In “The Day After Tomorrow,” filmmaker Roland Emmerich envisions a world in which ice storms wreak havoc in New York, tornadoes pound Los Angeles and snowstorms bury New Delhi.
The cause of all this mayhem is global warming.
“This is the ultimate disaster movie,” the film’s lead actor Dennis Quaid told the Associated Press recently. “It’s got everything. Tornadoes, floods, tidal waves, blizzards, hail storms with hail the size of bowling balls.”
That extreme scenario gives environmentalists plenty of ammunition, and in the weeks leading up to the film’s release, there has been a lot of buzz surrounding the film. Activist groups such as Moveon.org have mounted campaigns to educate and warn people about global warming and former Vice President Al Gore has delivered speeches about the effects of carbon dioxide emissions and drastic climatic change.
Of course, this also translates into free publicity for the film and you can bet Emmerich and studio executives are keeping a close eye on the drama developing offstage.
For his part, Emmerich tries to remain low-key and instead focuses on delivering solid entertainment.
Eight years ago, the German-born director created waves of another kind with “Independence Day,” a science-fiction film about aliens invading the earth. The combination of slick effects and the presence of superstar-to-be Will Smith struck box-office gold as the film made over $800 million globally. In subsequent interviews, Emmerich promised not to blow up buildings.
He followed “Independence Day” with the critically panned “Godzilla,” which turned out to be a huge hit as well, making $375 worldwide. And then, four years ago, Emmerich finally struck out with “The Patriot,” a historical drama starring Mel Gibson. The $110 million movie grabbed just $215 million internationally.
But 20th Century Fox, which released “Independence Day,” has high hopes for “The Day After Tomorrow.” In a summer dominated by big-budget movies anchored by major stars, the $125 million “The Day After Tomorrow” serves up Dennis Quaid (whose recent film “The Alamo” was a box-office disappointment) and art-house actor Jake Gyllenhaal. The true stars of this film will be the spectacular effects and the underlying story.
Last week, the 48-year-old Emmerich spoke with MSNBC.com.
MSNBC: Just when you thought you were done with blowing up stuff in movies, I guess you weren’t done after all…
Emmerich: That’s life. I didn’t want to do something to repeat myself or to say I’ve done that. I had the idea for a movie about an abrupt climate change for some time after wrapping the shooting of “The Patriot.”
MSNBC: How did that concept come about?
Emmerich: In the summer of 2000, I came across a book called “The Coming Global Superstorm” and it is a story of what happens when there is a global catastrophe. I inquired about the rights and found it was optioned for a TV movie. So I decided to write my own script for a movie. Basically, the book was the inspiration.
MSNBC: What, in particular, did you find appealing?
Emmerich: There are a couple of interesting scenarios and one that I wanted to build. It happens in New York and people are buried under hundreds of feet of snow and ice. The rescue workers find people who survive by burning books in the New York Public Library.
MSNBC: Are you surprised by the amount of political attention your film has gotten?
Emmerich: Yeah, I am. I knew it would get attention but not as much. Global warming is a major issue and I think the American government and the world has to do more about the environment. In Europe, they’re more forward. But in America, there are more emissions and somehow that issue has to be in the forefront.
MSNBC: The disaster movie genre holds a great deal of interest for you. In the past, you have said some of your favorite films include “The Poseidon Adventure” and “Towering Inferno.” What do you like about this genre?
Emmerich: Well, disaster movies have a long history. “Titanic” is a classic disaster movie and it’s a movie that everyone forgets is about that. The aliens in “Independence Day” are the disaster. The monster [in “Godzilla”] is a disaster. In “The Day After Tomorrow,” the climate is the disaster and in a way, it is different because humans created it and we are responsible for it. Disaster movies are about ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
MSNBC: Some of the criticism surrounding your movies has been that the characters are either one-dimensional or clichéd. How do you strike a balance between the CGI and crafting well-developed characters?
Emmerich: I think the criticism is unjust. There has been a balance, if you look at my movies carefully. There’s not that many CGI and if you look at [“The Day After Tomorrow”], you see the movie is about the characters and what happens to them, not the CGI.
MSNBC: And that balance is achieved in the movie?
Emmerich: At the center of the movie is the father-son relationship between Dennis and Jake. It doesn’t have to be the big emotional core but in this film, he is the only son and the father cares about him. In the beginning, you feel something is wrong in [their] relationship through a phone conversation. And then, of course, the father has to save his son from the floods in New York. In that sense, I feel it’s a little like “Finding Nemo” — father finding son.
MSNBC: Do you pay attention to the critics?
Emmerich: No. Not really. Why should I? A long time ago I decided not to read the reviews. Sometimes the media spins every movie to [suit a taste]. It starts from somewhere and then takes a life of its own. That’s not something I want to deal with — negative or positive.
MSNBC: What do you hope the audience gets out of this movie? Is this just a big-budget popcorn film?
Emmerich: I hope people like the film. If they get something out of it, that’s great. It’s not just escapist fare because there’s a serious issue. It’s something you can think about and discuss after the movie since it could destroy the planet.
MSNBC: The summer movie season has not gotten off to a great start. Are you surprised by the lack of big numbers for “Van Helsing” and “Troy”?
Emmerich: I am a little surprised and I thought they would be bigger than they have been. There’s something going on and I think people expected it to be bigger.
MSNBC: “Troy” is made by fellow German Wolgang Petersen. Have you seen it?
Emmerich: Not yet. I have been quite busy with my movie.
MSNBC: There were no friendly wagers placed over your film outperforming his…
Emmerich: He’s a friend of mine and our movies are very different from each other. “Troy” is R-rated and an epic-film. And this is not some sort of sports competition.
Som Chivukula is a production assistant for HBO's “Real Sports” and an MSNBC.com contributor.