Roland Emmerich is truly the master of disaster.
The German filmmaker has created some of the most iconic sequences of mass destruction in the history of film, nestled inside some of the most memorable big budget movies of the past few decades, hits like “Independence Day,” “White House Down,” and “The Day After Tomorrow.” His latest, “Moonfall,” involves the moon (yes, our moon) crashing into earth, which causes all sorts of problems including, but not limited to, zero G funkiness, out-of-control tides, and giant chunks of moon slamming into various parts of our planet.
To celebrate the new film and Emmerich’s illustrious history of destroying things we hold dear, TheWrap had Emmerich break down his favorite moments from his films – some of which might surprise you. You can watch above and see a breakdown of his choices below.
For his 1996 film “Independence Day,” still one of the most fun summer movies of all time, Emmerich picked an unlikely moment – Will Smith dragging an unconscious alien across the desert. Calling the moment “a totally absurd thing,” Emmerich noted that the only scripted line of the entire scene was “What’s that smell?” Everything else was improvised by Smith. The rest, as they say, is history. “That’s my true favorite scene in the movie,” Emmerich admits.
This scene, which shows the Revolutionary War being waged outside of a house where Heath Ledger and Mel Gibson are talking, was an area of contention – Emmerich said that Gibson questioned whether or not he’d actually show a cannonball decapitating somebody. “He thought I was making a PG-13 film,” Emmerich said in reference to his 2000 historical epic. “But this is war.” He described this scene as “the pivotal point where everything turns.” And it’s hard to argue.
“The Day After Tomorrow”
For his 2004 film “The Day After Tomorrow,” Emmerich chose a scene with a tsunami barreling down the concrete canyons of New York City, in part, because “it was so hard to do.” “It was a nightmare,” Emmerich said. “It was just so hard to make this water. And it was a very pivotal scene! I had to get these kids [Jake Gyllenhaal and Emmy Rossum] into the library. I couldn’t not use these shots!”
This is the moment, in what is arguably the ultimate Emmerich movie, there’s a comedic beat with John Cusack and a car that he can’t figure out how to start. As it quickly becomes apparent, it’s voice controlled. Still, Emmerich admits, the scene was mainly “a cool way to show all of these luxury cars fall out of the back of [the plane].” About a moment towards the end of the scene, when the pilot of the plane thinks he’s made it only to crash into a ravine, Emmerich said: “Sometimes you have to do that, otherwise a movie becomes too silly. You have to have jokes and then show something brutal.”
“White House Down”
Emmerich’s edict to “White House Down” screenwriter Jamie Vanderbilt, for a helicopter attack on the White House, was: “Make this scene bigger.” “If you don’t have a big thing happening, the movie falls flat there,” Emmerich told him. “I was constantly inventing stuff.” There’s a particular moment that Emmerich loves – when a helicopter rotor blade crashes through the ceiling and advances on a tour guide. “We built that. And it was too close to actors and at the time I felt a little worried about that,” Emmerich said. He may level cities, but he still cares about his performers!
For his 2019 take on World War II, “Midway,” Emmerich chose a sequence where one of the pilots touches down on an aircraft carrier. The key phrase there is one of the pilots. “It’s heartbreaking,” Emmerich said. “It’s like, why did I come back and the other guy didn’t come back? For me, it was a great scene.” Agreed.
“Moonfall,” Emmerich’s latest extravaganza, involves a sequence where the space shuttle is lifting off at the same time that the moon is creating a “gravity wave” (also a literal wave made out of water). It came from the simple need for, as Emmerich says, “a time clock.” “They have to make it in 28 minutes and at the same time the moon is so close it makes a huge tide,” Emmerich said. The rest is pure, glorious Emmerich mayhem.
“Moonfall” is now playing exclusively in theaters.