Last month, I was lucky enough to be invited to Jackson Hole, Wyoming to cover the press junket for Roland Emmerich’s upcoming disaster flick 2012, which opens this Friday. Some people reading this may be thinking, “Lucky to go to Wyoming? Har har!” These people (in addition to laughing oddly) have never been to Jackson Hole, Wyoming because it is an absolutely gorgeous landscape. There are forests, grassland, and mountains all grouped together and it provides a feeling of complete tranquility to the area. It’s isolated but when you stop to think about how most of us are bombarded on a daily basis by technology and communications that isolation turns into an oasis.
I also got to see Roland Emmerich destroy the world real good and then talk about it with Emmerich and stars John Cusack, Amanda Peet, and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Hit the jump for what they had to say about the Earth crumbling like an old Chips Ahoy along with my tale of adventure in Big Sky country. It involves bears.
Jackson Hole may seem an odd place to hold a press junket when the usual locations are New York and L.A. However, Yellowstone National Park, which is located near Jackson Hole, is a major setting in 2012. You know the scene in the trailer where the camper is racing away from giant balls of flame hurtling forth from the sky? That’s Yellowstone! It’s also a great action scene in the movie. As our helpful tour guide informed us, Yellowstone is on top of an active “supervolcano” and if it ever erupted, Wyoming would be wiped off the map along with most of the surrounding states and then the sun would be blocked out by ash for quite some time. The supervolcano erupted about 640,000 years ago and scientists are constantly monitoring it because they believe it may be slightly overdue for another eruption . My point is this: visit Jackson Hole while you can because you never know when the world will end.
Okay, that’s not entirely true. Some people believe they do know and that they’re making plans to visit before 2012, which is when they think the Mayans predicted the end of the world. It’s actually just a western concept of a doomsday grafted on to a calendar which ends but at no point says anything along the lines of “World Ends Here, Please Exit to the Right.” But it makes for a fun setup for director Roland Emmerich to abuse our planet once again. He did it twice before with Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, but those don’t even compare to the non-stop destruction he wreaks in 2012. If you hate the Earth and/or love the films I just mentioned, then you’ll want to see this movie.
However, my purpose in Wyoming was not to learn that there was a geological time bomb underneath one of our states, but to speak with Emmerich and the stars of 2012: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, and Chiwetel Ejiofor. During a press conference, the four discussed a variety of subjects.
What are your thoughts about 2012 (the year) and have you made any preparations?
ROLAND EMMERICH: Well, you know, it’s peculiar. 2012 is this date which, there’s a lot of ideas about it. We chose the destructive one because destructiveness works better in a movie. My preparation: I will go to ski because it’s the 21st of December [the day in 2012 in which the world ends], I will ski down the biggest mountain there is. And if it’s the end of the world, well, what can I do?
JOHN CUSACK: I think I’m going to try and get on Roland’s trip.
AMANDA PEET: Can I come?
CHIWETEL EJIOFOR: I don’t ski so I can join this, unfortunately. Besides, I think avalanches are something to worry about. So I just think I’ll spend it kind of quietly, I think-family and friends, hope for the best.
AMANDA PEET: I’m kind of a hypochondriac and I worry about a lot of things and I’m trying not to worry as much. That’s my philosophy.
How much of this movie was science-fiction and how much was science-fact?
EMMERICH: From the beginning, there was the Earth’s crust displacement theory, which we found was a theory that was big enough, in a way, to cause all this flooding. That was my main reason why I chose this one. Before we started writing the script we actually met with a professor of science at USC, in Los Angeles, and asked him how it could all unfold. He told us first that he doesn’t believe in the Earth Crust Displacement theory. We asked him if he could give us some insight, and he said the only way this could work is if the neutrinos change and mutated into another kind of particle. He said from that moment, all bets are off. No scientist would say that this could not happen because this has never happened before. That was the concept we chose.
I also believe that there has some sort of feeling of believability in the movie. It’s like when you see Jurassic Park and they create dinosaurs out of insects.
