Superhero fatigue may not have set in yet, what with the box office numbers for Captain America: Civil War at near stratospheric heights, but don't tell that to Independence Day: Resurgence director Roland Emmerich: He hates the very idea of them.
Emmerich is the man known for orchestrating the world's greatest film catastrophes, whether they be alien invasion (Independence Day), a bad Godzilla movie that earned the hate of the late Roger Ebert, or global flooding on a Noah's Ark scale (The Day After Tomorrow). He even had the nerve to blow up the White House not once (Independence Day) but twice (White House Down). You have to respect a man that can organize and survive Armageddon (2012).
In an interview with The Guardian Emmerich explained that he has no patience for fictional super-anythings that can't solve the problems of today's world. The world (as he sees it) can only be saved when ordinary heroes are challenged to do extraordinary things.
“When you look at my movies it’s always the regular Joe Schmo that’s the unlikely hero. A lot of Marvel movies, they show people in funny suits running around. I don’t like people in capes. I find it silly when someone dons a superhero suit and flies. I don’t understand it. I grew up in Germany, that’s probably why.”
Emmerich sees his latest movies Independence Day: Resurgence as a continuation of the Independence Day story:
“This is the story of a world that won a war as a total underdog. And while they won, the aliens sent some kind of SOS signal out in deep space, so we know that one day they’ll come back."
“Imagine how the youth would feel. Everybody wants to be a pilot, everybody wants to be part of this defense against the aliens. Our two male leads are orphans, our other leads are the kids of famous war heroes. At the center is this generational conflict. Have we promised our generation too much?”
Emmerich notes that the Apocalyptic stakes are much higher this time around. Not only is humanity at risk but Mother Earth also:
“The spaceship, the mothership, is coming down to Earth and it’s even bigger than the old one,” says Emmerich, 60, speaking rapidly and exuberantly in an accent that shows little sign of the 25-odd years he’s been living and working in the USA. “So imagine a big object like this that has its own gravity and then what it does, it comes over Asia, sucks up Asia and then when it lands, it dumps Asia on Europe!”
This thinking big approach is an essential part of the Roland Emmerich creative process:
“I have to get images in my head. I start to think a spaceship has to hover so it has to have legs, and when a leg is bigger than a whole city it becomes an object which is fascinating. I’ve always been fascinated by size, by impossible things which you cannot find in any movie.”
For various economic, contractual and storytelling reasons Will Smith's cocky pilot from the original did not make the Resurgence cut. A good part of the original cast is still returning though: Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsch, Vivica A Fox.
Still, Smith's spiritual and genetic force lives on in Resurgence. Jessie Usher plays Will Smith's son.
While Emmerich may not acknowledge it directly, casting Liam Hemsworth gives Resurgence a slight (if misdirected) superhero/young adult feel.
The new cast pays forward on their parents' sacrifice:
"Our two male leads are orphans, our other leads are the kids of famous war heroes. At the center is this generational conflict. Have we promised our generation too much?”
Emmerich may have been responsible for the mass-produced homogenized blockbuster, which today has evolved into a superhero factory, but the director sees that as part of a cycle that alternates between tentpole productions and more personal dramatic features every other generation.
“It’s a little bit like what happens in every other industry. When you look at the clothing industry, where are the little boutiques? Yeah, they are still there but in very small numbers. Everything else is big franchises, like Gap. Every fashion brand has to become a franchise or they will not survive.”
"At some point, it could collapse. It did once in the '60s. All the studio productions failed one after the other, then a small movie like 'Easy Rider' was the biggest hit of the year. That could happen again. But I’m doubtful. I think what will happen is that we will have other forms of entertainment. Virtual reality will be absolutely big. The gaming industry has already eaten away so much of the young male audience. In movies, it’s only going to be the big tentpole pictures and hopefully some good pictures for the Oscars and that’s it, that’s all you’ll get.”
Emmerich hopes to be at the crest of changes when the next big cinematic cycle arrives:
“I’m a big believer in original ideas. I tell this to every kid who comes to me and says they want to be a filmmaker: I say: ‘Do what you want to do and don’t let yourself be talked into anything.’ In my case, it was making big science fiction films with big special effects. Right from the beginning, I was dreaming about that. My love was George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Coppola. I was like the black sheep of everybody. In film school it was like: 'That guy wants to make commercial films.’”
When Emmerich has gone smaller and personal he has not met with critical and box office success. Anonymous, a debunking on the current academic fixation that Shakespeare was too low culture to write such high culture masterpieces was trashed by critics and suffered indifferent grosses.
His other more personal piece, Stonewall, received the ire of the LGBT community offended by the pictures mainly white male point of view. For Emmerich, who is openly gay, the criticism really hurt him at a core level:
“My movie was exactly what they said it wasn’t. It was politically correct. It had black, transgender people in there. We just got killed by one voice on the internet who saw a trailer and said, this is whitewashing Stonewall. Stonewall was a white event, let’s be honest. But nobody wanted to hear that anymore.”
The photographic evidence of the 1969 Stonewall Riots prove slightly damaging to Emmerich's belief. Stonewall pictures show that the riots were a multicultural expression of the whole gay community: white, black, Latino, lesbian, transgender as well as a strong undercurrent of straight support.
Emmerich is hopeful enough that gay leads may one day soon be the heroes of a major tentpole feature.
“Sure, why not? Right now I have a gay couple in [Independence Day: Resurgence]. It’s time for it. It would be very interesting to see if the studios go for it. You have to write a script they all want to have. I do this a lot. I write these movies myself, I finance them myself and then I send them to every studio at once. We call this an auction. We give them a budget and I will direct it. It’s pretty clear what these films are and, naturally, there are always two or three studios who need tentpole movies, so they bid for it and you get quite amazing freedom to make these movies exactly [how] you want. That’s what has to happen for a movie like that. And if one is successful then it’s not a taboo any more.”
Emmerich tries to set the record straight on the rumored Independence Day 3.
“The thing is set up for it, though. These movies always have to be franchisable. This one sets up the young generation. At the end of the movie, there’s a little kick that says maybe this could happen again. But I’m not even thinking about it…”
Independence Day: Resurgence opens everywhere June 24th.
Enjoy these official trailers: