Sony's Film '2012' Spotlights End-of-World Predictions

By Joel Achenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 16, 2009

The world is coming to an end.

In, like, 4 or 5 billion years. The sun will get old and cranky and eventually immolate the entire planet.

The world, however, is not coming to an end on Dec. 21, 2012, contrary to the viral Internet rumor propounded by pseudo-scientists, hoaxers, Hollywood movie promoters and assorted void-between-the-ears people who wouldn't recognize a scientific fact if it tried to abduct them.

The notion that 2012 heralds the End of Time has something to do with a mysterious Planet X that will supposedly hurtle into, or perhaps merely perturb, Earth. Also, there might be geomagnetic storms, a Pole Reversal, and a newfound unsteadiness in the planet's crustal plates. All of that, or variations thereof, can be studied in depth in scores of books now jostling for eschatological primacy with such titles as "Apocalypse 2012," "The World Cataclysm in 2012" and "How to Survive 2012."

This is no joke to David Morrison, senior scientist for NASA's Astrobiology Institute. He's counted 200 different books for sale about 2012. As the author of an online feature called Ask an Astrobiologist, he's gotten nearly 1,000 e-mails from people who think something dire is about to befall the planet. One teenager wrote to Morrison that he'd rather commit suicide than see the world destroyed. Many of the letters, Morrison said, presume that the government is covering up the imminent catastrophe. Letters begin, "I know you can't tell me the truth, but . . . "

In an article published in the latest issue of Skeptic magazine, Morrison explains that the 2012-as-Doomsday meme represents a convergence of New Age mysticism and Hollywood opportunism. It is, in short, a hoax.

The idea draws some of its inspiration from the Mayan "long count" calendar. The date of Dec. 21, 2012, marks the end of a 394-year cycle of time known to the Maya as Baktun 13. But there is no reason to think that the Maya believed this was the end of the world as we know it.

Another inspiration, apparently, is author Zecharia Sitchin, whose books detail a cosmogony featuring the mysterious planet Nibiru, unknown to modern science but plain as day to ancient Sumerians. This planet, readers are told, has a highly elliptical orbit of the sun, and enters the inner solar system every 3,600 years. A collision between Nibiru and another planet supposedly created both Earth and the asteroid belt. Also there were ancient astronauts from Nibiru who came to Earth and created modern humans.

Ensuring that no bad idea goes unexploited, Sony Pictures has leaped into the mix with a $200 million blockbuster, "2012," coming out on Friday the 13th of November. The trailers show the entire planet coming unglued. The movie doesn't explain why, exactly, but we do see that Los Angeles falls into the sea. A tsunami obliterates a Tibetan monastery high in the Himalayas. The dome of St. Peter's tumbles into the square and smushes a throng of Christians. An aircraft carrier crashes into the White House (big wave).

The director is Roland Emmerich, promulgator of cinematic calamity in such flicks as "Independence Day" and "The Day After Tomorrow." This time, what he throws at Earth makes each of his previous efforts look like a Merchant Ivory film.

In promoting the movie,

Sony has used the marketing

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