Apocalypse Soon: End Days at the Multiplex

California slides into the ocean (finally!) in the Doomsday film "2012."
California slides into the ocean (finally!) in the Doomsday film "2012." disaster movie apocalypse roland emmerich
Columbia Pictures

NASA has posted a notice on its Web site assuring us that the world won't end in the year 2012, as a new movie would have it. Scientifically valid or not, there's an audience for films such as "2012." Here's our critic David Edelstein:

For some reason we Americans have always relished a good doomsday scenario, but these days there are so many it's hard to keep them straight - deep freezes, aliens, zombie plagues.

In "2012," solar neutrinos microwave the Earth's core, so the crust cracks and oceans rise and billions of people die - and John Cusack tries to get back together with his wife, Amanda Peet.

Yes, it's a Roland Emmerich picture, which means it clunks back and forth between massive videogame-like special effects and "Love Boat"-style sub-plots where different characters try to muster up the courage to express their, you know, feelings.

OK, feelings have a place, even at the end of days; and the theme of holding onto our humanity in the midst of catastrophe is a noble one.

But even though "2012 has a lot of high-flown talk about whether humanity is worth saving if you have to resort to inhuman means, it's a lowdown piece of fear-mongering. It promotes the profitable 2012/doomsday fad, which revolves around the Mayan calendar, polar shifts, and - I'm not making this up - the planet "Nibiru."

There's no reason given for the dying of the Earth in another doomsday film, "The Road." Project on it what you will: The world that's left is all browns and grays - the color green is history.

(Dimension Films )
The road of "The Road" is paved with cannibals. It's the mission of Viggo Mortensen as a character called "The Man" to keep his son (called "The Boy") eating, and uneaten.

(Left: Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee.)

The movie is based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy, who writes about the age of good men and heroes, now passed. All that's left is blind forward motion on a possibly nowhere road for the sake of a child - the future of the species. The father kills and punishes; the son, the voice of humanism, argues for mercy and compassion.

On its own grueling terms, "The Road" is a triumph, a deeply evocative downer. But it's hard to say, "Go see it!"

Yes, it's a kind of therapy to see our fictional counterparts die in horrible ways, our cities crumble, our deepest anxieties come to pass. But I worry this obsession with apocalypse is turning into a fetish.

It's like we're all so confused about the state of our world, we can't wait to blow it up and start again.

David Edelstein Also Endorses:

  • The animated "Fantastic Mr. Fox" by Wes Anderson, from the Roald Dahl book: "Endlessly enchanting."
  • "The Messenger" by Oren Moverman

    For more info:
    "2012" (Official Movie Web Site)
    "The Road" (Official Movie Web Site)
    "The Road" (Official Movie Web Site)
    The Projectionist (David Edelstein's Movie Blog)