Did the Mayans really predict, all those centuries ago, that Earth would be visited by planetary apocalypse three years from now? It’s open to interpretation — Roland Emmerich has a gargantuan disaster movie to sell and even he admits the whole 2012 theory is just, “a nice hook for the audience.” John Cusack, Thandie Newton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Woody Harrelson and Danny Glover are a few of the stars swept up in Emmerich’s latest cataclysmic shocker. Rotten Tomatoes meets the cast and director in Cancun, Mexico – close to the once-throbbing heart of Mayan civilisation — for a 2012 fact-finding mission.
Continue onto the next page and beware some mild spoilers as we start our journey through the world of 2012.
Fact #1: Emmerich Was Reluctant to Re-enter the Disaster Fray
“I was very reluctant. Even my friends joke with me, ‘Oh, you destroy the world again,'” admits the Teutonic helmer of Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow. “But when you find something you’re really good at and very successful with, then once in a while you want to do it again because it’s very easy for you to get a lot of money to make these movies. And every time you can do it a little bit better. We can do things now that we couldn’t do when we were doing Independence Day. I had this watershed moment on The Day After Tomorrow where I finally believed that you can create whole environments digitally, and I said, ‘I think I’ll do a whole movie like that.'”
Fact #2: The Mayan Calendar Really Does End in 2012
The Central American civilisation wasn’t into predictions — least of all about its own collapse — but their sophisticated ‘Long Count’ calendar does comes to the end of a cycle on December 21, 2012. Skeptics say it’s merely fodder for conspiracy theorists and cash-ins. But some New Age theorists are convinced the date will bring either cataclysm or enlightenment. “It’s fascinating that a culture which disappeared 1500 years ago would have this notion that the world would end on this exact date,” observes Emmerich. “Do I believe? Sometimes I do and then my brain says, ‘It’s ridiculous.’ But do some research and you find some other cultures say the same thing — it’s eerie.”
Fact #3: Emmerich Tripped Up the President
The production constructed a massive platform operated on a gimbal for the film’s rough-and-tumble earthquake sequences. Danny Glover, playing the US President, was the first 2012 headliner to attempt to manoeuvre his way across the ‘shaky-floor’ stage but tumbled and fell, prompting Emmerich to dial down the quake factor. “It was incredible — when this thing went, it felt really like an eight or nine point earthquake,” the director chortles. “We actually had to tone it down because people freaked out.”
Fact #4: Cusack Was Thrilled to Take the Lead
At first sight, Cusack and Emmerich make an odd Hollywood pairing. But the 43-year-old star insists he was ecstatic when the director approached him. “I liked The Patriot and Stargate,” Cusack tells RT. “For me, if I can get a big movie like this every once in a while, I’d love to do it. And then you can use that to leverage smaller movies.” Plus, he insists the script, co-written by Emmerich and Harald Klauser, took him by surprise. “In a strange way, it’s not a genre disaster movie — it’s much more elegantly written and character-based. It doesn’t follow the normal disaster movie formula.”
Fact #5: Emmerich Didn’t Touch Manhattan… Or Mecca
“I wanted to stay away from New York because I had destroyed it too many times. So I said, ‘No New York this time.'” Instead, the skyscraping metropolis pictured is Downtown LA. As for Mecca, Emmerich originally planned to dish out the same destructive pulverising to the Muslim holy site that he unleashes on the rest of the world in 2012. But he bottled it. “That’s the problem with our world. If you would destroy Mecca, I would have a fatwa on my head. So we stayed away from it.” The Vatican on the other hand? It crumbles to dust, taking out a few thousand Catholic worshippers on the way.
Fact #6: 3D Was Never an Option
“I’m not sure about 3D yet,” Emmerich tells us. “It’s different when you’re James Cameron and you have three and a half years. But we had so many scenes with actors in these situations that I thought it was probably too dangerous to shoot in 3D. I want to see Avatar, and then I’ll make a judgement. So far what I have seen in 3D was not convincing to me. Whenever I see a 3D movie, I feel like I’m on mushrooms.”
Fact #7: For Actors, Blue Screen Doesn’t Have to Be a Nightmare…
Cusack’s harried limo driver is subjected to fire, ash, ice, water, wind and earthquakes. But the actor insists that having to do disaster-acting in front of a giant blue drape wasn’t the tedious challenge he thought it would be, thanks to Emmerich’s insistence on building a realistic soundstage world and creating each sequence with pre-visualisation technology so he could give his actors a sense of what they were panicking about. “The sets were astonishing,” says Cusack. “When I’m on the glacier, they built a massive glacier the size of a soundstage. It wasn’t what I’ve heard it can be like, where there’s nothing to play off.”
Fact #8: …But it Often Does
“Even beyond my wildest imagination, I couldn’t perceive things to the degree that they were being perceived by Roland,” says Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays 2012‘s doomsday-predicting science boffin. “I’d go into the air force hangar and see the blue screen and think, ‘Okay, it’s a set.’ But through Roland’s eyes, it’s this huge, expansive landscape. I felt like I was watching it all for the first time when he showed the finished film to me.”
Fact #9: Thandie Newton Got Soaked
“I got drenched,” moans the Crash star, who plays the US President’s feisty daughter. “I was in wet clothes all fucking day and I’d be like, ‘Eech, I want to go home.'” In one sequence, as Newton’s art-curator character is attempting to grab her place on one of the floating Arks built to save pockets of humanity, she endured days of dampening. “The biggest effects sequence I was involved in was when we were on the Ark and it was gradually filling with water. This tidal wave came around the corner! How do they do that? When you’re doing something like that, there’s water everywhere, you’re trying to get up the ladder and it’s amazing, it’s really happening. And then, ‘Cut! Reset.’ The water gets drained through God knows where, gets put back to God knows where and we go again.”
Fact #10: Underneath That Calamity Dressing Lies Some Hefty Themes
“The disaster doesn’t get resolved,” notes Cusack. “When you see the water come over the Himalayan peaks, it’s about what you’re going to do with your final days. How do you separate the essential from the non-essential? Who’s important to you and what are you going to do with the time you have left? If it is a genre movie, it busts it wide open.”
Fact #11: The Governator Wants a Private Screening
In 2012, an unnamed Californian governor goes on telly to assure his citizens that everything’s going to be alright. In a heavy German accent. Then a monster earthquake strikes… It’s a little in-joke, although Schwarzenegger’s name is never mentioned. But Emmerich’s still nervous about showing him the film. “A good friend of his has seen the movie and told him about it. Now Arnold has invited me to his house to show him 2012 and I’m constantly saying, ‘It’s not finished yet.’ I’m a little scared.”
Fact #12: Emmerich’s A Big Softie Now
“I think my movies constantly evolve,” muses the disaster-master. “I think they’ve become more emotional and intimate; I think they have more heart now, especially this one. My all-time favourite scene of all my movies is in 2012 — it’s when John Cusack, who’s this father who pretty much fucked up his marriage and the relationship with his kids, knows that they will run out of gasoline soon in this big Antonov plane and he has to somehow tell his kids. And how he does that is an incredible, sweet and tender moment.”
2012 opens in Australia on 12th November and in the UK and the US on 13th November.