Since the release of sci-fi blockbuster INDEPENDENCE DAY, way back in 1996, rumours of a sequel have a habit of popping up every so often. IESB have been putting more fuel to the fire today as they report that 20th Century Fox, following their financial success with AVATAR, are seriously getting ready to release not one, but two sequels to the original film.
Apparently, a sequel would have already been made if it were not for several difficulties. The cost of hiring Will Smith these days, not mention his busy schedule, is putting off the studio from signing a deal with the star. Additionally Roland Emmerich, director of the original film, has been unsure about returning and is currently busy with his new film; ANONYMOUS.
If goes to plan however, the sequels could start shooting as early as next year. INDEPENDENCE DAY was a fun film, full of exciting action and dazzling images but probably owes a lot of its successful to Smith, so a sequel in the same vein would definitely demand a return from the star.
Master of Disaster Roland Emmerich outdoes himself with his new special effects extravaganza.
It is safe to assume that most people going to see Roland Emmerich’s spectacular new disaster movie, 2012, won’t be expecting a beautifully crafted script, nor will they be overly upset to find there is no great nuance to the performances from its large cast of very competent actors. No, this is a movie whose whole raison d’être is the simple fun and enjoyment of watching a visual effects extravaganza on such a grand scale.
I’ve never been much of a fan of Roland Emmerich’s science-fiction films (I found the script for Independence Day especially preposterous), which may be why 2012 really took me by surprise. Mr. Emmerich and his co-writer, Harold Kloser have wisely added plenty of tongue-in-cheek elements to go alongside the catastrophic proceedings, making for a far more satisfying experience than any of his earlier movies. It is also one of the main reasons 2012 succeeds so well. It is simply a fun filled thrill-ride, which careens along from one epic disaster to the next, while keeping the more absurd elements that marred Emmerich’s previous movies to a bare minimum.
The storyline for 2012 follows George Pal’s 1951 Oscar winner, When Worlds Collide rather closely, except instead of a rogue planet crashing into the Earth, the crisis begins when the Sun’s neutrinos start going haywire, causing the molten core of the Earth to overheat. This triggers a massive realignment of the earth’s crust that will set off world wide Armageddon, as predicted by the Mayan calendar on December 21, 2012. Scientists and world leaders then frantically begin constructing a series of massive arks that will allow humanity to survive the impending deluge.
We get all the typical stock characters, familiar from past disaster movies, starting with John Cusack’s everyman hero who reconnects with his family during the crisis, rather conveniently lifted from Tom Cruise’s character in Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, to the hard-hearted chief of staff to the President (Oliver Platt), modeled after John Hoyt’s self-centered businessman in When Worlds Collide. I daresay, this is one movie where nobody connected with it will utter the typical Hollywood statement: “It’s all about the characters and the effects are just used to support the story.” Obviously, this is a rather flimsy story; the effects are the true stars, and rightly so.
Visual effects supervisor Marc Weigert notes that, “More than half of the movie is visual effects. I think Roland has found a way to stick almost every natural disaster you can imagine into this film. L.A. is destroyed in a 10.5 earthquake by page 30. Yellowstone Park goes up in a thirty-mile-wide explosion of lava. But the real reason why it’s so much fun to work with Roland is that he brings something new, something different to every single scene. You might think, ‘I’ve seen movies with an earthquake.’ Well, no, you haven’t.”
Indeed, Weigert and Volker Engel along with over 1,000 effects artisans have managed to create stunning work on a realistic scale that is far and away beyond anything that has been seen in previous disaster movies. In fact, 2012 may go down in cinematic history as the disaster movie par excellence, far surpassing anything Irwin Allen ever made – cramming as it does nearly every calamity possible to imagine into a single film. We literally see a large portion of Los Angeles fall into the Pacific Ocean. We see a volcano rise in Wyoming and then erupt, spewing out fireballs as John Cusack and his family attempt to flee the devastation in a small private jet. We see a massive tidal wave overturn a huge ocean liner in the South China Sea. We see a Russian cargo plane crash land in the Himalayas. We see the destruction of major cities, from Los Angles and Washington D.C. to the Vatican in Rome and monasteries in Tibet.
