Why does the director love disasters?

Roland Emmerich speaking at the 15th Zurich Film Festival on September 29, 2019 in Zurich, Switzerland Photo: Andreas Rentz (Getty Images)

Earth may not have a greater adversary than the director Roland Emmerich. The man seems determined to destroy the planet, or at least watch it get destroyed. Or maybe he just wants to see human civilization almost completely wiped out. Anyway, he’s put more images of Earth in absolute devastation on screen than anyone else. He is the undisputed master of cinematic disaster, with… Michael Bay in a distant second place.

After having his first big hit with Stargate in 1994, Emmerich had aliens destroy 72 of the largest cities on Earth on Independence Day, kill three billion people. He was much more subdued in his awful 1998 Godzilla film, in which the King of the Monsters only ravaged parts of New York City, followed by the equally chaste The Patriot. But then he created super storms that razed the planet’s surface before plunging it into another ice age in 2004’s The Day After Tomorrow, destroying what may have been humanity’s first city in 10,000 BCE. 900,000 people after violently terraforming Earth in 2012. After a few relatively less destructive movies, the ID4 aliens attacked again in revival, devastating most of Eurasia and the East Coast of North America. Next month, Emmerich is going to make the planet cruel again in moonfall.

But why? According to WikipediaIf Emmerich is accused of resorting too often to scenes of cities subjected to epic disasters, Emmerich says it is a justifiable way to raise awareness about both global warming and the lack of a government plan. for a global doomsday scenario in the cases of The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, respectively.” That’s a noble idea, but neither explanation justifies the destruction porn of the Independence Day movies and Moonfall.

Perhaps the simplest answer is that the destruction porn industry is very lucrative. Despite consistently making movies critics and audience usually hate, that audience is still watching it. Independence Day: Resurgence made $390 million internationally, while Godzilla made $380 million, The Day After Tomorrow made $550 million, and 2012 made nearly $800 million, but none of these four films has a reviewer or ratings greater than 50 percent on Rotten tomatoes. In fact, Emmerich’s films have an amazing $4 billion dollars in total.

While audiences may buy tickets, the craftsmanship and care with which Emmerich decimates the Earth in multiple films belies his obvious passion for it. Watch this shortened clip of John Cusack’s attempt to escape the devastation of Los Angeles in 2012:

See how many unique things are being demolished and in how many unique ways. How many ridiculously short phone calls Cusack’s limousine and plane have on, around and through things as they fall apart. How utterly Los Angeles is being destroyed, and the scope, creativity and thoroughness of the disaster shown on screen. It is a symphony of destruction, played by shattering buildings, exploding roads, collapsing viaducts and rubble. Everything on the screen falls apart, crashes or explodes, except the limousine. Sure, Michael Bay likes his explosions, but he would never, and he wouldn’t necessarily want to do something like that. Roland Emmerich, on the other hand, has a boundless enthusiasm to see the planet and its inhabitants suffer – and based on the trailers, Moonfall is arguably the director’s most destructive film yet.

To quote Alfred Pennyworth in The Dark Knight, some men just want to watch the world burn. And in Roland Emmerich’s case, he wants you to see it burn, too.

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