Thursday, August 27, 2020

How I Would Have Done "2012" (SPOILERS)

As my regular readers know, I'm a longtime participant in the film podcast Myopia Movies, formerly known as Myopia: Defend Your Childhood. Myopia now has a Patreon, and for the last few months, that's where I've posted the "how I would have done it" articles for Myopia favorites Transformers, Starship Troopers, Alien Resurrection, and even The Guyver. My takes on The Phantom Menace and the original Friday The 13th are coming later. However, it's been so long since I've done one here that many people don't know what they're missing if they don't sign up.

So now I'll do one about 2012, since during or after the podcast, the mighty Daniel said he'd be very interested in how I would have done the film given how much he hated the canonical movie. So here goes...

In General

*In the podcast, I describe the movie as what happens if someone tried to take one of the books on the polar realignment apocalypse from the 0000 section of the library (you know, where you can find Bigfoot, UFOs, and what-not) and tried to give it the Lord of the Rings treatment. This movie is nearly three hours long. Although it's not nearly as horrifically dull as Jason X, which we watched together that evening, that was still a chronic complaint.

*I didn't have any problem with the casting in general. That can stay.

Act I

*The characters are broadly fine, but the scientific jargon was so ridiculous. American scientist Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) can just hear from his friend Indian scientist Satnam Tsurutani (Jimi Mistry) that a recent series of solar flares have caused an increase in solar radiation that, though not noticeable day-to-day, is subtly heating up the Earth's core. This in turn threatens a worldwide geological disturbance that would kill billions of people and collapse global civilization. The simpler your explanation for what happened, the less ridiculous it sounds. He then goes to see Chief of Staff Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt) and meets U.S. President Thomas Wilson (Danny Glover) and his daughter Laura (Thandie Newton) and begin plans to prepare. Then we cut to China and meet the Chinese (Tibetan?) worker Tenzin (Chin Han), his Buddhist monk brother Nima (Osric Chau), and elderly grandparents. The Chinese government is clearly going to build something and is moving those who aren't skilled workers out of the area.

*Ix-nay on the assassination of conspiracy members who try to leak, or at least we don't need to see the whole bit with the evacuation of the Mona Lisa and the killing of the Louvre director on-screen. Remember, the movie needs to be shorter.

*Jackson's family stuff seemed broadly fine, although it should be made a bit clearer that Jackson's wife Kate (Amanda Peet) regrets leaving Jackson due to his failure to support the family and ignoring her and their children in favor of his failed writing career. That's the vibe I got--and that her new boyfriend Gordon Silberman (Tom McCarthy) is aware, which is why he emphasized the sacrifices she'd made for Jackson that he hadn't reciprocated (her leaving medical school) and wanted them to have a child of their own so urgently. However, in the podcast, nobody but me seemed to pick up that Gordon, despite his many good qualities, seems rather insecure and anxious Kate might return to her husband despite his failings. That's the subtext for wanting them to have a child, despite the fact that Kate and Jackson might still technically be married (Kate later references them being separated, not divorced) and she and Gordon aren't married themselves. Since we're supposed to like Gordon, having him too clingy and twitchy would be a bad idea. Maybe Kate is pleased to see that Jackson has regular employment and Gordon, though he on the surface is glad as well, might subtly project worry.

*To the above end, I'd have introduced the Russian oligarch (mob boss?) Yuri Karpov (Zlatko Buric) as Jackson's employer a bit earlier. When we first meet Jackson, he's just dropped Yuri off at the airport to fly to Vegas to see his oldest son boxing before going to pick up his own children for their weekend camping trip rather than sleeping in and forgetting. Yuri might inquire into the state of Jackson's finances (some reference to credit card debts finally getting paid off?) and the two might bond over the difficulties of being divorced fathers. Jackson's overall arc for the film is "zero to hero" and we need to see him as the zero and then rise above his past failings as a man, but there's a balance to be struck between showing him at the bottom and making him so unsympathetic that viewers want him to die. We might also meet Yuri's obnoxious spoiled twin younger sons earlier and perhaps develop them as characters a bit more--although they're rude and disrespectful to Jackson, they do commiserate with his kids about being children of divorce and are willing to share their maybe-stepmother's dog, so they're not completely un-salvageable.

*The journey to Yellowstone, the meeting with Adrian and conspiracy radio host Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson), and the escape from Los Angeles to Yellowstone to Las Vegas using Gordon's pilot skills as the Big One finally hits California and the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts all are broadly fine. I'd make it more obvious that the geological instability has actually yanked southern California off the U.S. mainland by depicting the ocean flooding the enormous crack that forms, but that's about it.

