Director: Roland Emmerich
Writer: Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods, Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich, and James Vanderbilt
Cinematographer: Markus Förderer
by Jon Cvack
Continued from Part 1...
Levinson’s father Julius (Judd Hirsch) has written a book called “How I Saved the World” or something like that, and honestly, is one of the few elements of the story that actually worked. Hirsch appears to have not aged a day since the first film, lives on a boat, and is part of the most engaging sequences of the movie, eventually picked up by some high school kids, later finding a bus load of adolescent ball players who were abandoned by their driver. The whole crew takes the bus and it felt exceptionally true to the spirit of the first - weird, but not so weird that it was trying to outshine a formula that worked. Meanwhile, Jake has a problem with Will Smith’s son Dylan Dubrow-Hiller (Jessie Usher), punching Jake in the face when they reunite on the moon base for reasons I didn’t really understand, but might have had something to do with past basic training. His mother’s no longer a stripper, instead working in health care. She dies during his rescue attempt, giving him the motivation to beat the aliens just like his dad.
I recall reading an essay on how you if you were to grab screenshots of certain big action movies (The Day After Tomorrow was a specific reference) the material looks straight out of surrealist art. It completely transformed my appreciation of big summer time movies. I no longer go for a great story, as that is rare as gold, but for the Big Scenes. In this film, one involves the 3,000 mile spaceship’s gravity pulling everything off the ground, as Jake and Co. fly through, trying to weave through buses, gas stations, statues, people, etc. as they’re sucked up while the spaceship comes in for a landing. While Julius is on the boat, speeding as fast as he can from the landing craft, it provides the film’s most exciting sequence.
Roland Emmerich completely delivers for his big scenes which rival the first. The problem is the story is so terrible, the dialogue so bad, the characters so unbelievable, the reversals and advancements so boring that it at times become unbearable. This is an addition that meets the stereotype of a Terrible Sequel, up there with Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation or Friday the Thirteenth: Jason Takes Manhattan. What’s most frustrating is that it didn’t need to be this way. There were opportunities, but as the last five or so seasons of summer blockbusters have demonstrated - you can just see the studio demanding everything to be bigger; to sacrifice character, story, dialogue, or logic in order to accommodate the biggest action sequences.
The problem is that all of these sequences are starting to blend together - a big wave crashing toward shore (San Andreas), the complete breakdown of a city (2012, The Day After Tomorrow), large iconic structures blowing up (Godzilla, and all the other movies that blew up the Golden Gate Bridge in 2013 or thereabouts), and so on. All of it is starting to look the exact same, as though picked up where another movie left off, changing the angle and the logic, and moving on from there. I imagined that if you were to simply take the character’s POV shots - in which they’re looking at the carnage, or we’re watching it surround them - it could easily be edited into any of these films.
There was an article which I'm failing to find, mentioning how these big sequences come about - where if lots of money is being put up for VFX, then the logical extension is to get as much out of it as possible, which translates into absolute chaos and destruction. But we’ve seen this so many times, and it’s all being pushed to the very limits of technology, that it’s all starting to look the same. A new norm I’m starting to hate are the wide vista shots, showing the thousands of components of a location - the people and hundreds of ships and all the armory and how big it all is - rendering each individual element meaningless. Rather than introducing a scene by showing us a component or components that relate to the character, shot in an interesting and engaging way, we discover these massive CGI over-infused vistas where the eye is pulled in a hundred different directions, not immersing us into the story, but instead making us think how fake it all looks because a computer and only a computer could have made it. I reflect on The Ten Commandments and how it was impressive because we knew it was all built and that we were indeed looking at tens of thousands of people. For a movie like this, we know it’s fake, in no way believe it could be real, and it was created by a few dozen programmers working in a dark office, with the primary note given likely being “more, more, more.”
It has been a pretty quiet summer compared to seasons past.* This is actually the first big movie I’ve seen and it’s mid-July, and with the exception of Ghostbusters and yet another Marvel movie (which I’m sure fell into many of the same problems), I’m not really noticing anything competitive in scale. We need a regression back to the small. Audiences want to believe what they’re seeing is real - not big. I think this insistence on making everything the largest and as extravagant as possible is part of the same fad that brought about gas guzzling SUVs and McMansions. When a 3,000 mile ship isn’t meant to be ironic or parodying where these films have gone, I think we’ve reached critical mass.
*I'm publishing this close to a year later
BELOW: Another digitally overwrought scene
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