Some thoughts, kind of, on 2012

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2012 reminds me a lot of the night back in December of 1972 when my father packed us all into the car and took us to a late-night show of The Poseidon Adventure. I had just turned 11 and had never seen a "grown-up" movie before. The movie I can remember seeing in theaters before The Poseidon Adventure was The Aristocats.

My father wanted to see The Poseidon Adventure because he had been a fan of the novel by Paul Gallico. God knows why he wanted to take all his kids to see it. But it was considered such an "event" that he took us to a whole different town to see it — the town where we lived didn’t have a first-run theater at the time.

Needless to say, I was utterly floored. I got caught up in the story, even though the characters in the movie talked about a lot of things I didn’t really understand. I rooted for Ernest Borgnine, who I knew from McHale’s Navy, and for Gene Hackman, who I knew had been in The French Connection (which I knew about primarily from the Mad Magazine satire, "What’s the Connection?"), and of course for the kids. Despite the creakiness of the plotting, I was stunned by the production design and the level of detail brought to the sets; I completely believed that these people were negotiating an upside-down ocean liner.

My father didn’t like the picture much, thought it was crude and obvious. He harrumphed and sighed afterward at the script’s cliches and pulp. We went out to an all-night diner afterward for pie, and he asked me what I liked best about the movie. I told him about my favorite sequences, like where they climb up the Christmas tree and when the kid walks into the upside-down men’s room and when they have to swim through the underwater chamber. "I liked the fat lady," I chirped. My father held his head haught, looked offended and said, as only a Wasp patriarch can, "That ‘fat lady’ was Shelley Winters." When the movie came around to our local second-run theater a year later, I went to see it again and my father was appalled. "Did the dumb captain steer the ship into the wave again?" he asked when I came home. I didn’t care; the movie had given me a window into something I hadn’t known before: movies can blow shit up better than anything. No play, TV show or novel could deliver the kind of carnage and destruction I saw on screen during The Poseidon Adventure, and if there’s one thing an 11-year-old white boy in the Midwest needs to see, it’s stuff all blown to smithereens in Panavision.

My first date, at age 13, was to go to see Earthquake in Sensurround. I showed up, my date did not — it turned out that she hadn’t told her father who she was going to meet at the theater until he was driving her there. I did not meet his approval and he had turned her around and driven her back home. I never spoke to the girl again, but I went to see Earthquake three times.

When The Towering Inferno opened a month later, I was there opening night — nothing was going to keep me from the new Irwin Allen movie. I had never seen Paul Newman or Steve McQueen in anything, although of course I knew they were movie stars, and Faye Dunaway I knew had been in Bonnie and Clyde, and Fred Astaire (Fred Astaire!) was a known quantity, and I had the time of my life. As prep, I had read both novels the movie was based on (The Tower and The Glass Inferno) so that I’d be sure to be well ahead of the others in the audience. The Towering Inferno was the first movie I’d ever seen that was nominated for Best Picture (it was! really!) and when The Godfather Part II won instead I was profoundly disappointed (I’ve since forgiven the Academy).

The disaster-movie wave ended around the time of The Swarm, and by that time I was no longer 11. Irwin Allen proved to be at the end of his run, and spectacle was taken over by the Spielberg/Lucas axis of filmmakers.

Anyway, 2012 re-awakened my 11-year-old self. It blows shit up like nothing you’ve ever seen before.


27 Responses to “Some thoughts, kind of, on 2012”
  1. jedisoth says:

    Anyway, 2012 re-awakened my 11-year-old self. It blows shit up like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

    And really, for a popcorn flick, for what more could you ask?

  2. I saw The Poseidon Adventure first run when I was 11 years old as well. I remember enjoying it (hey special effects! the infamous shot of the guy falling down, backwards into the lighted glass), and rooting for Roddy McDowell’s character since I had seen Escape From the Planet of the Apes the year before so of course Cornelius had to survive the upside down ship,….. right?

  3. urbaniak says:

    That ‘fat lady’ was Shelley Winters.

    I, of course, have heard you tell this story before and that remains one of my all-time favorite quotes ever.