All this mayhem is created mostly by computer graphics, but it’s done so vividly and it is so incredibly realistic, that it easily makes 2012 the leading contender for this years Best Visual Effects Academy Award. “The objective is that the viewer can’t tell what we actually built and what’s a visual effect, made in the computer,” explains production designer Barry Chusid. “Hopefully, in the end, you watch the movie and ask, ‘Where did they find the mountain to build (those Arks) in?’ ” Special note must also go to cinematographer Dean Semler whose beautifully sharp live-action photography has been expertly married with the digital effects work.
Special Effects Supervisor Mike Vezina was in charge of all of the story’s seismic activity – which he achieved by actually shaking huge sets. “We’ve had some of the biggest rigs I’ve ever seen,” he says. “We went though 500,000 tons of steel just to build all of these big rigs for all the big shaky decks. Roland likes to see everything real. So all of these effects, running out of the house, earthquake scenes, or at the airport and there’s an earthquake scene, we actually build these huge decks that float and shake. They are about 8,000 square feet, so that he could build his set, put cars on it, put trucks, planes, and everything would shake accordingly. It was quite easy for him to make it real for the actors to react as if an earthquake of that magnitude was really happening.”
In short, 2012 shows off the Hollywood technical arsenal working at the absolute peak of its powers. For those expecting a more thoughtful script about the possible end of the world, you may be tempted to wait for the upcoming adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer prize winning novel, The Road. Unfortunately, having already seen the film version, I can honestly say that 2012 is a far better movie in every way possible.
2012 (2009). Directed by Roland Emmerich. Produced by Harald Kloser, Mark Gordon, and Larry Franco. Written by Harald Kloser & Roland Emmerich. Special Visual Effects Supervisors: Volker Engel and Marc Weigert. Director of Photography: Dean Semler ACS ASC. Production Designer: Barry Chusid. Edited by David Brenner, A.C.E. and Peter S. Elliot. Costume Designer: Shay Cunliffe. Music composed by Harald Kloser and Thomas Wander. Cast: John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt, Thandie Newton, Woody Harrelson and Danny Glover.
Lionsgate’s second run at a Blu-Ray release for STARGATE is a mixed-to-good affair, but it does represent an upgrade from their first, embarrassingly shoddy, barebones release.
While flogging his controversial theories on the origin of the Giza pyramids to a less than enthusiastic audience in New York, Dr. Daniel Jackson (James Spader) is approached by the elderly Catherine Langford (Viveca Lindfors) with an interesting job – to translate the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics on a tablet unearthed in 1928 by Langford’s father, which is now the centerpiece of a top secret military project in Colorado. Once Jackson correctly interprets the tablet as describing a “stargate”, the the actual device – circular, metallic, ringed with a pattern of hieroglyphics that, thanks to Jackson, can now be correctly aligned – is taken over by the military in the form of Col. O’Neil (Kurt Russell), and the gate is opened. A probe sent through reveals that the gate leads to a planet on the other side of the solar system with an Earth-like atmosphere. O’Neil and his team (including Jackson, brought to interpret the symbols on the other gate for the return trip) enter next, and find themselves inside a near duplicate of the great pyramid of Giza in the middle of a vast desert. The inhabitants of this world resemble in appearance and language those of ancient Egypt, even to the point of worshipping the symbol of the sun-God, Ra. But the God they worship is no deity, but the last of an alien race that used the gate to bring slave labor from Earth’s past, even stealing the body of a young Egyptian boy (Jaye Davidson) to extend its life. The creature has enslaved the people, who mine for the minerals that fuel its technology, and with a reactivated gate, now sets its sights on modern-day Earth.
