in­de­pen­dence day: resur­gence

“I’m not only about de­struc­tion”

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How doyou dream?

It’s a ques­tion SFX has al­ways wanted to ask a Hol­ly­wood di­rec­tor. And who bet­ter than Roland Em­merich, mas­ter of cin­e­matic shock and awe, a man with more devastation on his rap sheet than global warm­ing and the Tun­guska me­teor com­bined. Surely his dreams are to­tal noc­tur­nal skull-rat­tlers, full of wreck­age and rub­ble, IMAX fire­balls and THX tidal waves?

“No, they’re just nor­mal,” he laughs, dis­ap­point­ingly. “But when I fin­ish a film I tend to re­work it in the last three weeks so I have these panic at­tacks in the mid­dle of the night. I break out in sweat and say, ‘Oh my god, we’re not go­ing to make it… this is go­ing to be a dis­as­ter!’ You dream you’re re-cut­ting a scene you don’t even have in the movie!”

Panic! Dis­as­ter! At least Em­merich’s vo­cab­u­lary is con­sis­tent with his movies. And if ex­pec­ta­tion is mea­sured in night sweats it may be time to change the sheets. This month he un­leashes In­de­pen­dence Day: Resur­gence, the long an­tic­i­pated se­quel to 1996’s flag-wav­ing, ET-punch­ing block­buster.

Given the orig­i­nal movie was of­fi­cially king of ’96, slay­ing box of­fice records shat­tered by

Juras­sic Park three years be­fore, you can only won­der why it’s taken two whole decades to stage a re­match be­tween Earth and the in­vaders. Surely there was stu­dio pres­sure to green­light a se­quel while the re­mains of that nuked moth­er­ship were still smoul­der­ing?

“Yes, there was,” shares Em­merich. “But I had no idea what to do with it. And I had so many other in­ter­est­ing projects I wanted to do. So I said no, I’m not do­ing it. And they were quite re­spect­ful and said, ‘Okay, if you don’t want to do it, don’t do it.’ And then later, be­cause tech­nol­ogy had ad­vanced so much, I started talk­ing with my peo­ple, and we said ‘My god, what could we do with In­de­pen­dence

Day now?’ And that sparked some­thing in my head. I’d think about it once in a while but there was al­ways a new orig­i­nal project that I’d be more in­ter­ested in.”

Em­merich and long­time col­lab­o­ra­tor Dean Devlin took a crack at a script in the early noughties. By 2009 the plan called for two se­quels. Em­merich courted Will Smith to reprise his role as hot­shot fly­boy Steven Hiller, Earth’s cigar-chomp­ing first line of defence. When Smith passed – ei­ther too pricey or burned out on the idea of se­quels, depend­ing on which story you be­lieve – Em­merich re­tooled his vi­sion.

“It has to­tally changed,” he tells SFX. “First we waited for Will and then Will opted out. Then I kind of opted out. I told a friend of mine what I wanted to do and they said, ‘It’s such a fan­tas­tic idea that you don’t need Will – just find an­other way to do it.’

“Maybe only one and a half years ago, just be­fore we started shoot­ing, I sat down with these two young writ­ers I’d just found. I said, ‘Let’s give it one more try.’ The real idea was to start a new gen­er­a­tion, to make it a hand-off – which to­tally got me ex­cited be­cause it meant I could hire a young cast. And then we wrote the fi­nal draft, which got us a green­light pretty much in four weeks.”

new and im­proved

Em­merich prom­ises the se­quel will bring some­thing new, not just trade on pre-mil­len­nial nostal­gia. “I think this will be a to­tally dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence from the first one, be­cause there’s so many other big block­busters out there now that have the same feel. The stu­dio said,

that will smith-shaped Hole is filled by a new gen­er­a­tion of pi­lots… that works well

‘Twenty years is a long time – the movie has to work for a new au­di­ence.’

“I wanted to make the story it­self a lit­tle more com­plex. We have a cou­ple of el­e­ments in there that no­body knows about yet and we’re very proud that we keep hid­ing them! That’s re­ally dif­fi­cult in this day and age.”

