History Channel // 2007 // 94 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // November 20th, 2009
It is a doomsday that is foretold in the Mayan calendar, the Chinese oracle of the I Ching...even in an Internet-based prophetic software program: December 21, 2012
It's been pretty well established at this point: entropy in a closed system tends to increase, leading to disorder in all closed systems. Assuming the universe is a closed system (or that whatever contains the universe is a closed system), that means the universe is headed for heat-death in the future. For humanity that means one simple thing: we have an expiration date. Unless we become transcendental superbeings and/or go to a non-physical heaven, we're pretty much doomed at some point. Although as a species we haven't always had all the physical details, a huge cottage industry has dogged mankind since writing: prophesying doom. Whether it was the end of the first millennium, the Black Plague, or the recent switch to the twenty-first century, people have reacted to our mortality (both individual and collective) with pronouncements of doom and gloom. As 2012 approaches, fans of prophecy have a new threat to worry about: the infamously accurate Mayan calendar ends on December 21, 2012. To help us get a handle on this interesting occurrence (and to cash in on the publicity surrounding the feature film 2012), the History Channel has released Doomsday 2012: The End of Days.
There are three main threads in this documentary (part of the channel's Decoding the Past series). The first is the end of the Mayan calendar and the associated prophecies of change. The second is Terreance McKenna's work on the I Ching and the end of its cycle in 2012. The third is a computer program that scours the Web for information it can use to predict major events, which also points to 2012 being a rather nasty year. Interspersed with these main ideas are several smaller, less specific prophecies that may or may not apply to our present time (including the Oracle of Delphi). The program follows the usual History Channel format of combining talking-heads interviews, stock footage, and dramatic reenactments. Experts include Daniel Pinchbeck, author of the recent 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl.
After watching all 45 minutes of Doomsday 2012, here's what I can tell you about December 12, 2012: We haven't a freaking clue. That's really the conclusion that the program comes to in the final summary moments. The only problem is that the 44 minutes before that is filled with sensationalistic crap, with even-tempered, credentialed commentators talking about the difficulty in interpreting these ancient prophecies being followed immediately by the narrator saying something like "But we can't ignore the fact that all signs point to doom! Doom!" Here's how the three big points break down, and why I can't recommend watching this documentary to get more info about 2012:
* The Mayan Calendar. This beast is notoriously accurate (according to the supplementary program, it's a hair more accurate the current calendar we use), and it ends on December 21, 2012, during a period that prophecies list as being a time of serious change and upheavals. Although the supplementary makes this issue more clear, Doomsday 2012 refuses to deal with the fact that we know next to nothing about the Mayan culture. Their records were burned almost completely by Spanish conquerors, so any real clues to what the calendar ending meant are lost to us. Therefore, any speculations about the ending of the calendar are just that, speculations.
* The I Ching. The documentary makes clear that Terrance McKenna noticed a new pattern in the I Ching, and, when graphed starting with the time the book was written, there are correspondencies with history, and the graph also happens to end on December 21, 2012. Spooky, right? Except there's nothing that the documentary mentions to make this a cataclysmic event. I mean the I Ching is subtitled The Book of Changes for crying out loud. Also, the documentary doesn't spend any real time on McKenna's interest in novelty and information and how that relates to the graph.
* The "Web-Bot" project. This is a computer program that aggregates instances of certain keywords on the Internet. From that, people examine the web of information and make predictions, and things don't look so good for 2012. Their big triumph was predicting in June 2001 that the next ninety days would see "great change for America," and of course 9/11 came along, so the software must be prophetic, right? Right? I have no problem with using computers for trending data, and I'm sure seemingly random instances of certain keywords might predict certain events. This show, however, does not make clear how this is any different from guessing about what's going to happen.
Finally, the program lives up to its name by only focusing on the Doomsday aspects of 2012. From my limited reading in the area not everyone is quite so gloomy about our prospects as a species. The possibilities for change are endless, and not all of them lead to catastrophic death for humanity.
The supplemental program, Mayan Doomsday Prophecy is a little more balanced than Doomsday 2012. The experts are all a little more willing to say "we don't know," and much of the program is given over to explaining the Mayan calendar and the specifics of the prophecies that have been made rather than wildly speculating about what they could mean. Although it probably wouldn't sell as well, I think that Mayan Doomsday Prophecy is the better of the two documentaries by far.
Both shows are letterboxed at 1.85. Considering they're not anamorphic they look pretty good. The sound is Dolby digital stereo, and the dialogue is easily audible and dynamic range within acceptable limits. There aren't any extras aside from the second documentary.
For a cursory introduction to the major impetus behind the 2012 hoopla, Mayan Doomsday Prophecy is a decent little documentary. Doomsday 2012, however, should be avoided everyone except those looking for a bit of a laugh at the expense of the gullible.
Maybe I'll change my mind on December 22nd, 2012, but for now, Doomsday is guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated