Updated: Jan 29
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
(1) From Times Square, thousands watch President Wilson (Danny Glover) address the country, as the world spins into its final days. (2) A tidal wave over 20,000 feet in height smashes a Buddhist temple in the Himalayas.
(Click an image to scroll the larger versions)
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2009; PG-13 for intense disaster sequences and some profanity; streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple (4K), FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu, YouTube (4K)
Best extra: Commentary with writer/director Roland Emmerich, and his co-writer partner and composer Harald Kloser
NO ONE TOPS director/producer Roland Emmerich in action- and FX-driven catastrophe extravaganzas.
Born in Germany, he began his filmmaking career as a student at the University of Television and Film in Munich, where he originally planned to become a production designer. That’s until he saw Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” “I was always looking to America. I thought the movies were more entertaining, more to my taste,” he said during a 2016 interview with Variety.
His second film “Making Contact” (1985), a take-off of Spielberg’s “Poltergeist,” featured 11-year-old Joey (Joshua Morrell) who used a toy phone to communicate with his late father. It was filmed in West Germany and released in German and English.
During Emmerich’s sci-fi adventure “Moon 44” (1990) he met New York actor Dean Devlin, who played one of the lead roles. They quickly became filmmaking partners, writing and producing the B-sci-fi film “Universal Soldiers” (1992) starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, which took home a solid $80 million box office. Next came the ambitious “Stargate” (1994), with a budget doubled to $55 million, starring Kurt Russell and James Spader. Their characters investigate a wormhole to the “other side of the known universe.” The popular film spawned two series and three direct-to-video movies.
(1) “2012” opens in 2009 when catastrophe solar flares and neutrino particles cause the temperature of the Earth’s core to increase rapidly. (2) American geologist Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) returns from India and gives President Wilson’s Chief of Staff Carl Anheuser (Oliver Pratt) the news of the pending catastrophic chain of natural disasters. (3) Helmsley gives President Wilson the possible scenarios. (4) Tibetan villagers are rounded up to work on a special dam project, but we know it's something different. (5&6) Author Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) takes his two children Lilly (Morgan Lily) and Noah (Liam James) to Yellowstone National Park for a short vacation, but they find a lake has disappeared and the military escorts them from the area.
Next, Emmerich and Devlin co-wrote and produced the breakout blockbuster “Independence Day” (1996), hoping to replicate the success of 1970s “The Poseidon Adventure” and “The Towering Inferno” by Irwin Allen. The alien invasion flick became the No. 1 film of the year, gaining a worldwide box office of over $800 million crowning Emmerich the Master of Disaster.
“Big images, and small and intimate stories,” are the two factors required in a successful disaster film, Emmerich says during one of the eight featurettes included on the three-disc “2012” 4K set. “That’s a great combination, and I’m fascinated by it.”
Emmerich and Devlin followed with “Godzilla” (1998), the 23rd film made about the Tokyo monster stomper, and the first American version. It featured a ‘90s all-star cast including Matthew Broderick and Jean Reno. But it fell short of expectations, making only $380 million worldwide. Critics weren’t nice. Sony Pictures did provide a 4K Ultra HD release in 2019, taking advantage of the theatrical release of Warner Brothers’ “Godzilla King of the Monsters.”
After his Revolutionary War drama “The Patriot” (2000) with Mel Gibson, Emmerich turned his attention to environmental and global warming issues in “The Day After Tomorrow” (2004). Dennis Quaid stars as climatologist Jack Hall, with a young Jake Gyllenhaal as his son, Sam. Critics gave it respectable reviews, and its worldwide box office topped $552 million, making it the sixth biggest film of the year. Here Emmerich wipes out Los Angeles with tornados, a giant hail storm hits Tokyo, and a tidal wave smashes into Manhattan, hurling the world into a new Ice Age.
(1&2) President Wilson (Danny Glover) addresses the G8 Summit with the news of the planet’s deadly path. (3&4) Fast-forward to 2012 and massive earthquakes hit Los Angeles as Jackson Curtis tries to escape with his children.
Afterward, Emmerich debated whether he’d ever do another disaster movie, but kept thinking about a modern retelling of Noah’s Ark. “At that time, it wasn’t fully a disaster movie,” he says during “The Master of the Modern Epic” featurette. But eventually, he heard about the 1950s theory of Earth Crust Displacement, which could lead to global flooding and other disaster scenarios. “That kind of became ‘2012’ our disaster movie,” he says. The storyline is also loosely based on the Mayan calendar’s end of the world prediction – December 21, 2012.
Emmerich assembled another all-star cast including John Cusack, as a frustrated but eventually heroic author Jackson Curtis, Amanda Peet as his estranged wife Kate, Danny Glover as President Wilson, British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor as the chief science adviser, Oliver Platt as chief of staff, and Woody Harrelson as a wild conspiracy theorist and radio jock Charlie Frost.
One of Emmerich’s biggest supporters is co-producer Mark Gordon (“Saving Private Ryan”) who joined his team in 2000. “People want to be entertained. People wanna be blown out of their seats and I think nobody does it better than Roland,” Gordon says.
“I think back when the big wave hit New York in the ‘The Day After Tomorrow,’ and the water coming down Fifth Avenue. That was something that people had never seen before. And I think that’s what’s so spectacular about Roland; his imagination allows him to go to places, which in some ways, you would say, ‘Well that could never happen.’ Maybe it could and maybe it couldn’t. It doesn’t matter.” – Producer Mark Gordon
(1-3) Jackson and his estranged wife Kate (Amanda Peet) and her boyfriend plastic surgeon Dr. Gordon Silberman (Thomas McCarthy) commandeer a twin-engine plane hoping to escape as the California coastline slides into the Pacific Ocean. (4) Conspiracy theorist and radio jock Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson) (5) Gordon and Kate watch a volcano explode during the beginning of the Earth Crust Displacement in Wyoming.
