Five Favorite Films

Five Favorite Films with Roland Emmerich

The director of 2012 reveals his inspirations.

by | November 10, 2009 | Comments

Roland Emmerich

We’re fairly certain Roland Emmerich’s movies hold the record for combined body count.
Such a feat is the result of a career built around movies like Independence Day,
Godzilla, and The Day After Tomorrow, bombastic, crowd-pleasing disaster movies that frequently leave
the planet in ruins. His latest effort is 2012, opening this Friday and starring John Cusack, Amanda Peet, and Chiwetel Ejiofor as survivors in a world tearing apart at the seams and submerging in water. Rotten Tomatoes spoke to Emmerich to get his Five Favorite Films, and on the following page you can read our interview, where he discusses the upcoming 2012 television show, his thoughts on
Avatar, and creating popcorn movies on a global scale.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962,
98% Tomatometer)

Lawrence of Arabia

It has the most incredible images. The only movie [from] the 60s that you can look at today and [have] it feel totally modern and real.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977,
95% Tomatometer)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

[Thematically,] it’s very much like my movies. Extraordinary tasks placed on regular people.

Cinema Paradiso (1989,
91% Tomatometer)

Cinema Paradiso

Then, Cinema Paradiso, because it’s about a director and his dreams. Very
close to my heart. It deals with just a kid who kind of falls in love with somebody in film, and film is also the relationship with a projectionist.

Another one of my favorites is La nuit americaine by Truffaut. I kind of enjoy movies about movies. I’d never really wanted to become a director. I wanted to become a production designer. You know, certain movies had better production design than others, and that was driving me for the longest time.

The Godfather (1972,
100% Tomatometer)

The Godftaher

I have to say The Godfather. [Laughs] Incredible movie. The performances, how it’s told. That’s the longest opening scene in film history — an hour or so. The whole wedding, and then the movie starts.

Citizen Kane (1941,
100% Tomatometer)

Citizen Kane

And then comes Citizen Kane. And that’s just how it’s put together, how it’s structured. It’s just a modern film. Sometimes I wish movies like this still get made. It’s just super radical in every aspect.

Next, Emmerich talks about creating movies for a global audience, 3D movies, and
his thoughts on Avatar.

Rotten Tomatoes: You’ve called yourself a “filmmaker for the masses” and what
differentiates your film from most other blockbuster directors is that you’ve
also written nearly all your movies. So when you write the screenplay, who do
you want to satisfy first? Yourself or the audience?

Roland Emmerich:
Myself. I’m egoistic. [Laughs] It’s like, if
you don’t write about what you’d like to see, I don’t think you can do anything.
I think there are too many movies written, speculating with audiences, and I
think the audiences feel that.

RT: So you have faith then that what you’re interested in aligns with
what audiences are interested in.

SL: Yeah. But you learn a lot through the years and know a
little bit about what movies can be. And don’t forget, I’m a fan first. I watch
movies, I get excited. This year, when I saw District 9, I couldn’t stop
thinking about it. And I was asking myself, “Isn’t it great that somebody in
South Africa made a movie about South Africa, and it’s actually a science
fiction movie about aliens?” It’s totally original, but it also serves the
audience’s needs. It’s just an incredible combination of very “out there” images
and very traditional film storytelling techniques.

RT: Can you see yourself returning to working on a scale that relatively

SL: Well, my next movie’s [reportedly called Anonymous] relatively small. Well, you don’t
call under $30 million “relatively small,” but for me it is. I’m interested in
the subject matter, and I spent 8 years working on the script with the writer.
It’s just the fact that you want to tell a certain story, and that’s been the
main driving force of my career. I mean, I’m not saying, “Hello, I want to make
a lot of money,” you know? I come from a relatively wealthy family. I don’t need
money. [Laughs][rtimage]MapID=1205696&MapTypeID=2&photo=22&legacy=1[/rtimage]RT: You wrote 2012 and 10,000 B.C. with Harald Kloser. What’s unique
about Kloser is that he’s a composer. How did this relationship develop?

