"Guatemala City has some pretty sketchy areas," my friend Greg cautioned me on my first trip to the homeland of the Mayans. "There're a few poor neighbourhoods where a skinny white guy like you is almost guaranteed to get shot, stabbed or knuckled down. Robbed in any case."
This was 2004, Greg was living in Guatemala and I was flying down to stand in his wedding. I was also hoping to look into the infamous Mayan "2012-End of the World" mythology and Guatemala City seemed a good place to start.
"If you must go out alone," Greg added, "It'd be best to just walk around completely naked so people will know you have nothing they want."
"How about," I countered, "for vanity's sake I wrap a tortilla shell around my cock?"
"I don't know man, some of those dudes are pretty hungry..."
I survived Guatemala City and a two-week tour through the country but every local I talked to about the 2012 thing just laughed it off as myth. Yes, the Mayan Calendar is more accurate than the one we use today. (365 and one-quarter days in a year? That's sloppy.) Yes, the 5,126-year "great Cycle" does end in December 2012 but few contemporary Guatemalans, direct descendants of the Mayans, actually believe this to be the end of the world - more like a good time to get a new calendar.
So I guess Roland Emmerich's new movie will have to do. 2012 opens this Friday at the Village 8 and if you've ever wondered what happens when a massive solar flare leads to crust displacement across the entire planet earth then this is the flick for you.
This movie is all about the effects - a shitload of computer generated mayhem - but 2012 also stars John Cusack as one of many father figures fighting to redeem themselves and get their families and hearts back in place as the world literally explodes, crumbles, burns and is washed away around them. The story and dialogue are of the so-bad-it's-good variety yet played straight (except by Woody Harrelson who hams it up fittingly) and there is unintended comedy throughout. Oh, did I mention that 2012 is 151 minutes long? It is, so smoke 'em if you got 'em.
As a writer/director Emmerich is no stranger to large scale disaster movies (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow) but he's also the guy responsible for the last Godzilla and 10,000 B.C. While many film purists see this kind of massive CGI flick as the death of storytelling I see two and a half hours of blasting, exploding, toppling, crashing, burning, drowing and generally mindless entertainment. Did the Mayans invent popcorn? I bet they did.
Of course the other theory floating around is that the ancient Mayans were coached by aliens and that's why their architecture, calendar, numerical and alphabet systems are so advanced (we owe the binary number system to them, for one). The turnover of the Mayan calendar is also rumoured to be the next point of contact with the ET's. I even bought a postcard of the scenic volcano-ringed Lake Atitlan with flying saucers photoshopped in.
In the end, I made it through Guatemala City without dying or stripping naked and I found the ancient land of the Mayans to be a beautiful and friendly country. Not a single person I spoke with thought the world was going to end anytime soon. In fact, they all said exactly the same thing. "2012. It's just stories, like Y2K. It's nothing."
Which is exactly what I'd be teaching them to say I was an alien.