Twenty years have also passed in movie time but the world of the se­quel has been shaped by the af­ter­shocks of that seis­mic Fourth of July. The ESD (Earth Space De­fense) pro­tects the planet, us­ing tech looted from the fallen alien bat­tle fleet. While Cap­tain Steven Hiller en­gaged the en­emy in an F/A-18 Hor­net, his suc­ces­sors fly fu­tur­is­tic hy­brid jets, retro-en­gi­neered from ex­tra-ter­res­trial science. All of our moon­base dreams have also come true.

“It’s a very dif­fer­ent world from ours,” Em­merich re­veals. “The hu­mans know they got very, very lucky. They also re­alised that they can­not recre­ate alien tech­nol­ogy, but they can har­vest it. And then on top of that they de­tected this dis­tress call, sent from the alien ships into deep space, and they said, ‘This means there are oth­ers out there.’ So the whole world stays united, be­cause they have to, and they have to try and fig­ure out how they can de­fend Earth.”

Is it mankind that’s resur­gent? Or the in­vaders? “Both!” laughs Em­merich. “These two young writ­ers came up with that ti­tle. As a Ger­man it had to be ex­plained to me what resur­gence means! But I re­ally liked it, be­cause it’s not a def­i­nite term. Resur­gence can be a lot of things, and I liked it be­cause of that.”

While the ten­ta­cled ag­gres­sors re­mained a name­less, enig­matic threat first time around, Em­merich’s ex­panded their back­story in the se­quel. “We opened up the uni­verse. We have to do that. There’s an­other race out there that we learn about. There’s a big­ger story go­ing on.”

That Will Smith-shaped hole, mean­while, is filled by a new gen­er­a­tion of pi­lots. “We kind of re­placed Will with a whole group of peo­ple,” says Em­merich. “We said to our­selves, ‘How can any­body re­place Will Smith?’ So we have four or five younger char­ac­ters to take over the Will Smith part, in a way. That ac­tu­ally works quite well.” Top Gunning it against the alien me­nace are

The Hunger Games’ Liam Hemsworth, It Fol­lows’ Maika Mon­roe – play­ing the daugh­ter of Pres­i­dent Whit­more – and Jessie Usher as Dy­lan, step­son of plan­e­tary hero Steven Hiller.

“It helps to have young faces and see what their prob­lems are. Don’t for­get the Will Smith char­ac­ter was like 26 in the first film, so he was quite young.” Resur­gence also re­unites the en­sem­ble cast of ID4, from Jeff Gold­blum, recre­at­ing his turn as David Levin­son, now pro­moted to di­rec­tor of ESD, to Vivica A Fox, Brent Spiner and a Bib­li­cally-bearded Bill Pull­man. Em­merich says they re­cap­tured their ’90s alchemy ef­fort­lessly.

“Some­one like Judd Hirsch, who’s now 82, was im­me­di­ately ex­actly in his part again. The same thing hap­pened with Brent Spiner or Jeff Gold­blum. They were im­me­di­ately into their old per­sonas. They knew their char­ac­ters re­ally well. We in­volved Jeff a lot when we wrote the first script. We sat down with him and asked

him a lot of ques­tions about what he felt, and he had very good notes.”

big­ger and bet­ter

As Gold­blum’s char­ac­ter so know­ingly says in the trailer, Resur­gence is “def­i­nitely big­ger than the last one”. And that’s quite the feat, given In­de­pen­dence Day es­tab­lished a new par­a­digm for mul­ti­plex apoca­lypse. How do you pos­si­bly top the end of the world? Just how many White Houses can you blow up?

“On the first film I had roughly 450 FX shots,” Em­merich shares. “This time I had nearly 2,000! It’s just enor­mous. It’s hard to work on these films be­cause you only see blue­screen at first, and then you see re­ally bad back­grounds… You have to cut it, you have to test it. And then at the end, when it’s fi­nally fin­ished, every­body says, ‘Oh my god!’ You have to have the imag­i­na­tion that it will all turn out well. You’ve got to be­lieve.

“The movie had to look mod­ern. It couldn’t look like 20 years ago.”

While the new film de­liv­ers state-of-the-art de­struct-o-porn, cour­tesy of an alien grav­ity weapon that sucks cars into the sky and up­ends oceans, Em­merich still claims in­spi­ra­tion from a cou­ple of stone cold ’70s clas­sics.

