

2012 won’t quite offend if John Cusack makes it. He seems an affable enough guy and I wouldn’t mind so much going under the great final deluge knowing that it is he who will carry the torch into the future post-Armageddon. On the other hand, if you’ve got a grouchy Charlton Heston representing remaining humanity (as is the case in Planet Of The Apes and The Omega Man) then, quite frankly, I’m left reeling in a whirlpool of despair.

In the overall scheme of things, we know that some grand disaster could wipe out the majority of Earth’s population. Following the pandemic, plague, extreme natural disaster or alien invasion that blitzes humanity it will be the responsibility of an exclusive few to hold on to what survives and take the species forward. This is where the true panic lies in the post-apocalypse narrative. Who are these people that we’re entrusting our legacy and entire future with?

(Spoilers follow for several films, so if you reckon that you still have time before the 2012 expiration date and don’t wish the end to be ruined, avert your gaze somewhere else.)

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It was all going so well in the recently released animated film 9 until the very end when the audience is left with the idea that the long, slow evolutionary process will be overseen by sentient sack puppets. Humanity’s entire development from glowing green atom imbued with the soul and spiritual essence of a dead scientist will be observed over millions of years by a bunch of hand-stitched dolls. Good grief, that’s bleak.

The troubling ‘let’s start over’ set-up in 9 is eclipsed by the worrying prospect of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. The third ‘Road Warrior’ flick posits that the chosen ones taking the species to a bright new future away from post-atomic outback anarchy are a bunch of irritating, illiterate kids who think of Mel Gibson as an aeroplane god brought back to fly them to Tomorrow-Morrow Land. If the custodians of Earth’s entire culture and civilisation are these juvenile ragbags then, strewth, we’re better off making sure that no one makes it past Doomsday.

Ultimately, I guess it’s not much comfort knowing that if the Human vs. Machines war proceeds along the lines of The Matrix, the last remains of society will be antisocial cyberpunks with a taste for sunglasses and shiny black PVC.

As cinema has it, the bedrock of our new civilisation will be bondage freaks, hacker geeks and feral children.

No movies, as far as I’m aware, hold the hopeful idea that the finest minds and personalities the planet has to offer are the figures taking us forward into the new epoch. We are left instead with people who probably can’t even look after themselves, never mind the precious few remains of the human race.

If the aftermath of the apocalypse – whether or not it comes in the year 2012 and is as outrageous as Roland Emmerich’s disaster epic expects it to be – is one in which we’ve got total incompetents, ill-qualified people or arseholes (to put it simply) as the ones to lead the revival, then I’d rather just face utter annihilation.

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Washing away the White House with a titanic tidal wave will not cut it. What we need is a Death Star to pass by the planet and blow it to bits with a superlaser to make sure that absolutely nothing is left and no trace survives. No half-measures or isolated surviving clans left hanging onto the shell of what once was civilisation: the apocalypse should be all or nothing.

Perhaps Mr. Emmerich, with his preposterous trail of worldwide destruction, is going about Doomsday the right way after all.

James’ previous column can be found here.