Don't Call Roland Emmerich the Master of Disaster

The director talks sneaking his epic sci fi past the studio

Roland Emmerich on the set of Moonfall, but don't call it a disaster movie. "For me, it's more a space movie." (Photo by Reiner Bajo)

Independence Day. The Day After Tomorrow. 2012. Roland Emmerich has become synonymous with disaster movies. Yet, even though his latest, Moonfall, sees yet another extinction-level event bearing down on humanity, it's clear that he's not always been comfortable with that pigeonhole.

Reasonable, considering that his career has included historical dramas like The Patriot and Midway, the prehistoric adventure 10,000 BC, and SF action flicks like Stargate and Universal Soldier. Yet even when his films wouldn't be called disaster movies if it wasn't for his name being attached, flicks like White House Down are always percieved as such. Emmerich sighed a little, thinking back to the writing of his newest film. "I remember we had an idea of a global flood, and I said to (cowriter Harald Kloser) 'I'm not making this movie. They'll call me the master of disaster forever."

He laughed. "But the longer I wrote on it, the more I fell in love with it."

So, yes, Moonfall does exactly what the title promises, as the Moon falls onto the Earth. But What Emmerich was really making was a big-scale SF movie, as the unlikely team of discredited astronaut Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson), rising NASA bureaucrat Jocinda Fowl (Halle Berry), and conspiracy theorist KC Houseman (John Bradley) find out that our lunar neighbor isn't just a big ball of rock.

Around a decade ago, Emmerich's flood flick script took a radical shift of direction when he read a copy of Who Built the Moon?, a book that proposes the idea that the Moon is actually an artificial structure. "That totally threw my wrench in my thinking," he said. "I went, 'Oh my god, that this is object up there could be built? That's an interesting idea.'"

Austin Chronicle: It seems like you've developed a nack of slipping films past the studio by telling them it's a disaster movie when it's not actually a disaster movie.

Roland Emmerich: For me, it's more a space movie. I've always said that, but they like the disaster element of it. When Earth goes down, they're always happy.

AC: There's something about the producer mentality of, "Does the world end? Then we can get that on the screen."

RE: When you see it, every Marvel movie or every comic movie, it's the same system. There's always a superhero that save Earth, but the whole world has to be in peril.

AC: But you have a long history of putting scientists as the world-saver.

“The world has gone nuts. ... Nobody believes science, and that’s the crazy part.” - Roland Emmerich
RE: I come from Germany, and we don't have no superheroes. Now, maybe, but when I grew up there was only Asterix & Obelix, or Tintin, so I didn't grow up with that. So I'm always trying to put relatively smart into movies. Because it's always great in movies when you have smart dialogue where you can learn something too.

It's interesting for me how the world has gone nuts, with these big groups of QAnon followers and these anti-vaxxer movement. What's going on? Nobody believes science, and that's the crazy part.

AC: You even have a conspiracy theorist in KC Houseman but the whole point is that he really has the research to back it up.

RE: And he always dreamed as a kid of being an astronaut, and everyone laughed at him. But he gets his wish fulfilled. I love this character because he's just this big child who is still excited about stuff.

"He was the secret hero." Roland Emmerich on Moonfall's conspiracy theorist/scientist KC Houseman, played by John Bradley.

AC: And in a lot of ways he's more of a protagonist than either Brian or Jocinda.

RE: And you can only have that if you have actors who really understand. I had a lot of resistance about casting John Bradley because it's such an out of the world idea to do that. They would always say "No" [but] both Patrick and Halle were aware that he was the secret hero, and only when you have actors who understand that can you have a movie like this.

AC: But this is still a disaster movie, and people want big set pieces. What's your approach to creating those scenes here?

RE: It was a little born out of the When Worlds Collide. I have a real fondness for this film, only there they have to leave Earth. For me, it was these enormously big objects nearly colliding, and if you show this too much it gets boring after a while. So you strategically insert these moments of size. Then you have to find something that's equally exciting on the Moon, so it's this idea of something chasing you inside and outside of the Moon, so you have this nice correlation. If I had just shown more destruction on Earth, things would have not worked.

Moonfall is in theatres now. Find our review and showtimes here.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More by Richard Whittaker
Life as a War Boy
Life as a War Boy
Dressing as Furiosa's most disposable characters

May 24, 2024

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga
The story is lacking but the spectacle is stupendous

May 24, 2024


Moonfall, Roland Emmerich

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle