SDCC: Director on the Mayans and 2012's demolition derby

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Theories that the world will end in the year 2012 appear to have inspired Roland Emmerich's upcoming apocalyptic demolition derby 2012, but the director insists that he was going to make such a movie even before he was aware of the theories. Hearing them, he figured they would make as good a premise as any on which to hang an end-of-the-world tale.

"I was discussing with [producer] Harald [Kloser] possible new projects," Emmerich said Saturday in group interviews at Comic-Con in San Diego. "We came up with this idea that maybe a global flood would be a great movie, because we could do a retelling of Noah's ark in a modern way. Then we played around with who would build these arks. During the course of coming up with the story, we found this phenomenon 2012 and incorporated it in our movie. That's what it is now. It's really a retelling of Noah's ark, a modern retelling. For me it's not only a disaster movie. Disaster movies have to have another extra element that makes it special. The whole third act is more a different kind of movie. It's about who will survive in the arks."

Emmerich said that he had to be sold on the 2012 theory. "We thought it's good to tie in 2012 in our movie," he said. "Harald called up: 'I know now what we call our film. 2012. What do you think?' I hated it. [I thought], 'Let's not date our movie,' but then more and more realized it's good. Most of the time you're interested in some sort of aspect, and [then] this aspect becomes a story. Then from the story come characters. Then you do research and something just happened. Same thing that happened with Independence Day. We found out how many people believed in Area 51."

Emmerich suggested that the Mayan theories are only hints in 2012, much the same way that Area 51 is explained in ID4. "We tied it in," he said. "We tied it in a little bit the same way in Independence Day—Area 51 was tied in. A lot of people believed in Area 51, no one could prove it, but a lot of people believed. There are so many [theories], you can create your own in a way. The most amazing thing for me was how many books there are. When you go on Amazon, it's hundreds of books, all with 2012 [as the title]. It's incredible. I ordered the first six or seven pages, and I have all these books. Every one tells a different story. We only use the fact that the Mayan calendar ends. That gave us the year. It's also mainly because it's the cycle, the sun's destructive force is going to destroy Earth."

In true Roland Emmerich style, this apocalypse will take out the whole world, not just American landmarks. "When you do a flood movie, a flood has to be global," he said. "I come from Germany, so it's great to start in America, but I thought Himalaya would be great. I don't know exactly how we came up with Himalayas. I think because it's the highest in the world. When that gets flooded, that's a flood."

The spectacle came first, but Emmerich did still seek some science to back it up. "Then you have to come up with a theory," he said. "We pretty much researched a little bit, found this one theory that's maybe true or not, doesn't really matter. For our movie it was good, because it came with earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, the whole crust shifting. I had to fill in. Harald started talking about what could happen and what kind of scenes we could do. Out of that comes images. There's always certain things. There are certain things that immediately pop into your mind. Other things, you see some drawings of somebody. It's a group effort, too. We had incredible artists working on this. It's just a group effort."

2012 opens Nov. 13.