I was a big Irwin Allen fan growing up. The Towering Inferno playing on the local UHF station was just about the best way I could imagine spending a Sunday afternoon. Or Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Or The Poseidon Adventure. You would think this would make me an automatic Roland Emmerich fan for all that he’s made the genre his own, but I’d have to go all the way back to Stargate for an example of a movie of his that I enjoy on repeated viewings. I didn’t even bother to go see The Day After Tomorrow (for reasons obvious and non), and I could probably write a lengthy essay on why Godzilla makes my head hurt.
Now that I have this blog, I might just do that, though it would mean actually watching it again. I’m not sure I can hack that. But I digress.
Anyway! I had some hope for 2012. It had all the appearances of not having any of the baggage of some of his previous films while really capturing something over-the-top epic. For the most part, it paid off. I could’ve done with about 45 minutes trimmed off- here’s where Cameron’s often risky ‘lets cut subplot’ technique would’ve come in handy- and maybe not quite so much strict adherence to genre trope, but it certainly delivers on scale and grandeur.
Part of me is glad he didn’t go cutting subplots, though, as it probably would’ve cost me time with the best character in the film, whackjob Charlie Frost. This is a case where I can honestly say neither writer nor director had anything to do with why I think the character’s great. It falls squarely on the shoulders of Woody Harrelson, and I don’t think the performance would’ve come together as well being played by anyone else.
Frost is all the best parts of Art Bell and some of Bell’s best callers wrapped into a single person. He’s also partially The Truth from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (who was voiced by none other than Peter Fonda). Harrelson’s performance is certainly a stereotype- the movie essentially demands it!- but he’s obviously not treating it as such. He also roams the country in a sweet RV that has, among other things, a self-contained radio station. It’s the kind of setup even Mother from Sneakers would love.
Woody Harrelson plays the paranoid conspiracy theorist with a crazed lust for the surreal out of all proportion with what’s around him. The results are some of the most entertaining moments of the movie, and I was genuinely sad when his time on screen was done.