The title refers to the end-date of the current (13th) b'ak'tun of the Long Count calendar, used by the Mayan Meso-American civilization. In their creation myth, we live in the fourth "attempt" at creating the world, while the third attempt was dismissed as a failure after its own 13th b'ak'tun. Though Mayan documents contain no such information, popular culture and certain religions predict an apocalyptic event at this date. It is popularly misunderstood that the calendar "ends" on this date, however the Long Count calendar can express dates from approximately 3000BC (their date for the creation of the current world) to approximately 40 octillion years in the future. It is almost impossible to express this date in a mortally comprehensible fashion.
The doomsday theory has sprung from a Western idea, not a Mayan. Mayans insist that the world will not end in 2012. The Mayans had a talent for astronomy, and enthusiasts have found a series of astronomical alignments they say coincide in 2012, including one that happens roughly only once every 640.000 years. Once every 640.000 years, the sun lines up with the center of our Milky Way galaxy on a winter solstice, the sun's lowest point in the horizon. The next time that will happen is on December 21, 2012; which happens to be the same day the Mayan calender expires. In addition to the Mayan calendar, the modern doomsday myth is bolstered several ostensibly scientific reasons for a disaster. Examples include a pole shift, the "return" of Planet X or the Sun's sinister counterpart Nemesis, a galactic, planetary, or other celestial alignment, global warming, global cooling, a massive solar flare, a new ice age, and so on. None of these have any basis in respected science. For example, the "galactic alignment" between the sun, Earth, and galactic center happens every December. The best alignment was reached in the 1990s and was accompanied by its own set of doomsday theories. Alignments since then have been increasingly poor.
In an interview by USA Today, Roland Emmerich has stated that this will be his final disaster film: "I said to myself that I'll do one more disaster movie, but it has to end all disaster movies. So I packed everything in."
The eighth film released in select D-BOX enabled cinemas, located in the US and Canada. In D-BOX's words, the motion control technology "adds to the movie's plot and underlying themes of fear, terror and explosive action by offering realistic sensations during most of the film's action scenes."
In the film, many cultural and historic icons are destroyed, including Christ the Redeemer of Rio de Janeiro, and the Vatican. Director Roland Emmerich also wished to depict the destruction of the Kaaba in Mecca. The idea was scrapped however, when producer and co-writer of the film Harald Kloser opposed the idea. He later stated that he made the decision because he did not want a fatwa issued against him by radical Muslims. (Interestingly to note, a fatwa is not an Islamic death sentence, as Kloser thought/stated; it is actually an opinion made by an Islamic leader or scholar concerning Islamic law.)
Dr. Charles Hapgood, spoken about in Charlie Frost's video, died on December 21, 1982. Despite what is said in the film, Hapgood is something of a fringe figure, and his views have been denounced as pseudoscience by his detractors.
Charlie Frost's (Woody Harrelson) animation about the end of the world heavily borrows and references the animated Internet meme, "The End of the World", which centers around the idea that we will kill ourselves as a race before any natural disaster would ever have the time to destroy us.
In the scene where Jackson (John Cusack) goes to pick up the Russian oligarch's boys, the mansion he drives up to is the lavish Fleur de Lys estate in the Bel Air / Beverly Hills area, one of the most expensive real estate listings in the country at $125 million.
During the destruction of the Sistine Chapel, the cracks forming on the roof directly between God and Adam in the Creation of Adam symbolize two aspects related to the Bible: the transition between the first and second circles of life (specifically, breaking the connection between humans and God) and God's reversal of creation of humanity in Chapters 6-9 in the Book of Genesis.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The film contains various references to the Biblical flood. For example, Jackson's son is named Noah, the cruise ship (where Adrian's father Harry performs) is called Genesis (the book in the Bible in which the account appears), and humanity is saved by the use of "arks". At one point we also see animals being lifted aboard the arks.
During the destruction of Los Angeles, Gordon's Porsche Cayman falls into the Earth after getting pushed by Jackson's limo upon fleeing from the Curtis residence. This foreshadows Gordon's own death, as he falls into the gears later in the film.