Emmerich holds nothing back. Whole cities fall into the ocean; entire neighborhoods vanish into the ground, while aircraft carrier U.S.S. John F. Kennedy flattens the White House and President Wilson at the same time. He even takes out Vatican City. The chosen few to be saved have mostly bought their way onto a dozen or so massive arks built by the Chinese in the Himalayas, ready for the time when tsunamis, earthquakes, and a complete shift in the Earth’s axis takes out the rest of the planet.
Who will survive?
“2012” ended up as a huge blockbuster, its biggest audience mostly overseas, earning a worldwide total of nearly $800 million.
The 4K disc includes the 43-minute Discovery Channel documentary “2012 Apocalypse,” which highlights what many doomsayers’ believed that life would end on Friday, Dec. 21, 2012. "If you listen to a lot of these threats, the Earth has a great big bull's eye on it...and any number of darts are going to hit," says John Rennie, contributing editor for Scientific American. Obviously, nothing happened, but it made for some titillating TV in 2009. The disc also includes a half-dozen trailers.
The two enclosed Blu-rays feature Emmerich’s commentary, with co-writer/composer Harald Kloser, and a pop video commentary, a common Blu-ray feature from a decade ago. The third disc also has an interactive Mayan calendar featurette, “Designing the End of the World.” The “Actor’s Perspective” shows how intense filming became, especially for co-stars Amanda Peet and John Cusack, actors who aren’t normally associated with disaster films. Long hours in front of mammoth blue screens became the norm, plus tons of water, and a huge, shaky floor simulating an earthquake.
During the commentary, the duo provides plenty of backstories and information including that Vancouver was their base, and they never left North America during production. They also talk about numerous rewrites regarding their scientific backstory of solar eruptions and neutrinos and the effects on the planet. The explanation only lasts a minute onscreen, but it was important for the audience to buy into it.
(1) Gordon gets the plane off the ground just in time. (2) President Wilson addresses the country. (3) A Tibetan village near the Ark base located in the Himalayas. (4) The wonders of Hollywood, Jackson and his family end up on a Russian transport plane and land in China, as they hike toward the Ark base.
Filming began in the summer of 2008. Emmerich and Australian cinematographer Dean Semler (“Dances with Wolves”) decided to capture the action mostly on blue screen stages with 1080p HD cameras (2.39:1 aspect ratio). Traditional 35mm film was used in short scenes and moments to extract a wide spectrum of light. A dozen years ago, HD digital cameras were limited in resolution and overall contrast compared to today’s super-high-resolution digital cameras. At the start of the film, it’s easy to spot the lack of detail in the shadows from the upconverted 4K disc and digital. The highlights are slightly better, but overall sharpness is stuck in the HD range, with some waxy faces at times.
Honestly, I was surprised this one got a 4K release even though it made a lot of money for Sony and was heavily requested during Sony’s annual 4K suggestion list from consumers. The HD source material can’t produce the resolution expected from Sony’s top-notch 4K/HDR mastering team. Sony's 4K release of "District 9" was much more successful since it was captured on 4K digital cameras in South Africa the same year. It's also much darker than the HD version, but overall the scenes are brighter than "2012." Blame or praise the “2012” fans who got their wise and watch the movie again and again.
HDR toning in “2012” is much darker than the original Blu-ray. But, this new 4K has been dialed too dark – especially for my projector setup, and I had to readjust the HDR tone mapping via my Panasonic player to see the actor’s faces clearly. Facial toning is natural without the orange cast found on the decade-old Blu-ray, and the overall color palette is pleasing.
Other Emmerich films on 4K: “The Patriot” looks gorgeous sourced from the Super 35 film negative. The same with “Midway” (2019) released on 4K from Lionsgate. It was captured on 8K digital cameras and mastered in 4K. You can’t beat it.
Sony got it right with an excellent eight-channel Dolby Atmos soundtrack. Bass rocks the room throughout during earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tidal waves. Height speakers get an intense workout – especially the helicopter flyovers. There’s no disappointment since sound is nicely balanced between effects, and soft conversation between Jackson Curtis and his charming daughter Lilly (Morgan Lily). The score is by Austrian co-writer Harald Kloser, who also composed “The Day After Tomorrow,” considered his best, and Emmerich’s “10,000 BC,” “White House Down,” “Independence Day: Resurgence” and “Midway.” Three vocal numbers are included in the two hour and 38-minute film: “Time for Miracles” from American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert, “Fades Like a Photograph” from rock band Filter, and “It Ain’t the End of the World,” a duet from co-stars George Segal and Blu Mankuma.
For most fans of “2012”, your Blu-ray is just fine, since there’s no real bonus in resolution or HDR in this 4K presentation. The biggest question to ask is: Can we believe Emmerich when he said “2012” was his last disaster movie? Let’s hope not!
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
(1) Workers and some of the chosen ones who paid up to $1 billion for a seat, race toward Ark No. 4 as the mega-tsunami approaches hours ahead of schedule. (2) The launch of the arks as the tsunami waters arrive. (3&4) Tenzin (Chin Han), an Ark work is injured during the launch. He helped the Curtis family, Gordon, and others to stowaway as Ark No. 4 avoids Mount Everest. (5) A new day for everyone on board.