*Adrian's conversation with his father Harry (Blu Mankuma) aboard the cruise ship where the latter works as a musician was one of the few legitimately poignant moments in the film, so that stays. However, to save time I'd cut the senior Helmsley's father's musician partner Tony Delgatto (George Segal) completely. There's this whole subplot with how he's alienated from his son because he doesn't approve of his marrying a Japanese woman and how his attempted reconciliation is cut off by Japan getting destroyed by a tsunami that can be cut.

Act II

*Jackson and his family meeting up with Yuri in Las Vegas and escaping with him aboard his gigantic aircraft can broadly stay. Seeing Gordon repeatedly getting drafted to serve as a pilot despite his minimal qualifications was pretty funny. As people on TVTropes pointed out, Las Vegas is too far away for the pyroclastic flow from Yellowstone, so I'd just have more earthquakes and/or debris from Yellowstone falling from the sky and smashing things.

*I would have made the president's sacrifice somewhat less pointless. Rather than just staying there to die with his people, I'd have him remaining behind to coordinate the evacuation of many DC and Baltimore citizens to aircraft carriers and other ships offshore. Think the evacuation of Saigon as the Communists poured into the city in 1975--overloaded helicopters carrying people to the carriers, aircraft being shoved into the ocean to make room for more, etc. Ships hundreds of miles offshore aren't vulnerable to tsunamis and carriers can carry tens of thousands of people. The U.S. has the largest navy on Earth and here's where it would come in real handy, especially given how often it's deployed for humanitarian purposes. Nearby ocean liners, other civilian ships, etc. can be pressed into the effort rather than (apparently) the continuity of the U.S. being gambled on the "arks in Tibet" plan. This is especially doable since the U.S. Merchant Marine is a quasi-military service and would be easier to take control of in an emergency. There should be hundreds of ships off the East Coast for this purpose, but it doesn't seem like anybody thought of that.

There might also be tectonically stable areas in the U.S. proper or Canada where people can be evacuated by aircraft. Although southern California getting torn off and the Yellowstone eruption have probably made it unsafe to evacuate anybody west of the Mississippi and (I'm assuming) the New Madrid fault and the Wabash Valley fault going off will give much of the Midwest too many problems to risk adding a lot of survivors, but Ontario, Quebec, the Upper Midwest, and New England might be broadly stable and able to receive people from the East Coast tsunami zones.

(Furthermore, the president staying alive and in command as long as possible would also avoid the chain of command issues that I mentioned in the podcast where the slimy Anheuser claims to be in charge of the federal government with the president and vice president dead and the speaker of the House unable to be found. Here's the "I am in control here" situation involving the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan referenced in the podcast. That's something to avoid, even if the Wikipedia article makes Haig's actions far less sinister than I'd initially thought.)

Although I could imagine a super-tsunami blasting over the Delmarva Peninsula to destroy D.C. (the topography is fairly flat), ix-nay on the carrier U.S.S. John F. Kennedy crushing the White House. Per TVTropes the ship is ported at Philadelphia--not only would the tsunami have to pull it out to sea and then throw it back just right for this scene to work, but per my earlier scenario I imagine the U.S. Navy would be put to sea as much as possible as the apocalypse approaches. Even an old carrier would still be useful for evacuating people. Instead I'd just make it a Deep Impact-style super-wave, with the president giving up his seat aboard the last helicopter out for a couple little kids carrying the original Constitution and Declaration of Independence or something so he can stay at his post until the very end.

*Also, some people involved in the film suggested that Islamic holy places be destroyed along with the statue of Christ in Rio de Janiero, the Vatican, and the Buddhist holy site in the Himalayas, but this got shot down due to fears of Islamic extremists putting a bounty on the creators' heads. For those of you not in the know, the "fatwa" comment refers to what happened to Salman Rushdie and Theo Van Gogh was killed only a few years before the movie was made, so these fears aren't completely unreasonable. 

Given how the Muslim holy cities are located in vicinity of several active volcanoes, I imagine Mecca and Medina would be in the same danger as Hawaii and Yellowstone. Rather than something that would give undue pleasure to people who hate Muslims and provoke the jihadis to murder Emmerich and company, this could be the chance to show the Saudis and other Islamic states using the logistical skill they've honed through hosting the pilgrimage to Mecca to evacuate the Holy Cities' populations and important Muslim artifacts to somewhere relatively safe, like perhaps the Ethiopian highlands.

