Roland Emmerich certainly has a type, as most any summer filmgoer can attest. He’s got a type of film, and subtle ain’t it. But even within the genre of Emmerich’s explosive, surprisingly bleak films, he’s maintains consistencies on a more minute level.
In the spirit of Roland, let’s cut the exposition and get straight to the good stuff. Here are seven things to look for in every Roland Emmerich film.
We saw it with Jeff Goldblum and his dad, we saw it with John Cusack, and we saw it between the two leads in The Day After Tomorrow. It’s safe to say Emmerich probably has some daddy issues.
Roland Emmerich likes to leave a moral beneath the veneer of dust and debris kicked up by his cataclysmic events. The most overt instance of this is the recurrence of environmental issues owing to whatever predicament the characters find themselves in. In ID:4, the aliens adopt a slash and burn philosophy towards inhabiting planets, The Day After Tomorrow is about climate change, and Godzilla is a creature created from waste.
The helmer has a soft spot for the number 44, thanks to Moon 44, one of Emmerich’s early films that helped get the director to where he is today. Astute viewers will pick up on frequent appearances of the number 44. It appears on a taxi during the final scene of Godzilla, the characters in ID:4 are often tuning into cable channel 44, and the probe in Stargate is Model 44.
I can’t say that an exploding White House is a hallmark of every film Emmerich makes, but such a grand gesture sticks out in the minds of audiences, so it’s pretty safe to say that two times makes a pattern here.
We saw it in ID:4, and we see it for reals in White House Down, a movie that may or may not feature the White House blowing up every five minutes or so.
They may not exactly seem preachy, but Emmerich’s films definitely get back to the same messages, and one of those messages is “smoking is bad, mmkay?” Roland smoked as many as four pack of cigarettes a day, then managed to shake the habit. And he’s not taking his good fortune in quitting for granted. Often times, characters will be in the midst of quitting during an already stressful situation. Take for instance Harvey Fierstein, who struggles with quitting, only to get smashed by a flying car.
Not exactly a happy ending.
Disaster films are more compelling in urban environments. Watching a barn burn down doesn’t have the same impact as watching a sky scraper collapse, or pedestrians haul ass down a crowded street.
With urban environments comes traffic, and the poor guys stuck in traffic at the end of the first act better have collision insurance, because they might as well have a bullseye on their hood. Independence Day, Godzilla, and The Day After Tomorrow all lay waste to those who aren’t taking public transportation.
While there are many mainstays to Roland Emmerich’s films, it’s safe to say that his habits don’t bleed into homogeneity, as he often looks beyond the handsome leading man to create protagonists that aren’t so one note as one would expect in action films. Few directors would find a place for Harvey Fierstein in an alien invasion blockbuster, or Harry Connick for that matter, but Emmerich is like few other directors.