independence day: resurgence
“I’m not only about destruction”
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.