SL: I met him as a friend. He was friends with my sister, and
we sort of became friends. We’ve known each other forever. And yeah, I was aware
that he was a composer, and heard some music and it was really, really good. But
when I’m friends with somebody, I don’t want to work with them. The friendship
is more important than to work with someone.

Over the years, we just kept talking and talking, and I realized he’s a total
storyteller. From the first time I used him as a composer (The Day After
), I was amazed at how many notes I got from him, about the cut, about
what he would make different in the cut. And we said, “Let’s write something

RT: Does he bring something to the process that is unique to the mind of
a composer, in how a scene is written or visualized?

SL: He taught me the lesson that if it’s not lived, if you do
not live something, you cannot write it. In a way, I was already applying it to
many of my movies, but [this made me] realize why some are better, why some are
not so good. It’s just one of these things where you realize all of a sudden,
“Ah, that’s why it is.”

So we wrote 10,000 B.C. That was meant to be a movie in a foreign language. I
think we made a lot of compromises we shouldn’t have, so said, “Okay, next time,
we don’t do any compromises.” And that’s 2012.

RT: How did the “no compromises” position go down when making 2012?

SL: I tend to like to option a script, and when you option a
script. When [a studio] wants [to work on the movie, too, you can pretty much
dictate the way it’s done. So everything has to be approved, and then you make
the movie. Sony loved 2012, they loved the script – that’s why they got it – and
they were very super-supportive. I mean, it’s very rare that I give kudos to a
studio, but in this case I have to. They were terrific.[rtimage]MapID=1205696&MapTypeID=2&photo=20&legacy=1[/rtimage]RT: As someone making movies for a wide audience, it’s hard to ignore 3D
filmmaking. When you
previously talked to Rotten Tomatoes, you said you weren’t
sold on 3D. Because of the technology or because you think it’s a fad?

SL: I can only speak for myself, Roland Emmerich. In a movie
theater, the 3D effect just takes me out of the story. I just get a headache
after 45 minutes, an hour. And I feel like, “What does that really add?” I
always ask people, “So what does it add?” What does the third dimension really
add to the story? More depth? Anything?

RT: The argument is that it increases audience participation with the

SL: I’d say it doesn’t do that at all. Movie theaters are about
the interaction of the audience, with the film and with the [rest of the]
audience. When you have glasses on, you don’t turn to your neighbor and say,
“Hey, that was great.” Somebody should make a study of the noise level in a 3D
movie compared to a 2D movie. The audiences in 3D movies are awfully silent.[rtimage]MapID=1205696&MapTypeID=2&photo=19&legacy=1[/rtimage]RT: Are you looking forward to Avatar?

SL: I’m actually looking forward to that. [I might] have uses
for a lot of the technology that [James Cameron] developed and Bob Zemeckis
developed, [but] I’m not quite sure. I saw a lot of Zemeckis’s stuff but I’m not
sure that’s the future. I’m now kind of curious about the camera. Maybe there’s
a whole other way altogether to do it.

RT: So you’re keeping the idea of 3D open.

SL: Yeah. And you know what? If a studio finances one of my
movies and asks for 3D, you know, fine by me. They can give me the extra $20-$30
million. But, still, I will always cut in 2D.

RT: Was 2012 always conceived to continue on as a TV show?

SL: No. That idea kind of came while we were shooting the
movie. We just found it so fascinating to think about what would happen after

I’m kind of running around the world right now promoting the movie, and I’m not
so sure what they’re cooking up. I’ve only had a couple of initial meetings
where we came up with the story. I haven’t even really had the chance to talk
with them since it was sold. There was no time.

RT: Do you have a title for it yet?

SL: We’ll just call it 2013, and then the next season it’ll be
2014. [Laughs]

Catch Roland Emmerich’s
in theaters this
Friday. For more Five Favorite Films,

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