Turns out it’s boom times for the apocalypse – as proven this past weekend, when you apparently took your friends, parents and grandparents to go see “2012.” In its first few days, the apocalyptic thriller cashed in a cool $225 million at the global box office ($65 million of that came from right here in America, which apparently will be the first nation to be destroyed when the Earth’s crust goes bust), appealing to moviegoers with the feel-good message of this feel-sad year: Forget the recession, things could actually be a whole lot worse. (TIME’s Richard Corliss breaks down the weekend box office)
And talk about bang for your buck; few movies have so thoroughly eviscerated the human race. Aircraft carriers are dropped on the White House, Las Vegas plunges into the center of the Earth, and Los Angeles – quite literally – slides into the Pacific. Heck, I’m sure somewhere in all this carnage you can even see a kitchen sink being thrown.
This should be a triumphant day for director for Roland Emmerich, but when Techland caught up with the German hell raiser just before the release of “2012,” he seemed adamant that this whole doomsday game is a little too silly for his blood. “When this movie came together, the idea of it, at one point I said to Harald Kloser, ‘Time out: Harald, this is a disaster movie and I don’t think it’s good for my career to do this so quickly after ‘The Day After Tomorrow.’ I once said famously that that would be my last disaster movie, because I felt very passionate about the message, so I had my hesitations this time around, and I told Harald: ‘Everyone will say, oh you’re destroying the world again, you’re the Master of Disaster,’ and I really wanted to avoid that…I was worried that I would start copying my own films.”
Emmerich didn’t just copy previous disaster films with “2012;” he crammed every possible disaster scenario into a single, supersized marathon of hellfire. Walking through the highlights, he recalled with some excitement that the very first image for the film that flooded his imagination involved the 1,500-foot tidal wave circling the Earth: “I saw this wave sweeping over the Himalayas, literally drowning the roof of the world.” (that’s the exact sequence the first caught people’s attention in the teaser trailer, copied below) And as he guided Techland through the film’s visual effects, he casually mentioned that not only has he already signed on as executive producer for a “2013” TV concept – a sequel of sorts to the film – but that he also desperately wants to film an “Independence Day” sequel: “I’d love to make another one, always have, but it’s a little bit difficult because it’s owned by Fox and it’s out of your hands.”
Yet in his next breath, Emmerich sounded more like a man ready to move on in his career. “For me, it was a very hard decision to do something like this again, and it got the point where I said: ‘Okay, if I do something like this again. I will go all-out, no holds barred, do everything I can possibly do,” Emmerich says.
So might this be his final big-screen disaster epic?
“Oh I certainly hope so!”
It’s easy to think of Emmerich as the master of the obliterated landmark, or the Rapture King. In my mind, he’s less a man than an institution, deciding which fictional havoc to wreak on the world next. But sitting down with the man himself, the clearer it all became: Emmerich is not the master of the apocalypse, just a gun for hire who Fox turned down when he said he wanted to dedicate “Independence Day” to Irwin Allen, the creative force behind such franchises as “Lost in Space” and “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.” “They didn’t want to sell the movie as a disaster film, and I understand that.”
No doubt some people see the name Roland Emmerich and think of loud, noisy, flashy special effects. But above all else, Emmerich is a master technician who can swing big and deliver on all those Big Movie Moments. You don’t see a film like “2012” for the story, but for the sheer audacity of its demolition powers, and sure enough, here’s a film that delivers some serious bang for your buck. Vatican? Gone. India? Under water. Hawaii? On fire.
This is some silly fun, indeed. And all that Mayan stuff, used so heavily in the promotional campaigns? Emmerich’s pretty blunt about all that marketing fodder too: “I always knew about the Mayan calendar because of another project I had researched, and Harald and I were working on “2012” – it wasn’t titled “2012” then – and we realized we should have some Mayan stuff in the film. I always try to find something real out there which I can put in my movie so people have the feeling of ‘Oh I heard about this.’ In ‘Independence Day’ it was Area 51 – I’m just drawn to these things because in a way it brands your move and people then start talking about 2012 really means.”
Well, Mr. Emmerich, the “branding” campaign was successful. The return on investment looks promising. You blow stuff up real good. Here’s betting you’ll be back to the doomsday game real soon.