  4. Not sure what it is, but the phrase, “I don’t you seeing that Alcott boy anymore” seems really, really funny.

  5. pirateman says:

    See, I too am a huge fan of disaster movies and of blowing shit up. But what bothers me about 2012 (I haven’t seen it yet, mind you) is all that CG. In my opinion, on of the things that makes the towering inferno and the Poseidon Adventure so great are the insane sets and special effects. I don’t think I would’ve been as impressed if they had used CG fire for some reason.

    • Todd says:

      The miniature and matte work in Poseidon, Earthquake and Inferno was top-of-the-line at the time, and looks kind of dodgy now. I imagine something similar will happen with 2012. One day it may look unconvincing, but for right now, man oh man.

  6. crypticpress says:

    I love the Irwin Allen disaster movies, but I haven’t had too much interest in seeing anything Emmerich post-Independence Day.

    Might go catch 2012 in the theater if some friends are diehard about it. However, I’d already be at the theater if THIS was what the movie was actually like:

  7. ndgmtlcd says:

    That’s what’s got me worried about Emmerich’s plan to do a film version of Asimov’s Foundation trilogy. There’s no shit to blow up in those stories.

  8. Anonymous says:

    the original Poseidon Adventure was written, if I remember right (and I’m too lazy to bring up imdb right now) by Sterling Silliphant, a writer I admire very much (and not just because he trained with Bruce Lee) … but it was based on a book, of course.

    For me the really interesting and stunning aspect about it film was Gene Hackman’s character, a pastor openly critical of God, who even hollers at him … at the time, when I was a youngster (and I saw this on television) that was strong stuff … and it created a real interesting thematic journey … a lot of it is soap opera-y, sure … but that central question of “does god care, or are we on our own?” really stuck with me.

    And hey, there’s Roddy McDowell as a steward … and Leslie Neilson as the captain … and …

    Josh James

    • Todd says:

      For me, the great thing about Silliphant’s screenplay is the central metaphor. The ship is upside-down, ie the world is upside-down in 1972, and who will survive in a world turned upside-down? The capitalists want to risk everything for a little bit of profit on the way to the scrapyard, the captain is helpless before his corporate bosses, all the authority figures want us to stay put and wait for help. It takes a fallen priest, a beat cop and a portly Jewish woman to lead us where we need to go to survive.

    • greyaenigma says:

      Now that you mention it, that fallen priest might have been the start of my downfall.

  9. leborcham says:

    We saw the movie Monday at a press screening and the audience was convulsed with laughter thoughout most of 2012. The CGI was mostly very good and the story was silly but it lacked something even as imaginative as Shelley Winters swim for glory. The characters were soooooooooo trite and predictable! I know that is part of the disaster movie paradigm but Roland Emmerich really can only repeat things he’s seen before in other, sooner movies.

    • leborcham says:

      PS: we saw A SERIOUS MAN last night, partly on your recommendation. That was a better movie than 2012, although both dealt with similar themes of life as we know it ending.

      • Todd says:

        Well okay, A Serious Man is a better movie than 2012, if what you’re looking for is penetrating character studies and intense examination of the human condition. But it didn’t have nearly enough shit blowing up.

  10. craigjclark says:

    The disaster-movie wave ended around the time of The Swarm, and by that time I was no longer 11. Irwin Allen proved to be at the end of his run, and spectacle was taken over by the Spielberg/Lucas axis of filmmakers.

    The Swarm would have been Irwin Allen’s last gasp if not for When Time Ran Out, which came out two years later and — along with the execrable Meteor — pretty much drove the stake through the heart of the disaster movie.

  11. gillan says:

    I went to see 2012 and had a hard time enjoying it. Having protagonists drop sassy one-liners while people are dying in thousands in the background made my stomach sour. It was like someone putting 9/11 to Yakety Sax.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Not to be offensive, But it sounds like your dad was acting like a jackass with regards to the poseidon adventure. My father is a director and quite highly educated and I have never seen him sneer and raise his nose at anything.

    But then again he taught me that anyone who can’t sometimes treat something like film and television as simply entertainment (as is the case with disaster movies and action films) and always have to see the deeper meaning and art of something has their head jammed really far up their own asses. So I might be biased with regards to this topic.

    The only time I ever seen him get outright angry over an adaptation was Dune. But then he said that trying to do a Dune film for less than 200 million and less than a mininum of 4 hours long is a practice in pointlessness