Skin, not soul. It’s the curse of the lad-mag/chick-flick obsessed generations – beauty, relationships, sex become about appearance and not reality, about surface not feeling, about sensation not depth. It’s well recorded the corrosive impact this has on expectations or experiences of relationship – nothing can ever match up to the image in the head, to the fantasy in the head. All surface, no feeling as the Manic Street Preachers once sang.
Special effects film run a similar risk – spectacle not soul. They needn’t be, of course. At their very best, special effects laden films enhance the soul of a film. Take the Lord Of The Rings movies, for example. Or Batman Begins. Too often, though, it’s all flash and bang, smoke and mirrors, to divert away from an empty heart. Enter, then Roland Emmerich, shadowy and sinister purveyor of this new destruction pornography. The vapid remake of Godzilla took out a city or so. Otherwise it’s been pick your end of the world poison: aliens in Independence Day; supercharged climate change in The Day After Tomorrow; and in 2012 (his latest offering), it’s an accelerated ‘natural’ process, originally prophesied by the Mayans. It ticks off all the disaster movie conventions (dog, estranged family, maverick scientists proved right), without either a sense of humour or of drama or of depth to make any of them stick. Of course, the visuals are desperately impressive, but all it does is distract from the vacuous nature of the allegedly thrilling roller coster ride that we’re given. The spectacle deflects from an empty heart.
You could argue that just makes the film overwhelmingly cynical. It is cynical, but that’s not why. That comes in an appallingly insulting ending; the remnants of humanity have survived aboard a series of super ships (arks); they discover after a few weeks afloat that Africa, until that point completely unmentioned, has not flooded much, and is the place to make for. So doubtless in some way this was an attempt to tack on a sheen of respectability and worldwide awareness to the standard Western-centric model of the rest of the film. Instead it’s just doubly crass and misjudged, in fitting with a film that has nothing in its heart and soul, and nothing to add to the tradition and genre of end-of-the world and/or disaster movies. It’s not even good eye-candy; it just makes you sick.