READ INTERVIEW WITH JOHN CUSACK
Centuries ago, the Maya left us their calendar, with a clear end date and all that it implies. Since then, astrologists have discovered it, numerologists have found patterns that predict it, geologists say the earth is overdue for it, and even government scientists cannot deny the cataclysm of epic proportions that awaits the earth in 2012. A prophecy that began with the Maya has now been well-chronicled, discussed, taken apart and examined. By 2012, we'll know - we were warned.
The film stars John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt, Thandie Newton, with Danny Glover and Woody Harrelson. Directed by Roland Emmerich. Written by Harald Kloser & Roland Emmerich.
A disaster film is a film genre that has an impending or ongoing disaster (such as a damaged airliner, fire, shipwreck, or an asteroid collision) as its subject. These films typically feature large casts of well-known actors and multiple plotlines, focusing on the characters' attempts to avert, escape or cope with the disaster and its aftermath. The genre had its greatest box office success during the 1970s with the release of Airport (1970), followed in quick succession by The Poseidon Adventure (1972), Earthquake (1974) and The Towering Inferno (1974). Read more
ABOUT THE FILM
The idea for 2012 first occurred to writer/producer/composer Harald Kloser, Roland Emmerich's writing partner. "Every civilization on Earth has a flood myth," says Kloser. "Things are going wrong, society isn't working anymore, and the planet starts over. Some people get a second chance to start a new culture, a new society, a new civilization."
The idea crystallized as Kloser and Emmerich discovered a compelling hook on which to hang their contemporary flood story. The Mayan calendar is set to reach the end of its 13th cycle on December 21, 2012 - and nothing follows that date. That, of course, leads to the question - if the calendar doesn't continue, what will follow? "You will find millions of people, from all walks of life, who believe that in 2012 there will be some kind of shift in society, or a shift in spirit," says Kloser. The scope and variety of theories provided inspiration for Emmerich and Kloser as they penned their screenplay.
The key for the director, who is well known for box office hits such as Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, would be to find a way to set 2012 apart from those disaster epics. "The more I talked with Harald about the story, the more I realized this is really something people today can relate to. There are a lot of philosophical and political elements, which I think add to the disaster element."
Central to that was creating characters that would experience those philosophical and political upheavals, in effect creating the disaster on a human scale. John Cusack stars 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.
Meanwhile, at the very highest reaches of the world's governments, there is a plan. They will not be able to save the entire human race, but they will be able to save some, and those few will have the chance to begin society anew. President Thomas Wilson, played by Danny Glover, is very quick to understand the crisis the world is about to face - and equally quick to prevent mass hysteria by keeping the information secret. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays the president's chief science advisor, Adrian Helmsley, who has managed to decode the earth's messages and is determined to do what he can to help as many people as possible. Carl Anheuser, the president's chief of staff played by Oliver Platt, might be pompous and quick-tempered, but he is equally determined to see society - at least, those in society who can afford it - survive. Thandie Newton, playing the president's daughter, Laura, is shocked to find out what her father's government has hidden from the world. In fact, it seems that the only man outside the government with any clue as to what is about to happen is the radio host (and maybe prophet) Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson), who broadcasts his predictions to anyone who will listen.
The screenplay that Kloser and Emmerich wrote is in many ways the largest scale that Emmerich has yet attempted. To bring it to the screen, he combines special and visual effects, which, the director says, allowed him the freedom to choose how best to bring a scene to life. "The objective is that the viewer can't tell what we actually built and what's a visual effect, made in the computer," explains production designer Barry Chusid. "Hopefully, in the end, you watch the movie and ask, 'Where did they find the mountain to build these things in?'"
For example, the production built a few outdoor "shaky floor" stages - giant sets built on gimbals that the director could move as his actors ran through. "Roland took an entire city street, with palm trees, concrete, facades of houses, and he put them all on these giant gimbals - these huge movers - and said, 'You're supposed to run across it and get into a car and drive off,'" says Cusack. By the end, he says, "I was in water, fire, earth, ash clouds, earthquakes, pretty much everything you can think of. I drove every vehicle you can think of away from every disaster you can think of. It was a little hectic."
What could not be built by carpenters was built by computer animators, and to bring Emmerich's vision to life, only CGI could suffice. "It's not as difficult as I imagined it," says Cusack. "Roland has everything worked out and can show you just how it will appear when it's all done. He's so confident that it becomes fun just to imagine what he's imagining."
"Pretty much everything about this movie is appealing to me," says Marc Weigert, who serves as a visual effects supervisor and co-producer of the film. "More than half the movie is visual effects. I think Roland has found a way to stick almost every natural disaster you can imagine into this film. L.A. is destroyed in a 10.5 earthquake by page 30. Yellowstone Park goes up in a thirty-mile-wide explosion of lava. But the real reason why it's so much fun to work with Roland is that he brings something new, something different to every single scene. You might think, 'Hm, I've seen movies with an earthquake.' Well, no, you haven't."
2012 ended up being an enormous production, even by Emmerich's scale. According to Cusack, "The scope of it is bigger than anything I've seen. Every page of the script was a scene where you wondered just what Roland had in mind, because it seemed so ambitious, so huge. But what's interesting about watching Roland on the set is that he's never pulling his hair out. He can be surrounded by massive sets or green screen, but he's got it all in his head. He knows exactly what he wants it to look like, and he is able to command the armies necessary to bring it home. It's pretty wild."
ABOUT THE CHARACTERS
The story is presented from two points of view: those who know about the cataclysmic events that await the earth and those who remain in the dark. John Cusack's Jackson Curtis is a civilian who stumbles into the news that the world as we know it is coming to an end.
