You get your money’s worth while you’re watching 2012. It’s non-stop special effects as a small band of survivors escapes one horrendous natural disaster after another as the world explodes. The main story is heartfelt and while there are the usual assortment of nasties, there’s a goodly amount of heroism to lighten the soul of any End of Times advocate. You won’t have nightmares from it, in fact you might not even think about it much afterwards. With its safe PG-13 rating, the movie will not really take you too far out of your comfort zone. But it will awe and entertain you.

2012 is definitely a white knuckler. The special effects are brilliant and you owe it to yourself to see it on the big screen. Airplanes fly past falling skyscrapers, cruise liners get flipped over like a balsam wood Titanic, Yellowstone National Park turns into history’s greatest volcano. The White House goes down, so does the Sistine Chapel, and most of the world’s other great architectural masterpieces. Mt. Everest gets flooded, Wisconsin becomes the new South Pole. Only Africa, the poorest continent on the planet, doesn’t get inundated and we don’t find that out until the very end of the movie.

It seems all those prophecies by the Mayans, the Hopis, Nostradamus and the I Ching are true. Alas, none of that interesting stuff is really touched on. Science takes over from the fascinating ancient doomsayers leaving, out an essential, but potentially more terrifying element–that of the spiritual connotation of the end of the world.

It seems the center of the earth is heating up so fast that the earth’s crust, like an over-cooked pie crust I guess, is going to crack and crumble and swallow millions of cars and buildings with all the people in them and then tsunamis are going to take over what the earthquakes and the fires didn’t destroy. Scientists warn their governments — who all happen to be the rich ones from the G-8–and those guys make plans to take a few thousand important and rich survivors into high-secret vessels so the human race, and the status quo, can survive. Pretty good stuff for all the techies out there.

Meanwhile science fiction author Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) sort of figures out what’s happening and tries to save his ex-wife (Amanda Peet) who he still loves and his two children and the new stepdad Gordon. He gets his biggest clues from a fanatical conspiracy theorist in Yellowstone, played with maniacal glee by Woody Harrelson. As the earth self-destructs around them, Curtis takes one mode of transportation after another to escape the chaos so land, air and sea and all its terrors are covered.

Meanwhile U.S. geologist Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) has discovered the horrible truth about the earth’s core from his friend in India. He warns the cynical science czar (Oliver Platt) who puts into action the secret plan to save the rich. But the brave U.S. President (an inspiring Danny Glover) refuses to be rescued, choosing to go down, literally, with his sinking country. And so does the Vice President and the presidents of some of the other countries — so at least we know that leadership, while lost, lives on in its noble legacy.

Meanwhile the cast of characters grows to include a mammoth Russian billionaire and his snotty twin boys and his latest girlfriend and her little yapping dog. Oh, and my favorite character in the movie, the handsome pilot named Sasha. There’s also a brave band of Tibetans–Grandma, Grandpa, a welder and a monk, who live by their Buddhist principles and despite the danger to themselves, help out our American heroes.

I was worried that the movie, inspired by the fearsome prehistoric warnings, was going to send me into anxietyville for weeks. But that didn’t happen. As shocking as it is to see the planet wiped out and millions of people dead, director Roland Emmerich (The Day After Tomorrow) seems to have made the decision to keep most (not all) of the human loss shot in wide special effects. Meaning, you see all the thousands of cars fall off the freeways into the newly created fissure, but you don’t see any injured people, no smashed bodies or amputated limbs or little kids running around looking for their parents. In other words, it’s Sanitized Armageddon, without any of the metaphysical juice that would have made it truly frightening.

While I wouldn’t take the tiniest tots to see the movie, it should be fine for older kids except for the most sensitive ones.

To enjoy 2012, go with friends, get snacks (it’s long–158 minutes but it goes by fast), leave your brain at home, and just let yourself get wiped out by all the onscreen wizardry. If you like disaster movies, do not wait to see this on video, do yourself a favor and enjoy it the way it was intended to be seen–on the big screen.

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