Stargate carries some interesting baggage: it’s not a particularly great film; in fact, it actually looses dramatic momentum soon after the men step through the gate itself. But the idea is so intriguing that it lures us back for a peek every few years to see if we’re missing something – not for nothing has the film spawned (at my rough estimate) 4 different television series that all took the core plot point of the film and ran like hell with it. Director Roland Emmerich came to the project hot on the heels of the surprisingly effective Universal Soldier, wherein he proved himself adept at dealing with the rigors of sci-fi-action filmmaking without costs spiraling out of control.
Stargate seemed like natural follow-up material, but the script by Emmerich and producing partner Dean Devlin isn’t quite up to the load capacity placed on it. We vividly remember the crush of disappointment once our heroes stepped through to the alien world, only to find the burlap sack-costumed extras running around a village set that wouldn’t look out of place on an episode of Xena (imagine if Star Wars began on the Death Star and then moved to Tatooine where it remained for 2/3rds of the running time). We’ve already been prepared for the alien civilization looking much like ancient Egypt, thus killing any ‘chariots of the Gods’ excitement about the origin of ancient Egyptian culture. The film simply stalls out too long in the initial contact between our protagonists and the peasant people of the planet, with our heroes showing the natives the miracles of butane lighters and 5th Avenue bars in scenes that wouldn’t seem out of place in a ’30s Tarzan film. The arrival of “Ra” makes things a little more exciting, but the script can’t do much with it other than have Davidson vamp about (the actor’s famously androgynous appearance does more to sell the concept than anything else) while the audience waits for action beats that the expensive production seems shy about delivering.
The strong cast does much to help us buy the concept, with Russell (with military hair cut in the most aggressively geometric pattern we’ve ever seen) turning in typically strong work as a stoic military man shattered by the recent death of his son. Spader brings a lot of humor to Dr. Jackson, and adds welcome notes of masculinity to the traditional “nerd” role. There’s also fine support from Lindfors (her final role) who could effortlessly lend even the most outrageous moments total credibility, and also from the mysterious Davidson, who left acting and returned to the fashion industry after this film. Sharp-eyed viewers will catch an unlikely French Stewart as one of O’Neil’s military team, Deadwood’s Leon Rippy as the military head of the Stargate project, and Dijmon Hounsou as one of Ra’s guards. The picture is aided immensely by David Arnold’s lush score, a cross between John Williams and Maurice Jarre, along with the superb production design of Patrick Tatopoulos.
Lionsgate picked up the home video rights to Stargate along with numerous other pictures from the Carolco library (a once formidable mini-major studio brought low by the disastrous Cutthroat Island in 1995). Lionsgate’s second run at a Blu-Ray release for the title is a mixed-to-good affair. They seem to be working off the same film master, but there’s less obvious print damage and the 1080p image is serviceable, if not much more (this does count, to us anyway, as an upgrade from their first BD, an embarrassingly shoddy, barebones release). The audio too, has received a bump, with a lossless 7.1 DTS track. Both cuts of the film have also been included; the original theatrical version, running 2:00:47, and an extended cut running 2:09:36.
The most substantial of the new extras is a featurette on the production and legacy of the film, split into 3 parts but playable in 1 (presented in HD and running just over 20min); it features new interviews with Emmerich and Devlin – who are also featured in a recycled audio commentary track. There’s also a bizarre film, apparently made by and for the crew during production, billed as a “gag reel”, a P-I-P info feature, and a trivia track. The original theatrical trailer is also included in HD.
It’s another global disaster movie from director and co-writer Roland Emmerich. This time the high-powered cast includes John Cusack, Thandie Newton, Amanda Peet, Woody Harrelson, Danny GLover, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Oliver Platt, Morgan Lily, John Billingsley, George Segal, Liam James, and Patrick Bauchau.
On the one hand, Emmerich’s shtick is so old that it should be getting stale, but on the other hand, this trailer does look spectacular, and say what you want about him but Emmerich’s work is never so hyper-actively insane as Michael Bay’s.