This could be worked into Adrian's plot--Air Force One and some other aircraft with federal leadership are flying across the Atlantic, Europe, and the Asian interior to the arks in Tibet and they spot the evacuation of western Arabia amid the volcanic apocalypse breaking out around them. Maybe a couple Chinook helicopters heavily loaded with people also carrying the Black Stone between them like the helicopters carrying the animals at the ark site? Given how the film is broadly US-centric (with the Chinese as second fiddle), this might be the chance to give Arabs and black Africans a Crowning Moment of Awesome or two.


*The flight to the Himalayas, Jackson and Kate's conversation about their separation that shows they still love each other (something that if I remember right Gordon sees and isn't too happy about), the pilot Sasha's death, and Yuri abandoning Jackson and his family and his girlfriend Tamara (Beatrice Rosen), who had been cheating on him with Sasha, can stay. That last bit shows Yuri's scumbag nature as well as his cunning--Nic pointed out in the podcast that he didn't have Tamara and Sasha killed when he learned of their affair because he needed Sasha to fly him to Tibet. It also allows for the scene where Kate begs Tenzin to at least take the children onto the ark to remain. Since they're riding with Tenzin's family to the ark, we still have Gordon's conversation with Jackson that came off to me as the former somehow foreseeing his own death and further building audience sympathy for him.

*We also need to keep Adrian finding his stateroom and his horror that the space they've given him is enough for ten people. If the goal is to save as many people as possible, the arks should function like nuclear-powered military barracks, not floating hotels. This will help set up his challenge to Anheuser to let everybody aboard the arks despite the oncoming tsunami later in the film. The same with the death of Satnam and his family--this shows how flawed the evacuation effort was, especially its reliance on funding from the rich buying their way aboard even though they might not have skills useful for the post-apocalyptic world.

*Ix-nay on how Tenzin and Nima's plan to sneak their family--and Jackson's family, Gordon, and Tamara--onto the ship accidentally jeopardizes everybody's survival. The fact the killer wave is coming in early with the boarding incomplete is suspense-building enough, plus it still allows for the moral dilemma of casting off right away (advocated by Anheuser, now fully in charge with the president confirmed dead and the other members of the line succession missing) or risking everybody's safety to save more people. There's plenty of opportunities for Jackson to engage in heroic activities in helping get people aboard as the tsunami clock ticks down, especially the Chinese workers who built the arks in the first place. The canonical sneaking cost Jackson, the ostensible protagonist, a lot of audience sympathy (at least per TVTropes and a couple people on the podcast), especially since it kills off Gordon, probably Tamara, and likely a bunch of other people too and nearly causes the American ship to destroy itself on Mount Everest. We could still have that--they get everybody on board, but enough water comes in that the ship is unstable and careens around until the extra water is pumped out. Yuri still dies saving his sons, giving him some karmic retribution for his earlier behavior and a Dying Moment of Awesome.

*Per the above, some people on TVTropes wanted Gordon to survive and hook up with Tamara, who'd been his patient at the plastic surgery clinic. Gordon and Jackson can each engage in some heroics getting people onto the ships at the very last minute. Although there can be some unpleasant close calls, both survive. Kate can go back to Jackson, who has developed from being a loser who'd failed his wife and children into a bona fide hero. Gordon sits there looking all sad, then Tamara can pop up, having survived the whole experience, and reminds him that she's now single. Gordon can hesitate a bit, unwilling to abandon Kate and remembering that she'd been unfaithful to Yuri with the younger and more pleasant Sasha, and then decide he's too glad to be alive (when earlier he seemed to think he was going to die) to argue.

*The ending scene can stay broadly as-is, except with radio contact between the arks and surviving population centers in Africa and elsewhere (the ending world map shows much of Asia rode it out and Australia might have too). The fact a convoy of mostly white survivors (and the last-minute addition of a lot of Chinese workers) are heading for post-apocalyptic Africa gave a lot of people colonialism vibes, especially since China has gotten more involved in Africa in recent years. This makes it clear that the survivors and their technology will be welcomed to help maintain civilization and aren't simply invading. Furthermore, there can be radio or phone contact with other ships at sea (which are likely to have survived), including Adrian's father aboard the cruise ship.

(Seriously, there was no reason for the cruise ship to be destroyed in the canonical film and in fact there's an alternate ending where it survives. If the ship was floating over an underwater earthquake it might bob a bit, but that's it. Tsunamis become dangerous close to shore and they were well out to sea.)

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