CUSACK: Yeah, this was pretty action packed, for sure. It wasn’t any different than a lot of films, in a way, because of the amazing production design. Usually, you have the entire set built, and then in back of the set would be a green screen. There was a massive production design team working on the set. When we were on the mountain at the end, there would be a huge glacier field and there would be blue screens in the background, so we were always acting with regular sets; it was just the backgrounds that were being digitally enhanced with a whole army working so hard so you can do your acting job. Yeah, a lot of running, jumping, and tumbling. You got to stay stretched out or you could pull a hamstring, for sure.
EJIOFOR: I got off pretty lightly, it’s got to be said, being part of the government. Yeah, I had a couple of days of fun water work, but that was it. I was slightly envious not to be able to work on the shaky floor. It looked pretty cool.
Roland, what are you going to destroy next? Or are you done with these kinds of movies?
EMMERICH: I think so because I had a hard time convincing myself to do it and I only actually did it because it was such an incredible idea to do something like that. I also said to myself that if I’m going to do it one more time, I’m going to do it in the biggest possible way it can be done. Hopefully, I have it out of my system. For me, it’s, “Never say never.” But I have not the feeling I will do something like this again.
Do you think of this film as a sort of cautionary tale? Or is it just a fun spectacle?
EMMERICH: I don’t think the film was to warn about anything, so it is not a cautionary tale. It is a cautionary tale, in a way, maybe only if this is going to happen, what is important in life and what is savable, and how should we save things. For me, I am always a very suspicious of governments, so it’s also an expression of that. Then I always think movies have to be fun. If a movie is not fun, I don’t want to do it.
CUSACK: I think it also taps into the paranoia around the world. But this doesn’t get into the politics of it. It’s more a question of what do you save, what do you value, that feeling you have when something bad happens and you cut through all the BS.
How much do you think people would band together in situations like this or would it be more like martial law?
EJIOFOR: But people tend to in tragedies. Obviously, in the tragedies we see in the world now. People tend to find great unity in that. I think that’s one of the things this story talks about. I think you have to have a lot of optimism in humanity and people. I think that’s part of this story and what it’s getting at. There is an inherent good and these things bring them out
How did you come to the JFK Aircraft carrier destroying the White House?
EMMERICH: [My co-writer] Harold [Kloser] said, “If you don’t destroy the White House, you will be asked about that.” I said, “I cannot destroy the White House again.” He said, “Well, just do it in a different way.” At that time, I was reading a lot about the Kennedys. As a kid, maybe about twelve and a half, I visited these old war ships in the Chesapeake Bay and they had just inaugurated the JFK there. I was really excited as a kid. It was about a wave, and then JFK comes back to the White House. I thought it was kind of clever, and I told Harold, “Let’s go for it!”
After the press conference, some of my fellow journalists and I headed to Grand Teton National Park because, unfortunately, the roads to Yellowstone were closed due to weather. However, Grand Teton was no consolation prize because not only was it gorgeous, but because you get to see wildlife! And you get to stand near the wildlife! And then the tour guide tells you that you’re standing way too close to the wildlife! Here’s a photo of me standing way too close to the wildlife:
This photo was after we saw a bear, and then two bears, and then three bears. First we saw a baby bear sleeping up in a tree. Then we saw a mama bear snuggled at the bottom of the tree. And then behind her was another baby bear. Yes, I know the appropriate terms are “mother” and “cubs”, but they were so cute, especially when you knew that there was little danger of them trying to eat you. Our tour guide said that being this close to a family of bears was a rarity at this time of year due to their random appearances at different places in the park since they’re trying to gather food before hibernation. He also said that in the years he’s been a tour guide at Grand Teton, this was one of his top three bear sightings. Meanwhile, my silly journalist friends and I were trying to take photos where we could be in frame with the bear. It’s one of those death-defying stunts that’s really not that risky (see my adventure in the chair of balloons) and even if it went sideways, I would still go out in a unique fashion: eaten by bears in front of a scattering crowd of people during a trip to cover a disaster movie.
Eventually, we had to move on because there was apparently more park to see (along with the moose pictured above), but after taking the tour of Grand Teton and looking out over the vast, gorgeous landscape of Jackson Hole, I really hoped that the active supervolcano wouldn’t explode. And if it does, I hope the bears make it.
2012 opens in theaters this Friday, November 13th.