Apoca­lypse wow!

No one has de­stroyed the world quite as of­ten as Roland Em­merich. The Ger­man di­rec­tor’s over-egged de­pic­tions of global dis­as­ter may be short on sci­ence, but his de­pic­tions of an an­ni­hi­lated planet still have the power to make view­ers go green with en­viro

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Cover Story - irish­times.com/thet­icket/

ONE OF the tinier out­rages of the ap­palling In­dian Ocean tsunami of 2004 was the vis­i­ble frus­tra­tion dis­played by rolling-news an­chors when con­fronted with footage of the ad­vanc­ing waves. “Send us in your own film of the dis­as­ter,” they said plain­tively af­ter shrug­ging their shoul­ders at the in­suf­fi­ciently ter­ri­fy­ing im­ages.

The im­pli­ca­tion was clear: we know what the end of the world looks like and it doesn’t look like this. A wave ca­pa­ble of such ghastly de­struc­tion would surely block out the sun and send plumes of foam stream­ing half­way across the planet. This surg­ing, mod­estly dra­matic swell may well have killed hun­dreds of thou­sands, but it just wasn’t what we were promised by the movies.

Af­ter all, only six months ear­lier, Roland Em­merich had shown us how the world was re­ally sup­posed to end: not with a whim­per, but with sev­eral thou­sand bangs of ever es­ca­lat­ing vol­ume fol­lowed by a roar­ing that could heard on Venus. In The Day Af­ter To­mor­row, the bor­ingly steady ad­vance of cli­mate change was dis­carded for a cat­a­strophic me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal re­align­ment that sent typhoons racing through Los An­ge­les and turned the wa­ters round New York into a glacier.

“When we made that film we im­me­di­ately thought: what’s the best way to rep­re­sent that dis­as­ter?” Em­merich says. “There was no ques­tion. We had to show the Statue of Lib­erty cov­ered in ice. That was the only thing that would work.”

For all the sober pon­tif­i­cat­ing of Al Gore, the most stub­bornly res­o­nant im­ages of the end of the world come from big, bold main- stream movies. Why bother wor­ry­ing about green is­sues? Well, look what hap­pens in The Day Af­ter To­mor­row, Mad Max, Soy­lent Green and Si­lent Run­ning. Later this week­end, The Road, John Hill­coat’s un­remit­tingly som­bre adap­ta­tion of Cor­mac McCarthy’s post-apoc­a­lyp­tic novel, closes the Corona Cork Film Fes­ti­val. Is this how you want the world to look? No? Well, you’d bet­ter start separat­ing your used bot­tles from your dis­carded plas­tics then.

The sci­ence may be du­bi­ous in th­ese films – never more so than in The Day Af­ter To­mor­row – but one glimpse of an an­ni­hi­lated planet may still have the power to make view­ers pon­der their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as con­sumers.

So, Roland Em­merich must, in some small way, be re­garded as an ac­ci­den­tal hero of the green move­ment. No­body has de­stroyed the world quite so of­ten. No­body has done a bet­ter job of show­ing what might hap­pen if we keep driv­ing around in jeeps and feed­ing mer­cury to dol­phins (or what­ever).

The apoc­a­lyp­tophile is back with an­other amus­ing calamity next week. Thir­teen years af­ter he or­ches­trated the lev­el­ling of the White House in In­de­pen­dence Day and just five since he helmed The Day Af­ter To­mor­row, the Ger­man now of­fers us “a dis­place­ment of the Earth’s crust” for the epi­cally de­struc­tive 2012. About as long as win­ter and as noisy as a war, the film, which draws its in­spi­ra­tion from a sup­posed warn­ing in the Mayan cal­en­dar, once again lays waste to LA, New York, Paris and Lon­don.

This is beginning to look like a mi­nor psy­chosis. What is it with Em­merich? Why does he feel the need to keep de­stroy­ing a per­fectly good planet?

“I was very re­luc­tant to take this on af­ter The Day Af­ter To­mor­row,” he says. “That was it for me and dis­as­ter movies. What won me over was that it is a moral retelling of the Noah’s Ark myth. That story of a flood is some- thing that ap­pears not just in the bi­ble, but in any num­ber of ma­jor re­li­gions.”

Sure enough, af­ter the likes of John Cu­sack and Chi­we­tel Ejio­for evade the hurtling boul­ders and ad­vanc­ing oceans, they set about try­ing to shep­herd rep­re­sen­ta­tive groups of the earth’s cit­i­zens into mod­ern-day arks. Though the film is most no­table for the creative way it de­mol­ishes pop­u­lar ur­ban land­marks, there are, it is true, mo­ments when we en­counter some­thing a lit­tle like a moral dilemma.

“I think so. El­e­ments of 2012 ask ques­tions about what’s worth sav­ing in such a sit­u­a­tion. Those are very se­ri­ous dilem­mas, I think.”

So what sort of man is this se­rial de­stroyer of worlds? Now 53, neat with closely cropped grey hair, Roland Em­merich was born and raised in the vicin­ity of Stuttgart. Do the sums and you re­alise that he is just a decade or so younger than com­pa­tri­ots such as Wim Wen­ders, Rainer Werner Fass­binder and Werner Her­zog, who rein­vented Ger­man cin­ema in the 1970s. Yet Em­merich’s work could not be less like that of those ex­per­i­men­tal­ists.

Root through his CV and you find no dark, avant-garde trea­tises on the mean­ing of the Baader-Mein­hof gang or the empti­ness of the Ger­man eco­nomic mir­a­cle. Born a safe dis­tance from the war, Em­merich has al­ways been an un­apolo­getic pop­ulist with a taste for main­stream Amer­i­can bom­bast. Fore­shad­ow­ing ad­ven­tures to come in 2012, his first movie was a mod­estly bud­geted Ger­man sci­ence fic­tion flick called The Noah’s Ark Prin­ci­ple.

So he was never tempted to join the high­fa­lutin art-house boys?

“I was the one who said I don’t like those movies and I was at­tacked when I said so openly. They are bor­ing. They just don’t en­ter­tain me. My Ger­man hero is a guy called Al­fred Vohrer, who made all th­ese adap­ta­tions of Edgar Wal­lace thrillers. I said that to pro­voke in a way. But I was se­ri­ous and, though we didn’t have much money, I con­tin­ued to make those ex­cit­ing films that looked more ex­pen­sive than they were. That’s why Hol­ly­wood hired me.”

The big, noisy films that Em­merich makes are very of­ten pro­ducer-driven. To sur­vive in those wa­ters you must ei­ther learn to co-op­er­ate or, if you do de­cide to defy au­thor­ity, de­velop the strength to stand your ground without

“You have to hand it to Roland Em­merich. You may find his films as bom­bas­tic, but he does exhibit a cer­tain kind of stub­born in­tegrity. No­body tells him what to blow up and what not to blow up”

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