Roland Emmerich

The director is set to bring his epic doomsday thriller to DVD and Blu-ray this March

Over the decades, many have prophesized that the world will end when the ancient Mayan Calendar ceases on Dec. 21, 2012. Listen up, folks: That prediction was dead wrong! Our planet is actually getting destroyed on March 2nd, 2010! That's when Roland Emmerich's latest disaster epic 2012 is set to wreck havoc on both DVD and Blu-ray shelves across the country. This earth-decimating sci-fi extravaganza went on to earn over $768 million dollars at the global box office this past Thanksgiving holiday, and it is guaranteed to be a hit on the home video circuit. An ode to disaster epics of old, this explosive thriller proved to be both a warning for things to come and a literal non-stop roller coaster ride. Hoax or truth, you can't deny the entertaining wallop 2012 lands upside the head like a well placed punch to the face. To celebrate the impending release of this amazing and fun film, which is being called the greatest achievement in Emmerich's career, we caught up with the man himself to find out what he had to say about bringing this doomsday prophecy to the big screen. Here's our conversation:

During the theatrical release of the film, we spoke with 2012 expert Dr. Lawrence Joseph, who explained that the cost of building a shield protector for our electrical grids during the impending sun storm was roughly the same price as the cost of making this movie. Why, in your opinion, do you think people, both those that make art and those that buy the tickets and DVDs, are more willing to put their resources towards a piece of entertainment than they are something that could save their lives in the long run?

Roland Emmerich: I doubt what Dr. Joseph says is true. This is a piece of entertainment. It's a movie. What could you really do if the sun gave out? What would you be able to do if the sun mutated into something else? Nobody knows what will happen. That's why we told our film in this way. Its not like the sun is really heating up. It's not changing its course. It's sort of like a brand new microwave.

Were you able to talk to these 2012 experts before you went into production on the film? Or was this all news you discovered after the fact?

Roland Emmerich: No. I did not talk to a lot of these people. That was controlled by the studio. I wanted to talk to someone completely different. We had two or three guys that we talked to and chatted with. Then we chose one guy who was a professor for Earth science. Every once in a while we would call him up and ask, "Should we do this? Or should we do that?" He helped us to make this more feasible. He also knew that this was just a piece of entertainment. It had to feel plausible. Its as if we were doing something like Jurassic Park. It's impossible to create dinosaurs out of docile insects, you know? This is the same way. But we keep it plausible. That's why the audiences bought into it.

Do you think a majority of the people in America are harboring a secret wish that

the prophecies of 2012 will come true? Do you think this film provides that type of fantasy fulfillment?

Roland Emmerich: No. Audiences obviously like to see disaster films. Because they can identify with the people on screen. Whenever you are doing a disaster film, you have to come up with an underlying new idea. Our underlying new idea was a modern retelling of Noah's Ark. That's what it really was. People respond to that because it's a very old story. They have heard of it. Here, it is told in a brand new way.

You set out to make an updated version of Noah's Ark. Did the producers come to you and say, "Hey, why not throw in the prophesies of 2012?" Seriously. How did that work itself into the original storyline?

Roland Emmerich: We always had the 2012 aspect in the script from the very beginning. Because I said, "Whatever can we do?" I knew we had to base this in reality. When you look at Independence Day, I did the same thing. We used the knowledge we had of Area 51. We incorporated that into the film. We made it more real for the audiences. We allowed them to know something. Actually, at the beginning, we had no title. It wasn't until we were finishing 10,000 B.C. in London that the producer called me up and said, "I know what the title has to be! It has to be 2012!" I though it was kind of idiotic. I said, "What happens in 2013? Do they take our movie off the shelf?" He said, "No! Don't say that!" He reminded me of a couple of different movies that have similar titles. The science fiction movies that have a number in the title. The most famous is 2001: A Space Odyssey. People still watch it. I still watch it. Even though its already 2010.

2010 was a movie, too.

Roland Emmerich: Exactly.

After delving so deep into this doomsday scenario, do you have your own plans for survival should the big one hit? Or are you going to be more like Danny Glover and let it all wash over you in a moment of awe struck acceptance?

Roland Emmerich: I very much feel I'd act like John Cusack. I would hope. I don't know. If you could not do anything? I would want to be with the people I love. I'd hope to be like the Danny Glover character. Because I'd feel it was all so hopeless, anyway. But on the other hand, I think it would be great to be like the John Cusack character. I would want to save my family.

Is it your hope that someone will bring some of your movies onto the Ark? That your work will be preserved should something like this actually happen?

Roland Emmerich: I will leave that to other people to decide. I will not have the hubris to do that myself.

Forget the hubris for a minute. John Cusack is very accepting of the book fans he is forced to live with on that boat at the end of the film. How would you react to being forced to live the rest of humanity with a hardcore fan at your side? Would you eventually get annoyed?

Roland Emmerich: No. Well, it's very difficult to answer that question. I don't think anything like this will ever, ever happen. I know it's sad, but I cannot waist time thinking about it. Because I don't think there is any chance that this scenario will ever happen to me.

Jesse Ventura recently did an expose on some of the things addressed in your film. Do you believe that the government is actually securing underground bunkers to prepare for the impending disaster that is going to hit in 2012? Did you see anything during your research on the film that disturbed you in the slightest?

