Is it crazy to say “2012” — a film about the fire- and tsunami-strewn obliteration of planet Earth as we know it — was one of the most fun theatrical experiences of the year? The audience at the screening I caught in mid-February was hooting and hollering at each successive catastrophe, gleefully ignoring the cataclysmic loss of life because the whole thing was just so darn fun. Was it kinda silly? Sure. But chuck away any sense of realism and it was an amazing big screen spectacle that had to make you smile.
The rest of the world certainly agreed. Director Roland Emmerich’s disaster-film-to-end-all-disaster-films grossed almost $770 million worldwide. With the “2012” DVD arriving in stores on Tuesday (March 2), Emmerich gave MTV News a call to chat about the challenges of CGI filmmaking, an alternate ending he almost inserted in the final cut and the kooky conspiracy theorists he met while promoting the film.
MTV News: There were so many huge CGI set-pieces in the film. Is there one that you’re particularly proud of or that took the most work to pull off?
Roland Emmerich: The most fun was the earthquake scene, because it was the most complex. Or maybe because I live in Los Angeles and I’m always afraid of earthquakes.
MTV News: You mean the scene in the beginning, when John Cusack is driving his family through LA in a limo while the entire city basically disintegrates around them?
Emmerich: Yeah, we shot with nothing there but the limo. And when you think about that — that everything was completely created — it was quite impressive. At first we wanted to shoot stuff in real and we realized pretty fast that in an earthquake everything is buckling, everything is cracking and you really can’t use any real things. We had to build everything in the computer and put it together.
MTV News: Did you look at footage from actual earthquakes?
Emmerich: We did, but there is not much there. There is some footage from video surveillance cameras, but it’s rare. What you can see is the aftermath and then you imagine what happened.
MTV News: Have you put any cool deleted scenes onto the DVD?
Emmerich: There is very little in this movie that was cut out. We have an alternative ending, which is quite interesting. Two characters who die in the final cut are actually alive. The two jazz musicians survived. At the end you see their cruise ship on top of a mountain. For us it was always a Noah’s Ark symbol. But it didn’t work because it put everything in question. Why did we have to build these huge ships to rescue hundreds of thousands of people in the first place? And anyway, the ending felt kind of long. It went on and on and on, and when we took that ending out, it was all of a sudden streamlined.
MTV News: You traveled all over the world promoting the film. Did you have some wacky interactions with 2012 conspiracy theorists?
Emmerich: Oh yeah, they’re everywhere. It’s quite funny. I always said I don’t believe in aliens even though I did “Independence Day.” In the same way, I have the same attitude toward 2012. It’s an interesting theory, maybe it will happen and maybe not, but no one can say what really will happen. But some people really believe and they come up to you and either they’re really pissed they say, “This shouldn’t be a disaster, it’s a new rise of human consciousness” or they’re like, “You’re so right, this is going to happen,” and they tell you where to go to escape it. They say, “You should be very thankful!”