Just when Hollywood seems to run out of box-office hits, Roland Emmerich’s 2012 succeeded in turning the tide. While raking in millions of dollars, the movie stands out in attracting the most disparaging reviews, ranging from “a total waste of time” to “two thumbs up”. Coming from the same Director of Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, what makes 2012 so different from other disaster movies?
First, timing is everything. Unlike others catastrophic movies, like Armageddon or The Day After Tomorrow, 2012 predicts that the world is coming to an end within 3 years time. By adding an imminent period to the earth’s biological clock, the movie proves to work immensely well with an audience living under the sword of Damocles of the still unraveling global financial turmoil. From Wall Street to Main Street , bankers to brokers, fear has been the overriding emotion for the past two years – the fear of losing our jobs, our homes, and our livelihoods. Also, against the backdrop of “rain of biblical proportions” in Lake District , UK (as reported by BBC) and the recent talking heads reporting from Copenhagen , the time is ripe to take a hard look on earth-shattering disasters. Instead of providing a solution, however, 2012 deepens the fear, adding a twist to all the deliberation and empty talks. Sorry folks, this is it, there is no way of avoiding the end of the world.
Then, the place is the second twist. Unlike Armageddon, where the all American Bruce Willis joined hands with NASA to save the world, China played savior in this Hollywood sci-fi. Also, while the climatologist turned Whitehouse advisor (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) first discovered the world’s deadline in India and reported to the begrudging Whitehouse – as usual – it was China who acted on the delivery. At the end of the day, it was China who saved the world in 2012 – a new trick indeed! China , with her jaw-dropping technology and seamlessly orchestrated plan, not to mention her far-sightedness, patience, and inclusivity provided refuge for people from all nations, tribes and tongues. And in this case, China sacrificed herself in the process of saving the world. I was told that the original version has two scenes where the Great wall was swept away too but I did not see it in my version. Another trick inserted by the Director was, of the seventy over cities in China , it was not Beijing or Shanghai which was chosen for the secret location to build the ship but the mountainous Tibet . Three paradoxes are played out vividly here: (1) the strong and mighty like the Second-in-Command of the United States of America and the Queen of England came to seek refuge from the fragile, marginalized and often misunderstood savior; (2) In saving the world, the savior needs to sacrifice himself; (3) It was not in the capitol cities where the savior was hidden, but the quiet outskirt.
But what is the Plan? This, I believe, is what really distinguishes Emmerich’s latest flick from the rest, his previous ones included. Taking a leaf from Genesis – the first book in the Bible, the Plan is to have every living creature and some carefully selected people preserved in a very big ship when the world stops evolving following the deluge. In the Bible, the big ship was called the Ark , and it was built by a man called Noah (Genesis 6 – 9).
Had Emmerich been following China ’s aeronautical developments for the past few years, he would have named the spaceship Shenzhou ba hao. But, wait, why the Noah’s Ark Plan? The 54 year-old German director graduated from University of Television and Film Munich with a thesis entitled the Noah’s Ark Principles back in 1981.
Well, why then, did Emmerich choose China to play the unnamed Noah? Wouldn’t California – the hometown of Hollywood which is also governed by a Megastar-turned-Governor – the perfect blend to play savior? Pundits who suggest the quick answer of 1.3 billions cinema goers has got it only half right, for many – myself included – watched it through DVDs brought from the streets here in China.
Do the Chinese believe in the Bible? According to Emmerich, the answer is a resounding “yes”.