Roland Emmerich: When we were doing the research for this, we did find out a couple of things. I thought, "Oh my God, are we in the Twilight Zone?" For example, this heat wall that is being financed by the Bill Gates foundation. That's a little weird. I'm generally suspicious of politicians. That went into deciding who was going to build our ships we see at the end of the film. We needed someone like Bill Gates doing it. We also felt it was a bit James Bondish. Why wouldn't it be the Government? Seriously? What else are they talking about in these G8, G9, G10, G20 summits? Why aren't they holding these in public? Why aren't they holding these things in a place where its there for us to see? I wanted to express this dislike, and this feeling of unease. I wanted to do that with this movie.

Did you ever have any Men in Black type characters approach you about what exactly it was you were doing with this movie? Or what you were planning to represent?

Roland Emmerich: No. I wish that would have happened. I wish I had seen an alien. But it never happens to me.

bold After the film came out, Roger Ebert, who you parodied in Godzilla, brought up an interesting topic of discussion. You have a character named Anheuser, and Ebert seems to think that when we hear this name, we're supposed to think of President Bush. I saw the film before I read the review, and every time I heard the name, it made me thirsty. And I thought it was either sly product placement or a reflection of the Beer industry at this point in time. What were your intentions in naming this character Anheuser?

Roland Emmerich: I wanted you to think of Bush. Because of Anheuser/Busch. It had nothing to do with what is going on in the beer industry whatsoever. Whenever you think of Anheuser, you think of Busch, right? That is the connotation we wanted to give. Even though it's a beer name.

That's where I got tripped up. This film was making me thirsty. And it certainly goes down nice with a bottle of Bud. I know I had a few beers afterwards, and it almost acts as coy product placement, whether it's intentional or not.

Roland Emmerich: I wasn't promoting alcoholism. I'm not a beer drinker.

A lot of articulate detail went into constructing the images we see in the film, and it looks even better on Blu-ray than it did in the theaters. Can you talk a little bit about constructing some of the more intense scenes and what it took to get such a great looking film on screen?

Roland Emmerich: We are very detail oriented people. We always want to do better stuff. What we did this time around was super smart. We divided the whole movie into twelve different parts. Then we sent it off to twelve different companies to do the effects. We cast them like actors. We cast them by their talents. I would sit there every day and watch what we got back from these people. I would critique it. I think all twelve of these companies hated us. Because we were very hard on them. We called it "pixel fucking" them. We would get our laser pointer out and point at little tiny mistakes. Or we would ask for more detail. It's always the little details that make it more real.

Now that the film is coming out on DVD, did you go back and CGI in a little bit more gore? Did you add more people falling out of buildings during the earthquake?

Roland Emmerich: No, never. I don't know why people go back and mess with their films. After I make a movie, I never want to see it again. I worked so long and so hard on it. You never really finish a movie. You abandon it. I am philosophical about this. I couldn't go back and change it.

So, a movie like Universal Soldier. You haven't gone back and looked at that in seventeen years?

Roland Emmerich: Never. I have not watched any of my old movies.

I want to talk about wardrobe choices. John is stuck in a monkey suit the entire duration of the film. Why do you think that was important for his character, and what do you think that added to the film and the uncomfortableness of the situation. And what do you personally hope to be wearing when the proverbial shit hits the fan? Do you pray that you're not wearing dress shoes?

Roland Emmerich: The message says, "Save what you can." When this is all happening, he just has his chauffer's uniform on. His little cheap suit. Later on in the plane, we see that there are not enough jackets to go around. I wanted this feeling of having a hero character that doesn't care about his wardrobe anymore. He just wants to save his family. I wanted the character to feel more uncomfortable. I talked to John Cusack about it. I am very respectful of actors, so I asked him his thoughts. I didn't know if he'd be okay with wearing this suit the whole time. I told him he could change at some point and get dressed in warmer clothes. But he said, "No, no, no! This is great." He wanted to play it like that, because it added quite a lot to his character.

You have a pretty stellar cast in 2012. How do you think your casting choices helped sell some of the more hyper-realistic aspects of the script? It seems to me that you were more conscious of true character development here than you may have been in past films.

Roland Emmerich: What you have to do in these movies, because it's an impossible story, is have very strong actors. They make it all real. I am very into the casting process. That is the only time I am not sleeping well. Because I am constantly racking my brain. Who should I cast? Should I cast this one? Or the other one? I saw quite a few people for the many different parts. I took it very seriously. I know from experience that when you cast the wrong person, you simply can't do anything more with the material. Lets assume you are half way through, and you discover that you have the wrong actor. You are dead in the water. I was really happy that it worked out so well in 2012. It's a director thing.

It has been reported that you plan on turning 2012 into a television series. Where does production on that stand at this point in time?

Roland Emmerich: We tried to do that. But the TV people realized what we really wanted to do with it. They said, "You cannot do this on television." So I said, "Let's not do it." It was just too big for TV. What we wanted to do.

So that TV show is dead in the water?

Roland Emmerich: It's not totally dead. Mark Gordon is still trying to come up with an idea on how to make it cheaper. I don't think it will happen. I had a certain vision. We realized what kind of compromises we were going to have to make. Because of that, I said, "No thank you."

Is there any plan to turn that idea into a feature film?

Roland Emmerich: No, no, no. It was not a sequel. It was a story you could only tell once. There was no sequel to Noah's Ark. It would have been a great TV show. Because it would have dealt with the facts of arriving in Africa. We would have seen what happened had Cape Town survived. Those people already living there would be majorly pissed. Because the ships didn't take them. There was this whole political edge to it. It would have been a very political TV show. It had such big themes. It was about reaching for the stars. There was an economic reality that kept it from becoming a reality. We didn't want to compromise. We said, "Let's not do it."

2012 arrives on DVD and Blu-ray March 2nd, 2010.

B. Alan Orange at Movieweb
B. Alan Orange