A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that director Roland Emmerich's 2012 is an intense, violent disaster movie, with billions of anonymous characters getting killed during massive scenes of destruction (earthquakes, tsunamis, and more). Although the tone is mainly exciting, the relentless devastation could terrify or depress many viewers (both kids and grown-ups), especially those who've been through natural disasters themselves. In other words, this is no movie for kids anxious about the state of the world. Fans of the genre will find some of the effects truly impressive, but there's not much in the way of character or plot depth. Expect a little bit of kissing, drinking, and swearing (including "s--t"). All that and it's almost three hours long. ...
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
When the sun suddenly begins bombarding Earth with a higher neutrino count, heating up the planet's core, it all-too-quickly leads to massive natural disasters -- from earthquakes to tsunamis -- and even shifting of the north and south poles. A secret project is underway in Tibet to build "arks" to rescue a certain number of people, but most of the seats have been reserved for the world's richest and most important people. While scientist Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) collects data and fights against greed and corruption, small-time Los Angeles author Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) tries to rescue his ex-wife (Amanda Peet) and their two kids, get them to Tibet, and secure them seats on one of the arks. But can he do this impossible task in time?
Is it any good?
At best, it's a nearly three-hour film packed with several tons of clichés whose best features are explosions and general destruction. At worst, it's a gruesome, depressing subject as viewed from the seat of a passing roller coaster.
Disaster movies are usually very popular and have long managed to thrill plenty of people with their huge scale and awesome special effects. Since 2012 (which is tied to a much-debated Mayan prophecy that supposedly names that year as the one in which the world will end) is one of the biggest and most spectacular to date, it will no doubt follow suit -- and, in terms of visual effects and clear, exciting filmmaking, it is well done. And the impressive, appealing cast does its level best to read through the third-rate dialogue without too much eye-rolling. But anyone looking for character depth, powerful emotional content, intelligence, poetic images, or personal expression of any kind is advised to look elsewhere.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's destruction and violence. Much of it is of a sci-fi/fantasy nature, but if you stop to think about it, the enormity and frequency of it can be overwhelming. Is this kind of violence more or less upsetting than gory horror movies?
One of the movie's major themes is the importance of family. Does that come through amid the chaos and destruction? Did the movie make you feel closer to your own family?
Why do you think the wealthiest and most important people were chosen for seats on the arks? Should other people have gotten a chance? What would have been a better way to go about the process?
Do you think a disaster like this could occur? If so, is it better to try and prepare or better not to worry about something we can't control?
- In theaters: November 13, 2009
- On DVD or streaming: March 2, 2010
- Cast: Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, John Cusack
- Director: Roland Emmerich
- Studio: Columbia Tristar
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Run time: 158 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: intense disaster sequences and some language.
- Last updated: March 14, 2020
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
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