The Films of Roland Emmerich
The Noah's Ark Principle
Independence Day (July 20/16)
One of the best summer blockbusters ever made, Independence Day follows a multitude of disparate characters as they're forced to band together and fight after alien invaders attack our planet. Filmmaker Roland Emmerich, working from a script cowritten with Dean Devlin, does a superb job of initially establishing the impending extraterrestrial incursion and its impact on over a dozen protagonists, with the impressively watchable atmosphere heightened by an almost uniformly charismatic, engaging cast (which includes Bill Pullman, Will Smith, Randy Quaid, and Jeff Goldblum). It's clear, too, that Independence Day benefits substantially from Emmerich and Devlin's padded-out yet mostly streamlined screenplay, as the movie, which is broken up into easily-definable sections (eg July 2, July 3, etc), boasts a palpable sense of momentum that grows exponentially as the aforementioned threat becomes more and more ominous and deadly. There's little doubt, as well, that the larger-than-life action sequences fare better than one might've anticipated, with Emmerich's stellar handling of such interludes ensuring that they are, for the most part, thrilling and engrossing. (The climactic battle, kicked into gear by Pullman's now-iconic inspirational speech, is especially captivating.) And while the movie is probably a little longer than necessary, Independence Day is, for the most part, a big-budget extravaganza done exceedingly well and it's ultimately hard to deny that the movie fares better than most contemporary similarly-themed works (including its own sequel!)
The Day After Tomorrow
2012 (November 12/09)
The latest overblown end-of-the-world disaster epic from Roland Emmerich, 2012 follows several disparate characters as they attempt to outrun a global cataclysm that threatens to destroy all life on Earth. It's a solid premise that's generally employed to relatively positive effect by director and cowriter Emmerich, as the film - which seems to have been structured using a disaster-movie template - hits virtually all of the notes one might've expected and ultimately boasts some of the most eye-popping computer-generated special effects in recent memory. There's consequently little doubt that the film is at its best when focused on the damage inflicted by the worldwide event, with the admittedly impressive performances (from folks like John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Oliver Platt) inevitably rendered moot in the face of Emmerich's unapologetically over-the-top sensibilities. The inclusion of a few undeniably poignant moments - ie Danny Glover's President Wilson addresses the nation for the last time - proves instrumental in infusing the proceedings with all-too-brief bursts of humanity, yet it's just as clear that Emmerich's penchant for introducing more and more characters as the story unfolds effectively dilutes the impact of the survivors' ongoing efforts at staying alive. Likewise, 2012 suffers from an entirely needless third act that features comparatively low-rent visuals and generally feels as though it'd be more at home within an entirely different movie (ie it's as though the filmmakers have crammed both 2012 and its sequel into one bloated endeavor). It's nevertheless worth noting that the movie does deliver precisely the sort of larger-than-life thrills that its promotional campaign has promised, and although it remains an almost aggressively bloated piece of work from start to finish, 2012's relentless emphasis on destruction ensures that most viewers will inevitably walk away satisfied.
An unmitigated disaster, Anonymous follows Rhys Ifans' Earl of Oxford as he successfully convinces a struggling playwright named William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) to take credit for his own stage plays - with the film, for the most part, detailing the double-crossing, behind-the-scenes political intrigue that ensues among a myriad of royal characters (including Vanessa Redgrave's Queen Elizabeth I and David Thewlis' William Cecil). The ongoing, relentless emphasis on the latter aspect of the story is ultimately what cements Anonymous' complete and utter failure, as filmmaker Roland Emmerich, working from John Orloff's screenplay, is simply unable to transform any of these stuffy, true-life figures into folks worth caring about or sympathizing with. It's consequently not surprising to note that the viewer has absolutely nothing invested in anything that transpires throughout the absurdly (and unreasonably) dense narrative, with the film's talented cast, which includes Derek Jacobi and Joely Richardson, left floundering and trapped within characters that couldn't possibly be less developed. The presence of several big, over-the-top sequences within the movie's third act doesn't even come close to alleviating the pervasively tedious atmosphere, as such moments are presented with an almost stunning lack of context that prevents one from working up even an ounce of interest in their outcome. (There's a similar lack of resonance for the various revelations that crop up in the film's final stretch.) The end result is an abhorrent and completely boring piece of work that's sure to leave even history buffs checking the time on a continuous basis, and it's ultimately clear that Emmerich should stick to the larger-than-life, blockbuster fare with which he's become associated.
no stars out of
White House Down
A refreshingly old-school actioner, White House Down follows aspiring Secret Service agent John Cale (Channing Tatum) as he's forced to spring into action after the title locale is stormed by terrorists - with the movie primarily detailing Cale's efforts at escorting the President (Jamie Foxx's James Sawyer) to safety and, eventually, saving his young daughter (Joey King's Emily) from the nefarious invaders. Filmmaker Roland Emmerich, working from James Vanderbilt's screenplay, has infused White House Down with an almost classical sensibility that stands in sharp contrast to the grittiness of current big-budget fare, with the movie's unapologetically larger-than-life atmosphere perpetuated by its proliferation of archetypal characters and emphasis on gleefully broad action sequences. (There is, in terms of the latter, an absolutely ridiculous car chase on the White House lawn that really must be seen to be believed.) Tatum does a solid job of stepping into the shoes of the movie's (predictably) reluctant hero, with the actor's charismatic turn matched by an unusually strong supporting cast that includes, among others, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, and Richard Jenkins. And although the film's overlong running time (131 minutes!) results in a palpably uneven midsection that's rife with lulls, White House Down primarily (and ultimately) comes off as the rare summer blockbuster that provides exactly the sort of escapist fun that used to be part-and-parcel with the genre.
Independence Day: Resurgence (July 25/16)
An absolute disaster of a sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence follows an assortment of characters as they must contend with the arrival of the first movie's vicious aliens (who are now bent on revenge and total destruction). It's clear immediately that Independence Day: Resurgence's most obvious problem is the ineffectiveness of virtually all of its new protagonists, as filmmaker Roland Emmerich has populated the proceedings with a host of almost astonishingly bland figures that remain unable to earn sympathy or interest from the viewer. (It doesn't help, certainly, that these roles have been filled by talented yet charmless performers, including Liam Hemsworth, Jessie T. Usher, and the ludicrously named Angelababy.) The less-than-engrossing atmosphere is compounded by a tedious, repetitive narrative and an emphasis on larger-than-life action sequences, with, in terms of the latter, the decision to rely entirely on computer-generated effects transforming high-octane moments into an exhausting and indecipherable jumble of random images. (The dogfights, which feature thousands of ships in battle, fare especially poorly.) It doesn't help, either, that Emmerich and cinematographer Markus Förderer have infused the entirety of Independence Day: Resurgence with drained-of-color visuals that are, to put it mildly, lifeless, with the movie's thoroughly unappealing appearance a constant reminder of its hopelessly misguided, poorly-conceived-and-executed nature - which, when coupled with an endless climax devoid of thrills, confirms the film's place as a seriously disappointing (and shockingly inept) followup.