Release Date(s)2009 (January 19, 2021)
Studio(s)Centropolis Entertainment, Columbia Pictures (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: B
When the world’s best scientists (including geologist Adrian Helmsley, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) begin to notice strange physical effects on Earth in the lead up to a legendary planetary alignment of the solar system predicted by the ancient Mayans, the world’s leaders—including America’s President Wilson (Danny Glover)—are forced to begin planning for the unthinkable: the literal end of the world as we know it. But the public is unaware, including L.A. writer Jackson Curtis (John Cusack), who’s taking his kids on a weekend trip to Yellowstone National Park. Once there, however, things aren’t quite as they expect. Not only is there a heavy military presence in the park, but a radio conspiracy kook (Woody Harrelson) is on hand too, broadcasting his prediction of the End Times to anyone who will listen. So when events begin to hit the fan, and Curtis realizes that the kook might actually be right, he races home in a desperate attempt to save his family from the impending disaster by any means necessary.
It should be said right up front: 2012 is so over-the-top it actually orbits itself. But that’s a feature of this film and not a bug, so your best course of action here is simply to turn off your brain and enjoy the deliciously ridiculous spectacle and chaos. The story is anchored by solid, workmanlike performances by John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Oliver Platt, Thandie Newton, Amanda Peet, Danny Glover, John Billingsly, Blu Mankuma, and George Segal, each relatable as ever. For sheer crazy, Woody Harrelson steals the show in the first half of the film, while Zlatko Burić takes up the batsh*t baton for the film’s second half—they really do make the film entertaining to watch from start to finish. And let’s be honest: While not a tiny bit of the “science” in this film makes logical sense, the VFX sequences are a riot, from the eruption of the Yellowstone super-volcano, to the total destruction of Los Angeles via earthquakes, to the flooding of the Himalayas by super Tidal waves. None of this makes a lick of sense and who cares? It’s a hoot to see.
2012 was shot mostly photochemically in Super35 format using Panavision cameras and lenses, though a little bit was also captured digitally in HDCAM SR format using the Panavision Genesis camera. The film was originally finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate, with VFX produced in 2K. For its release on Ultra HD, the camera negative was rescanned in 4K and VFX were upsampled to create a new 4K DI, complete with a High Dynamic Range color grade (in HDR10 only). The resulting image quality is impressive in terms of texturing and overall detail, though it should be noted that 2012 has always had a moody, high contrast appearance. This is enhanced by the new HDR grade, which allows for truly inky shadows and brighter highlights—bordering on hot looking, in fact. This film also boasts extensive use of visual atmospherics—both in its live action photography and VFX—that do reduce fine detail levels just a bit. But that’s not a knock against this 4K presentation; the film looks exactly as its meant to, and certainly better than ever. Colors are more nuanced and richly saturated, as one might expect. It should also be noted that Sony’s previous Blu-ray release was terrific looking already. The new 4K presentation improves on it to be sure, but the difference isn’t massive.
Primary audio on the 4K disc is offered in a new English Dolby Atmos mix that definitely kicks things up a notch sonically. Sony’s DTS-HD MA Blu-ray sound mix was reference quality for its day, yet the Atmos improves upon it in a number of ways. The height channels are almost constantly active and used to terrific effect in set-pieces—and let’s be honest: almost the entire film is a set-piece. But the smoothness and accuracy of the Atmos mix’s panning and movement really makes a difference here. As a listener, you truly feel a sense of 360-degree immersion in the film’s sound spaces. Even the softest audio cues filter in from all around with breathtaking clarity. And when the mix starts to flex its muscle, there’s incredible dynamics and rumbling low end aplenty, all present at no cost to the precision or tonal quality. There’s really no other way to say it: This is a reference-grade Atmos experience. Additional audio options include the previous Blu-ray’s English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix, along with English Descriptive Audio and 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes in Catalian, Czech, French, Quebec French, German, Hindi, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Polish VoiceOver, Portuguese, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, Thai, and Turkish. Optional subtitles are included in English, English SDH, Arabic, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Czech, Danish, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, Swedish, Thai, and Turkish.
The only extras on the 4K disc are as follows:
- Discovery Channel’s 2012 Apocalypse special (HD – 43:50)
- Theatrical Trailers (HD – 6 trailers – 11:37 in all)
Those features are actually new to this 4K release. Sony’s UHD package also includes the previous 2-disc Blu-ray special edition, which adds the following:
- Picture-in-Picture: Roland’s Vision viewing mode
- Audio Commentary with Roland Emmerich and Harald Kloser
- Alternate Ending (HD – 3:39)
- Interactive Mayan Calendar (BD Java feature)
- Mysteries of the Mayan Calendar (HD – 3:53)
- Deleted Scenes (HD – 5 scenes – 4:55 in all)
- Designing the End of the World (HD – 26:03)
- Roland Emmerich: The Master of the Modern Epic (HD – 9:31)
- Science Behind the Destruction (HD – 13:19)
- The End of the World: The Actor’s Perspective (HD – 7:34)
- Adam Lambert’s Time for Miracles music video (HD – 4:19)
- Making the Music Video: Time for Miracles with Adam Lambert (HD – 2:43)
- Countdown to the Future (HD – 22:03)
It’s a lot of content to be sure, probably more than a film like this really deserves. The commentary is interesting, just hearing Emmerich discuss his motivations and his approach to such films. He’s clearly mastered the epic cinematic action genre and it’s fascinating the way he’s been able to find new kinds of stories to tell within that space. The rest of the content is take it or leave it, especially the Mayan prophecy nonsense. But there’s about an hour of actual filmmaking behind-the-scenes material that’s worth your time. And I’ll be honest; I kind of like that Alternate Ending. I mean, it’s not that much more ridiculous than the rest of the film. Of course, you also get a Digital Copy code on a paper insert.
Given the year we’ve all just experienced in 2020, it’s kind of cute to think back on some of the silly paranoia that was generated in the run up to 2012. So Roland Emmerich’s 2012 functions now as an almost perfect time capsule in addition to being an absolutely bananas, magnificently ridiculous, large-scale VFX popcorn disaster epic at its finest. It’s certainly not for everyone, and you won’t see me defending its intelligence quotient. But it’s good fun in the same way that a roller coaster ride is. If you’re already a fan, and have enjoyed the film on Blu-ray previously, the experience is only improved by its appearance on 4K UHD. And it’s only $19 on Amazon right now, so if you have even a passing interest, don’t hesitate to make the upgrade.
- Bill Hunt