I love me a good disaster movie, even the crap ones. There’s something about watching relentless destruction unfold, humankind’s inability to control it and the subsequent race to survive it. We’re always in control, until Mother Nature decides otherwise. And therein lies the allure of such films. There is an inherent curiosity about human behavior being thrust amongst such devastation. I doubt you’ll find that any of Roland Emmerich’s depictions of human behavior in these circumstances to be anywhere near any kind of reality that you or I would witness. But this is the point. How much reality is required for these types of films? Maybe Emmerich has a point about not delving too far into the dramatic when his worlds are coming to an end onscreen.
From all the directors in Hollywood, German born Roland Emmerich is clearly the only one with a huge boner for destroying landmarks in spectacular fashion (or with 2012, that’s everything). No expenses spared…okay….well, maybe on the script and casting, but otherwise his effects are of the highest calibre and will sometimes lead me to throw Independence Day on as a background film while I’m doing something else only stopping to watch the best bits. You know, spaceships first busting through the clouds, cities being decimated, aerial dogfights, that kind of fluff. I certainly wasn’t stopping to see Bill Pullman delivering a speech that wouldn’t look out of place coming from Shatner’s mouth. What I’m trying to say is that even with Emmerich’s poorly concieved stereotypical characters, their poor deliveries of scenes, illogical and formulaic plot points that are full of cheese, the grandiose scale visuals mostly make up for it. Mostly.
Looking through all the films he’s directed, there really isn’t that many films of his based solely on destruction of the planet. Considering he has the moniker of being the king of disaster porn, that crown only required three films, though in any Director’s list you could regard that as at least one too many of that particular genre. Emmerich has himself even stated in various interviews that the older disaster films like The Towering Inferno and The Posiedon Adventure were instrumental in his passion for the genre, and you can see he applies that passion with gusto. All we really have is in this genre is Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 from Emmerich. The difference with Emmerich’s films though is the sheer processing power put behind visual effects. This is why we as consumers flock to his films and enjoy them for the most part. They may not go down in history as the cerebral thrill of the human condition under considerably insurmountable duress but they will at least be remembered for a bunch of stuff getting blown to shit in spectacular fashion. That’ll do me, albeit only briefly.
Even 2012, the most ridiculous of all disaster movies, has plenty to like about it. That is, solely the destruction, and there’s a heck of a lot of it. Absolutely everything else with regard to action, plot, acting, set pieces and it’s formulaic nature is woeful at best but the beautifully rendered destruction is quite something to behold and easily worth the admission of a cinema ticket just to see on the big screen. Face it, as bad as 2012 was, you must still agree that seeing an ocean brim over the top of the Himalayas is an amazingly cool sight. 2012′s effects were quite awesome. It’s just such a pity that Emmerich himself didn’t put as much effort into the plotline and action set pieces as he does into his spectacular eye candy. Imagine the look of an Emmerich film mixed with Nolan styled character development and depth. I didn’t give a shit about John Cusack and family in 2012 and at times was hoping Emmerich would go against type and have them snuff it right at the end. At least that would’ve been memorable. It’s not like you sit through any of these movies, biting your nails and wondering if the character will make it or not. Of course he will, he’s the main name on the poster. If only he could tidy up that part of his films, they would be instant classics and with the money he must’ve poured into visuals, surely the cost of a crackingly written script and some more dramatically convincing scenes to bond us emotionally to his characters would increase the enjoyment a hundred fold. Or would it?
Emmerich is very good at making you feel empathetic towards some things while completely taking your mind away from others. Take the tunnel scene in Independence Day for instance. There’s a firestorm sweeping through a tunnel with people trapped a traffic jam. The main character grabs her son and the dog and legs it on foot to a safe nook. Everyone sighed a gasp of relief when the dog makes the jump only by the hair on his balls, meanwhile everyone else in the tunnel is being either blown to pieces or roasted alive from the giant fireball. Men, women and children dying a terrifying and painful death while running for their lives……..oh well……the dog still made it. Whew! I guess because you don’t see what happens to anyone else but the titular characters in a film of this nature, that’s a good thing. You don’t want to see the harsh realities in a movie like this and would prefer to move the story along without enduring the main characters stumbling upon dying children with 3rd degree burns to 90% of their bodies, people who had their arms and legs blown off and such. It would take a Director of much different persuasion to go down that path. We want mindless popcorn fun in these movies about worldwide destruction and death to millions. We don’t want to see those people, or animals, suffer though. That would not do. Ironic, no? What I would like to see is some more involving characters that we actually care for. Not a big ask. I don’t want a Children of Men vibe mixed with disaster porn but a little more depth to characters wouldn’t go astray.
It appears that Emmerich may be done with the mindless popcorn flicks, for a while at least, to try and move into some meatier dramatic fare with his latest film Anonymous. A film depicting William Shakespeare wasn’t actually the one who wrote his extensive works. Unless this Anonymous bloke dons a giant Mech and squashes the colosseum underfoot in outrage at having his rug pulled from under him by this charlatan Bill character, I can’t really say that I’m too interested at all. I have nothing against Directors branching out to expand their abilities and Emmerich could use a bit of that in the scene delivery department but I hope it’s only a brief excursion before returning with some other eye candy, blowy-uppy blockbuster. Hopefully with some meat flavored popcorn this time around. (yecchh!…you know what I mean.)
In a nutshell, I like Roland Emmerich’s films, especially the disaster ones, even with all the glaring problems. He knows how to entertain that’s for sure. I find this all quite funny when in the same breath I can rip into Michael Bay for doing the same thing. There’s just something about that guy that rubs me up the wrong way. Oh yeah, that’s right….he destroyed the Transformers, I forgot. Emmerich still retains respect from me and I hope he gets back to doing what he does best. Blowing seven shades of shit out of everything. How bout a sequel to ID4 Roland? The MacBook is far more powerful now, those bastard aliens won’t even get a foot in the door this time!