Harald Kloser says the part is not only a stand-in for the audience, but for certain filmmakers as well. "I know the Jackson character really well because I have two kids, I'm divorced and I'm a writer. You see where this is going?" he laughs. Read more
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
2012 was filmed in Vancouver, Canada, over a period of five months. The production utilized more than 13 soundstages at five different facilities, and a couple of make-shift outdoor "stages" comprised of a vast "shaky floor" complete with palm trees and blue screen. The areas around Kamloops doubled for Yellowstone Park and Tibet, where the company shot for one week. Read more
ABOUT THE VISUAL EFFECTS
2012 reunites co-producers and visual effects supervisors Volker Engel and Marc Weigert with Roland Emmerich and his specific vision. Engel and Emmerich go back to 1988 in Stuttgart where Engel was a film student. Emmerich hired him to work on Moon 44, and the two re-paired on Universal Soldier, Godzilla and Independence Day. Weigert and Engel began their partnership with Independence Day. Read more
THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT
And what if the end of the world really was upon us? Would you want to know? What would you do? Kloser already knows his answer. "I would do exactly what Jackson Curtis does. I would grab my kids and take them to where it's safe, as best I can."
Oliver Platt says, "I think the calculation was if everybody knew, there's no way the plan would survive, that there'd be completed chaos. Just because my character thinks it's right, doesn't mean I think it's right. Just for the record. You all think we'd want to know, but if there's nothing you could do about it, would you want to know?"
Chiwetel Ejiofor has given the question some consideration. "I'd stand by the view that people should know. And the consequences of that can be quite large. It's one of the complications in the film, that sort of doubt - there wouldn't be an easy answer, there's not an easy answer in this film and there wouldn't be an easy answer in real life. "
Cusack sums it up. "I'm not sure. It's an interesting question. Who would you call, what would be the last thing you do? I think I might have a cigarette. I quit smoking, but if the world were ending, I might have a cigarette."
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
As the end of the Mayan calendar approaches, several researchers have studied the phenomena that are predicted to hit the earth in 2012. Though these experts agree on several areas of their study - notably that the earth is expected to go through a moment of cataclysmic change - many areas remain in question or controversy.
LAWRENCE E. JOSEPH is the author of Apocalypse 2012: An Investigation into Civilization's End. In Joseph's book, the Maya prophecy is just the beginning - he goes on to describe the calamities that some scientists are predicting, including solar activity, magnetic pole shift, and the Yellowstone supervolcano. The book examines the strange coincidence that both ancient Mayan prophecy and contemporary solar physics indicate that the year 2012 will be pivotal, perhaps catastrophic.
JOHN MAJOR JENKINS is the author of Maya Cosmogenesis 2012: The True Meaning of the Maya Calendar End-Date. He has devoted his career to reconstructing ancient Mayan cosmology and philosophy. With The New York Times hailing Jenkins as "applying academic rigor" to the 2012 theories, Jenkins has become a principal driver and clear explainer of the kinds of shifts that might await the planet. He advocates studying 2012 from the Maya viewpoint, which state that cycle end-dates (like that in 2012, when a rare "galactic alignment" is predicted to occur) are times of transformation and renewal. Jenkins' most recent book is The 2012 Story: The Myths, Fallacies, and Truth Behind the Most Intriguing Date in History.
DANIEL PINCHBECK is the author of 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl and editor of Reality Sandwich (www.realitysandwich.com). He argues that the end-date of the Maya's Long Count Calendar indicates a potential paradigm shift in human civilization, as we face ecological crisis. The transformation, he believes, could lead to an integration of modern science with mysticism. This change is represented by Quetzlacoatl, the feathered-serpent deity of Mesoamerican myth, representing the unity of heaven and earth, spirit and matter.
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
ROLAND EMMERICH (Director, Screenwriter, Executive Producer) most recently directed, wrote and produced the prehistoric epic 10,000 B.C., which was released by Warner Bros. during the spring of 2008.
His previous films include the box-office hits Independence Day starring Will Smith; The Day After Tomorrow with Jake Gyllenhaal and Dennis Quaid; The Patriot with Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger; Godzilla, Stargate and Universal Soldier, which was his first American film.
Emmerich began his career in his native Germany where studied film at the Munich Film School. His student thesis, the feature length film The Noah's Ark Principle, went on to compete in the 1984 Berlin Film Festival and was subsequently released in more than 20 countries. Buoyed by his early success, Emmerich formed Centropolis Film Productions, and under its' aegis produced, wrote and directed Making Contact (aka Joey), Ghost Chase, and Moon 44.
In 2007 Emmerich produced the film Trade, a gripping drama about human trafficking in Mexico and the U.S.
HARALD KLOSER (Producer, Screenwriter, Composer) previously wrote, executive produced and composed for the prehistoric epic 10,000 B.C.
Primarily known in the film industry for his work as a composer, Kloser has written the music scores for a wide range of film and television projects, including Dresden, Alien vs. Predator and Roland Emmerich's The Day After Tomorrow.
His previous credits include the features The Thirteenth Floor and The Harmonists, and the telefilm Sins of the Father.
Born in the small village of Hard, Austria, Kloser started out as a music teacher before becoming a professional musician. His composing career began in the world of pop and rock music, writing and producing for such artists as Elton John, Falco, Al Jarreau, Tom Waits, and Jose Feliciano, among many others. In 1991, Kloser and his family relocated to Los Angeles, where he began his career as a film composer.
GO BEHIND THE SCENES OF MEL GIBSON'S APOCALYPTO
READ MORE ABOUT THE MAYAN TIMELINE
THE ART OF ORIGINAL FILMMAKING