Apocalyptic Films Explore 2012 End of World Prediction

2012

The iPhone application Twenty12 counts down the moments until the world's destruction -- just three years, 89 days, 13 hours and 15 minutes until Dec. 21, 2012.

That's the date that the ancient Mayan Long Count calendar marked as the end of a 5,126-year era, resetting the date to 0 and signaling the end of humanity.

But today, as that date nears, doomsday chatter echoes across the Internet. The search term "Dec. 21, 2012" produces 3,650,000 results on Google.

One Web site, december212012.com, declares itself "official" and is selling t-shirts announcing the end of the world is nigh.

And they aren't the only ones cashing in. In November, two apocalypse-themed films open -- "2012," starring John Cusack and "The Road," with Charlize Theron.

A whirlwind of interest in eschatology -- the study of the end of times -- has been escalating since the advent of the 21st century, according to Robert Thompson, professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse University.

"When we got to the millennium, people tended to get exorcized to mark the end of time," he told ABCNews.com. "Then they boosted the Y2K scare and having people in authority, smart leaders, predict planes falling from the sky, no money in cash machines and breakdown of the electric grid. We lived with those headlines."

Terrorist Attacks Foreshadowed Doom

But the "big 400-pound gorilla in the room" was 9/11, according to Thompson.

"We experienced the visual and cultural [impact] that day -- a little dress rehearsal for the apocalypse, watching those buildings go down," he said.

"Whenever there is a period of massive change, your mind tends to turn toward the end of days," said Thompson. "Things change so quickly that you can't even get a grip on Monday. History is out of control, like a boulder rolling down a hill. We are in those times."

Some end-of-times zealots point to events like the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, as well as the near-collapse of world financial institutions in 2008. Pandemics like the growing swine flu are also cited as proof that the end is near.

Mayans Predicted End of World in 2012

But the Mayan predictions have held the most sway with believers.

At the height of that Mesoamerican civilization from 300 to 900 A.D., advanced mathematics and primitive astronomy flourished, creating what many have called the most accurate calendar in the world.

The Mayans predicted a final event that included a solar shift, a Venus transit and violent earthquakes.

Modern astronomy also confirms that on the winter solstice in 2012, the sun will be aligned with the center of the Milky Way for the first time in about 26,000 years.

Many point to similar end-of-times predictions among Native Americans, Chinese, Egyptians and even the Irish.

The prophecies of the Irish saint Malachy, the 12th century bishop of Armagh, have said there will be only one more pope after the current one, Pope Benedict XVI, and during his reign comes the end of the world.

Nasty Things to Come, According to Bible

From a Biblical standpoint, the apocalypse paints a nasty picture of what's to come: natural disasters, a pandemic, asteroid impact, alien invasion, global warming, eco-system collapse, global conflict and divine intervention.

Christians look to Revelations, the last book of the Bible, written in 90 A.D. by John the Apostle, for details on the seven-year "tribulation" that fundamentalists say began at the winter solstice in 1999.

"The world will not get better, but increasingly worse until the point of tribulation on Earth," said end-of-times expert Pastor Phil Hotsenpiller.

"Halfway through that seven-year period, a leader with the mark of the "Beast" -- 666 -- will come to power," he told ABCnews.com. "We will begin to see pestilence, war, climate changes, all leading up to the battle of Armageddon, where all the armies will face off for the final battle."

In the judgment day that follows "tribulation," non-Christians will be relegated to eternal hell and believers will leave the earth with God.

Coming Apocalypse Reflected in Headlines

Hotsenpiller packs in avid fans at his end-of-times workshops at the Yorba Linda Friends Church in Orange County, Calif., an evangelical megachurch that includes former President Richard Nixon as one of its founding members.

With artist Rob Liefeld, he has published a series of graphic novels, the first of which is "Armageddon Now." The book has already sold well and their company, 12 Gates Productions, is working on a CGI film based on the series.

Hotsenpiller reads current events from secular newspaper to his parishioners to illustrate that, "What we see today resonates."

"When 10,000 people show up for a workshop on Labor Day, it tells you there's a real interest in it," he said.

While the pastor believes in the literal description of the apocalypse, he knows the Bible has "poetic language" and hasn't yet seen any immediate signs of the world's demise.

"No, the world won't end in 2012," said Hotsenpiller. "But we are pretty damn close."

Even scientists may have some worries about the date, some say.

A 2008 report by the National Academy of Sciences "changed my life," said Lawrence Joseph, author of "Apocalypse 2012."

Joseph has worried about destructive solar storms that will be at their height at the winter solstice in 2012.

"The report said that the electric power grid was susceptible to solar blasts," he told ABCNews.com. "They come as close to the Supreme Court of scientific opinion. It's been an amazing validation of my work and my fears."

In 1859, Earth was hit by "wild and spectacular" solar storms in the so-called Carrington event. According to Joseph, the radiation was displayed in the Northern Lights, which were visible as far as the equator, disrupting telegraphs and creating small fires.

"You could read by the glare of the blast," he said.

Solar Storm Could Penetrate Magnetic Field

Now, he worries that a newly reported hole in the earth's magnetic field will make it more vulnerable to the "billion-ton blast" of proton radiation.

"In the electrified society of today, a blast the same size as in 1859 would short out the electric grid and leave 130 million in the U.S. without electricity for months or even years," said Joseph.

Such an outage would not just shut down the Internet, but also shut down fresh water pumps and fresh food refrigeration, and hamper law enforcement and telecommunications.

"A couple of days would be challenging but livable," he said. "But some say it would take four to 10 years to recover from such a megablast."

Scientists recommend spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a network of registers, which might act like surge protectors to shield Earth against such an event.

"It's not the money or technology that's stopping us, it's the political will," Joseph said. "It's a matter of when, not if. All I can suggest is that we pray."

But Gary Baddeley, who included Joseph in his 2008 documentary, "2012: Science or Superstition," wanted to get to the truth.

"I saw these books and films coming out, and they were doing well, but I thought they were really misleading and no one was focusing on the big picture," he told ABCNews.com. "I knew the movie '2012' was coming out and they were going to take the date and run with the idea of the apocalypse, as a tidal wave crashes over the Himalayas in the opening scene. I knew it would spark a lot of anxiety and essentially misinformation."

Instead, Baddeley heard from scientists and spiritualists who suggested seismic changes in the cosmos might lead to enlightenment, rather than disaster.

"Many end-of-times prophesies are being bandied about, and 2012 is a convenient date to glom on to, but it's no more ominous than Y2K," he said. "And if you go down to Mesoamerica and ask the modern Mayan what Dec. 21 means to you, it means tourism."

Whether 2012 brings the end of the earth or the Age of Aquarius is anyone's guess. But culture critic Thompson said upheaval makes one wonder.

"Human beings have spent a good portion of civilization looking over their shoulders for the end to come," he said. "Horrible things could happen in 2012 or tomorrow. Life is so unpredictable, and we have incredibly sophisticated weapons in the world we live in. There are lots of bad things."

So does he believe 2012 will be that end.

"No," he said. "But one day, they will be right."

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