Roland Emmerich has wreaked havoc on Earth many times, with monsters in Godzilla, aliens in Independence Day, and global natural disasters in 2012, and now he’s done it historically with World War II epic Midway.
It would seem a no-brainer for the maestro who blew up the White House to take on Midway – who better to bring the decisive battle in the Pacific Theatre of WWII roaring to cinematic life for the masses?
However, Emmerich’s vision of the dive-bombing, death-filled, historic clash is a maturer beast than his 2012 days. ‘I wanted to tell the story of the other side and do it justice, you know?’, he explained.
Midway follows the titular battle between the US and Japan between June 4-7, 1942, just six months after the ‘greatest intelligence failure in American history’ – also known as the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The blockbuster filmmaker’s last film was the largely maligned, insta-forgotten Independence Day: Resurgence. However, his love of war movies steered the way to his next project.
Emmerich told UNILAD:
Well, I’m a big fan of war movies – it’s my second war movie after The Patriot. I’m just very into history and stuff, and I kind of felt that the Pacific War is not often used. In the Pacific War, there were some amazing battles fought and I think the Battle of Midway was just one of them.
A lot of different elements came together in that battle – from naval intelligence to the first occurrence of aircraft carriers meeting each other from different sides. I think the movie is trying to make people remember a time when people were fighting for freedom, fighting against fascism. I know film is used a lot in schools and stuff, so it’s a great way to try introduce people to a period in time they probably don’t know very much about.
Following on from Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, which featured groundbreaking aerial set-pieces, Midway had large cinematic shoes to fill. Its visual effects may feel choppy, but the orchestration of combat feels true in spirit. ‘Airplanes became kind of the new superweapon – dive-bombing was something that really, really fascinated me. A lot of tactics had to come together, and a lot of luck too,’ he added.
As a self-proclaimed huge fan of war movies – ‘I basically watch every war movie, and some several times,’ he boasted with a chuckle – he knew where to draw inspiration from: A Bridge Too Far. ‘When you look at that movie, it shares a lot of similarities with mine, as it also shows both sides. It shows the kind of intricacy of war, the planning of war and the battle itself, and a lot of character,’ he said.
Emmerich had actually tried to get Midway off the ground some years ago, even trying his hand at convincing the writer of A Bridge Too Far, William Goldman, to pen the script – however, Sony Pictures opted out.
It was a far different experience when it came to crafting action, with ‘a lot of military specialists and historians around me who, pretty much whenever we did something, commented on it’. ‘What we did in this movie is we tried to stay as close as possible to the real event. It was such a pivotal event of the Pacific War, so I wanted to get it as accurate as possible,’ he added.
Above all, he felt a responsibility towards the people driving the story amid the chaos, explaining:
In The Patriot, there were three or four characters that were kind of composite characters, but in this one we’re dealing with people who have real families who are still living, so you need to do them justice.
I’m a German – it was always clear moving forward that there were two sides. So I wanted to tell the story of the other side and do it justice, you know, telling the true story – that’s always very, very important for me. There’s also a book that really inspired us called The Shattered Sword, which is one of the first books to really get deep into the Japanese side of things – that was a little bit of our guideline.
But for me, it was super important – war is a bad thing, sailors are soldiers in war, they’re not the ones who started the war, and there’s bravery and mistakes on both sides. You need to show that.
One of those real people was Chief Aviation Radioman James Murray, played by Alita: Battle Angel star Keean Johnson. ‘It was also my first time playing a soldier, so all that was really important – showing the bravery but also the scared timidness of some of these soldiers. That was really accurate for the time,’ he told UNILAD.
At a cool 138 minutes, it’s a relatively brisk outing for the director (his works have often felt a bit bloated on little storytelling fuel). It benefits, however, from an ensemble of big names. ‘I think the movies of the late 60s, early 70s influenced me the most, because they were these sort of multi-character war movies – I’m very drawn to that,’ Emmerich explained.
Alongside Johnson, there’s Dennis Quaid, Patrick Wilson, Ed Skrein, Nick Jonas, Luke Evans, Mandy Moore, Aaron Eckhart and Woody Harrelson – the latter of whom played a pivotal role in the film’s production.
Casting is always a peculiar thing. We always had a feeling that [Admiral Chester W. Nimitz] could be Woody – we actually structured the whole schedule of the movie so that Woody would be possible, as he’s a very busy actor.
A lot of people wanted to be in this movie, so we had to juggle a lot of our shooting schedule. I think we got a great cast together, which is important in a movie like this. It helps a lot when you know the actors.
With Midway now hitting home entertainment, the director is sketching his next project, Moonfall, which he remained tight-lipped on casting, but shooting begins in late April.
It sounds supremely Emmerichian, following a space crew who travel to the Moon after it’s hit with an asteroid, sending it on a collision course with Earth. ‘I’m just into original stories, I feel like I’m one of the last ones to do original stories and I hope I can keep going as long as possible,’ he added.
As R.E.M. sang, it’s the end of the world as we know it – or, as Emmerich would call it, par for the course.
Midway is out now on Digital Download and on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD on March 9.
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After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BCTJ-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He’s now left his Scottish homelands and took up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.