Master of disaster Roland Emmerich is back with Independence Day: Resurgence, the sequel to his groundbreaking 1996 sci-fi smash. Advancements in visual effects technology means a bigger and more spectacular invasion this time around.
With the awesome spectacle of Independence Day – who can forget the destruction of the White House and other landmarks? – Roland Emmerich created a whole new sub-genre: the sci-fi disaster flick. But it wasn’t until he was shooting the apocalyptic geological epic 2012 that he first thought about returning to the film that started it all.
“ was the first movie I shot using digital cameras; the first one I totally relied only on computer graphics for the effects,” the German filmmaker recalls. “I realised, all of a sudden, how far technology had advanced. I talked a lot with my visual effects supervisor about it, and said, ‘at the time we couldn’t do so many things, but now we can do them’, and that’s what got me going.”
Independence Day: Resurgence is set 20 years after the events of the first film, with Earth once again facing annihilation from a mighty new alien invasion force. However, this time around, mankind is better prepared, having reverse-engineered some of the old alien spacecrafts to create new hybrid technology and defences.
Similarly, advances in visual effects technology allowed Emmerich and his team to do things that simply weren’t possible back in 1996. He points out that there were 400–450 visual effects shots deployed in Independence Day, whereas blockbusters these days can use 2,000 or more, so he knew a much bigger effects budget would be required.
Emmerich also admits that he was disappointed with the way some of the effects turned out in the first film – in particular the “little stick figure” aliens – so he was more than happy to embrace the new technology.
“Some people are still very nostalgic about the whole model thing, but I’m not, really,” he says. “I don’t have to do that any more and I’m relieved! Now I’m very relaxed, saying, ‘Ok, a little bit here, a little bit there… Let’s do a new simulation…’”
Describing himself as “Germany’s oldest teenager”, Emmerich has no qualms about continuing to make films in the genre that he created.
“It’s a little bit like asking Woody Allen or Alfred Hitchcock why they were doing their movies,” he reflects. “You find your own genre in a way. I’m not a particular fan of superhero movies or comic book films, because I grew up in Germany and didn’t have that stuff. So in a weird way I had to invent my own genre, which is science fiction blended with disaster.
“In every one of these movies, you can have a different aspect, such as with The Day After Tomorrow, where it was climate change and how it could affect our lives. And 2012 is pretty much a re-telling of Noah’s Ark in a modern way. So in a way I’m quite happy to do these things because it’s my genre, it’s what I’m interested in.”