“For me there were two sem­i­nal movies,” he tells SFX, happy to slip into movie geek mode. “I was in my first year of film school when Star Wars and Close En­coun­ters Of The Third Kind were re­leased in Europe. I saw these two movies and they both told me ex­actly what I wanted to do. I was al­ways a science fic­tion fan but Close En­coun­ters in­flu­enced me more be­cause it was about a reg­u­lar per­son, an elec­tri­cian who has a truck, and a fam­ily. And he’s one of the guys who goes into the space­ship at the end. I was like, ‘Oh, that’s a whole new way to make movies…’ And when you look at my movies they’re all a bit like that. Some­thing in­cred­i­ble al­ways hap­pens to quite reg­u­lar peo­ple.”

Sud­denly it seems so ob­vi­ous. That’s the orig­i­nal In­de­pen­dence Day, isn’t it? A mash of Close En­coun­ters and Star Wars, moth­er­ships and dog­fights, first con­tact and fi­nal reel hero­ics…

“Maybe!” laughs Em­merich. “I don’t know. It was also very in­flu­enced by ’70s dis­as­ter films. I’m a big fan of them. Dean and I re­ally stud­ied Tow­er­ing In­ferno!”

Em­merich’s love of widescreen dis­as­ter runs through his screen CV like a tec­tonic fault­line, from Godzilla to The Day After To­mor­row to

2012. It’s easy to see him as Ir­win Allen with dig­i­tal fire­power, all about the show-stop­ping mo­ment, the vis­ual wow, the cin­e­matic high. But ev­ery ac­tor SFX speaks to praises Em­merich as a col­lab­o­ra­tive, char­ac­ter-fo­cused di­rec­tor. Does it frus­trate him that he’s seen purely as a mas­ter of spec­ta­cle?

“Yes,” he laughs again, rather more wist­fully. “It to­tally bugs me be­cause they think I’m only about de­struc­tion. But I’m not only about de­struc­tion. It’s not who I re­ally am. I love peo­ple and I love ac­tors. I did movies like

Anony­mous and The Patriot too. But I have to say, be­cause of In­de­pen­dence Day I’ve found a way to com­bine gen­res. It’s an alien in­va­sion movie in the form of a dis­as­ter film and that had quite an im­pact on the film in­dus­try.”

Em­merich’s not bash­ful when it comes to stress­ing his in­flu­ence on the mod­ern block­buster land­scape. And given the sheer amount of rub­ble rou­tinely clut­ter­ing our

screens these days he may have a valid point. “When you look at all the Mar­vel movies they’re al­ways about de­struc­tion, they’re al­ways about in­vad­ing. There’s a lot of alien in­va­sion go­ing on in the Mar­vel Uni­verse and I think they got that from In­de­pen­dence Day. I also had this tone every­body tries to hit – an ir­rev­er­ence, but with a se­ri­ous­ness to it. It’s very hard to hit that kind of tone.”

Will we have to wait an­other 20 years for In­de­pen­dence Day 3?

“Oh, I don’t know,” says Em­merich, and given this is his first se­quel in a 35-year ca­reer it feels like gen­uine un­cer­tainty, not in­ter­view game­play. “It’s set up for a se­quel. I had to do that for the stu­dio, to make them ex­cited. There is the pos­si­bil­ity for a se­quel but let’s see how it does first.

“I have two or three projects that I want to do. They’re all orig­i­nal and I al­ways tend more to­ward do­ing some­thing orig­i­nal than a se­quel. I could never do what Michael Bay does, like five Trans­form­ers movies… I would go crazy!”

In­de­pen­dence Day: Resur­gence opens on 23 June. Con­cept art is from The Art And Mak­ing Of In­de­pen­dence Day: Resur­gence, out 21 June from Ti­tan Books.

IHad this tone that ev­ery­one tries to Hit– an ir­rev­er­ence, but wit Ha se­ri­ous­ness to it

The feet of the moth­er­ship. Um, so that’s quite big, then.

Trou­ble at sea?

Bill Pull­man is back, and this time he’s brought a beard.

“Space­ships? Yeah, we can fight space­ships. No big deal.”

Liam Hemsworth plays Jake Mor­ri­son, an ace fighter pi­lot.

Lon­don is evac­u­ated as na­tional land­marks col­lide in this con­cept art.

Art­work show­ing the CGI alien moth­er­ship, set to start some se­ri­ous grav­i­ta­tional prob­lems.

That Ap­ple Pow­erBook isn’t go­ing to save you this time, Jeff.

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