Entertainment

Moonfall showcases ordinary folks doing extraordinary things, director Roland Emmerich says

The director and screenwriter brought us sci-fi blockbusters including Stargate and Independence Day. In Moonfall, opening in theaters this week, he's got the moon on a collision course with Earth.

Moonfall director Roland Emmerich.
Reiner Bajo

This story is part of I'm So Obsessed (subscribe here), our podcast featuring interviews with actors, artists, celebrities and creative types about their work, career and current obsessions.

Roland Emmerich scoffs when I ask him what he thinks of his Hollywood nickname, "master of disaster." That's because the German screenwriter and director, who's brought some of the best-known sci-fi/action/disaster movies to the big screen, including Stargate, Independence Day, Godzilla and The Day After Tomorrow, doesn't think of his movies as disaster flicks. Instead, Emmerich tells me, they're actually about regular people who have to step up to a big challenge — and in most cases, that challenge is helping save the world from disaster. 

In Stargate, a discredited Egyptologist works to save Earth from an ancient alien overlord. In Independence Day, a scientist and a pilot join together to save the Earth from hostile aliens. And in The Day After Tomorrow, a climatologist heads to New York to rescue his son from a superstorm after the world ignores his predictions that the climate crisis will prompt a new ice age. 

On Friday, Emmerich's latest film, Moonfall, opens in theaters. The sci-fi saga centers around two NASA astronauts (Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson) and a well-intentioned conspiracy theorist (played by an endearing John Bradley) who have to save humanity after something knocks the moon out of orbit and onto a crash course with Earth. The subplot is that the moon isn't just a rock in space. (No spoilers here.)

Given his career, you can see why Hollywood gave him the nickname, but Emmerich says he takes much of his inspiration from his favorite director and favorite film, Steven Spielberg and Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind. 

"Why do I like it? It's clear for me: It's normal people," Emmerich said in an interview for CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast. "Yes, there's always a specialist somewhere around. But otherwise, it's normal people. They all get this vision of this mountain in their head, and they want to go to this mountain. At the end, an electrician [in a career-making role for Richard Dreyfuss] walks into the spaceship. That's just genius when you think about it. And it's not very often that you see movies like that. I mean today, it's just magicians or superheroes."

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Halle Barry and Patrick Wilson star as NASA astronauts in Moonfall.

Reiner Bajo

In Moonfall, Bradley's character is the "everyman and he has these crazy ideas and they come true."  

I spoke with Emmerich about why he decided to make Moonfall independently after working with investors, including Lionsgate, to raise the $140 million budget (he says Hollywood isn't interested in original stories). We talked about why he hopes fans will return to theaters and watch movies on the big screen after two years of binge-watching streaming services. 

Of his films, he told me his favorite is the 2011 period drama Anonymous, which tells the story of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, who many consider to be the man who really wrote Shakespeare's plays. "It's about the only conspiracy theory I really believe in," he tells me with a laugh. Shakespeare, he adds, was a "country bumpkin [who] was not able to write stuff like that."

You can listen to my interview with Emmerich in the podcast player at the top of this article. Subscribe to I'm So Obsessed on your favorite podcast app. In each episode, Patrick Holland or I catch up with an artist, actor or creator to learn about work, career and current obsessions.