2012, the new disaster epic from director Roland Emmerich, chronicles the end of the world as purportedly predicted by the ancient Mayan calendar. The film stars John Cusack as Jackson Curtis, a writer whose devotion to his failed-but-possibly-brilliant novel broke up his marriage and left his family in flux. But Jackson remains a loyal dad and he will prove he will do anything to save his family. Amanda Peet plays Jackson's ex-wife, Kate, who maintains friendly contact with Jackson but has long tired of competing with his work for his attention. As the earth's plates start to shift - destroying L.A. in the process - Jackson and his family will begin a desperate journey by land and air to survive to see the new world.
"It taps into the paranoia around the world. About how out of control the world feels. A zeitgeist. Everybody knows what all the problems are, like global warming and all those things. This smartly doesn't get into the politics of it," Cusack said at a recent press conference. "It just gets into the fact of what is important to you, what are your values. That feeling you have when something bad happens to you, and it cuts through all the BS and has that feeling of clarity. Movies like this give you that sense without all the real tragedies having to happen."
For his part, Cusack doesn't believe the world will come to an end in 2012, citing Daniel Pinchbeck's book 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl as "more in line with what I think will happen, which will be like a shift in consciousness. I actually read that book -- not all the way, but I started and I thought that seemed more like what I thought was going to happen rather than the actual end of days."
Cusack said it was a combination of "the project, director, actors, being wanted" that made him agree to star in the movie, which is not the usual fare the actor is known for. "I read the script and I thought it was a real page turner. Very surprising, by the end of the film it got very emotional and very tense. I just thought it was a good big epic movie all around," he explained. "As you read it interesting things would happen. They have this scene where Rome burned and Paris fell and how do you shoot that? California falls into the ocean and you can't even begin to think how someone would shoot that. Then the story as it got bigger and bigger, and the geography and places they're safe got smaller and smaller, Amanda and it got more intimate. There's a scene in a little car that it gets more intimate as it got chaotic, and I thought that was very clever."
"I like these kind of movies, because in them in a way you celebrate life. What are the most important things in life? Because it's about survival - normal regular people become heroes," Emmerich said. "People can identify with that very well and hopefully they can be as brave as Jackson Curtis." He cited Jurassic Park as an example of the kind of event movie he wanted to make that would ground its fantastical premise in real science. "At the very beginning we had the earth's crusts displacement theory, which we found was a theory that was big enough to cause all this flooding," he recalled. "Before we started writing script we met with a professor of science at USC and asked him how could that unfold. ... No scientist would ever say 'this could not happen' because this has never happened before."
The director was adamant that 2012 not become a polemic about the world's problems or how the errors of our ways will lead to our destruction. "I don't think the film wants to warn about anything. It's not a cautionary tale. It's a cautionary tale in a way, maybe only that it tells what if this were to happen, what is important in life, what is savable and how we should save things. I'm also very suspicious of governments, so it's like an expression of that. Movies have to be fun. If a movie's not fun, I don't want to do it."
For Emmerich, humor and hope were key elements to have in 2012. "It was intentional. You cannot make a movie and everybody's dead; that would be kind of sad," he said. "In a sense this is a modern re-telling of Noah's Ark. [There's] the survivors and at the end there's hope and that's exactly what we wanted to convey." He added, "You have to give the people release, if they cannot laugh once in a while they would not enjoy the movie. A little bit for the tone of Independence Day. In Day After Tomorrow the theme of the movie was too serious. ... It's good to laugh once in while, even in Schindler's List there were a few laughs and I think it's good."
The movie's message of hope was also important to Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays Adrian Helmsley, the president's chief science advisor who has managed to decode the earth's messages and is determined to do what he can to help as many people as possible. As the British actor explained, "Even in recent tragedies we see in the world now, people tend to find great unity in them. That's one of the things this story talks about: great optimism in humanity and people, and that is what this story was really kind of getting at. There is an inherent good and these things bring them out."
And speaking of inherent goodness, Peet hailed her director for being so "thoughtful" and supportive of his actors during the physically rigorous and effects-heavy shoot. "I have a 2 year old and we were shooting long days in the tank in the water, and I had kind of had it a little bit and started to get deluded that I knew something the (first assistant director) or the producers haven't thought through," Peet recalled. "And I went up to Roland and said 'Why are we going from the tanks to the other only to come back to the tanks?' Roland said, 'Do you want to be in the tanks two days in a row?' and I said, 'No.' And he said, 'That's why.' So he is incredibly humane."
Now that he's virtually synonymous with disaster epics, is Roland Emmerich finally ready to walk away from that genre? "Hopefully, I have it out of my system [but] never say never," he said. "I have not the feeling that I will do something like this again."