Roland Emmerich

The Thirteenth Floor (1999, Josef Rusnak)

It’d be hard to call The Thirteenth Floor a missed opportunity because that statement suggests there was some promise to it. There’s no promise anywhere near Thirteenth Floor. But it does have some gorgeous set decoration and, presumably, production design from Kirk M. Petruccelli. The presumably qualifier because even though Petruccelli does excellent work on the 1930s and 1990s (the present day has some of the same art deco themes), there’s terrible second unit stuff of modern day L.A. and it just breaks the tone. If that decision was Petruccelli’s and not director Rusnak’s, it’s on him. It’s terrible and breaks the visual tone of the film every time there’s an establishing shot of the city. There’s nothing to enjoy in the film, save the occasionally interesting bit of design. Even if Rusnak and cinematographer Wedigo von Schultzendorff usually screw it up.

The film’s got a lousy script–real, real lousy–by director Rusnak and Ravel Centeno-Rodriguez. Rusnak can’t direct the actors either. They’re all bad, though Vincent D’Onofrio does betray having some ability at one point or another. No one else does. Not even poor Dennis Haysbert, who I was hoping would be a surprisingly great performance. He’s not; he’s really bad, just like most everyone else. Craig Bierko’s the lead. He’s awful. Gretchen Mol’s his love interest. She’s just bad, not awful. Armin Mueller-Stahl is a little better than Mol, only because the plotting. It’s bad plotting, but it still sames Mueller-Stahl some face. No one else gets anywhere near as lucky.

It’s a dumb movie with dumb ideas in a bad script. It’s a poorly acted, poorly directed dumb movie. Any competency is rare–basically just the score’s not bad. If it were a different movie, Harald Kloser would be doing a perfectly acceptable score. It just can’t do what Floor needs its score to do, which is cover plot holes or performance holes. Worse, Kloser seems to get it–only he can improve the film’s quality; it’s impossible. Rusnak is just too bad at his job of directing this film. The Thirteenth Floor is terrible.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Josef Rusnak; screenplay by Rusnak and Ravel Centeno-Rodriguez, based on a novel by Daniel F. Galouye; director of photography, Wedigo von Schultzendorff; edited by Henry Richardson; music by Harald Kloser; production designer, Kirk M. Petruccelli; produced by Roland Emmerich, Ute Emmerich and Marco Weber; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Craig Bierko (Douglas Hall), Armin Mueller-Stahl (Hannon Fuller), Gretchen Mol (Jane Fuller), Vincent D’Onofrio (Jason Whitney), Dennis Haysbert (Detective Larry McBain), Steven Schub (Detective Zev Bernstein) and Jeremy Roberts (Tom Jones).


Godzilla (1998, Roland Emmerich)

Godzilla is tolerably bad for about the first half, then it takes a turn for the far worse as the characters start having longer conversations. Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich’s dialogue would be hilariously bad if it were in small parts, but they string together these scenes. There’s no action, just a lot of bad dialogue and bad acting. Only Hank Azaria seems immune; giving Godzilla‘s best performance isn’t a difficult achievement however.

Worst performance is a little more difficult to ascertain. Doug Savant’s an easy target, but it isn’t his fault Devlin and Emmerich wrote his character to have stuttering as comic relief (really, they did). Harry Shearer, Michael Lerner and Arabella Field are easier targets, but none are in the picture for very long. Maria Pitillo’s worst of the primary cast, but Matthew Broderick doesn’t trail too far behind.

As for Jean Reno… he’s okay.

Besides the crappy script and the awful CG, Godzilla‘s biggest problem is Emmerich. For the first half hour (only twenty percent of the runtime), Emmerich concentrates on ripping off Spielberg. Close Encounters, Raiders, Jurassic Park, Jaws. Emmerich’s unoriginality is at least distracting. Once he just directs the picture straight… it’s so much worse. He can’t figure out how to shoot a giant monster running through New York. It shouldn’t be hard. An establishing shot or two.

But maybe the CG composites just looked too weak.

The only competent thing in Godzilla is David Arnold’s score. Or half of it. The other half’s lousy.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Roland Emmerich; screenplay by Dean Devlin and Emmerich, based on a story by Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio, Devlin and Emmerich; director of photography, Ueli Steiger; edited by Peter Amundson and David Siegel; music by David Arnold; production designer, Oliver Scholl; produced by Devlin; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Matthew Broderick (Dr. Niko Tatopoulos), Jean Reno (Philippe Roaché), Maria Pitillo (Audrey Timmonds), Hank Azaria (Victor ‘Animal’ Palotti), Kevin Dunn (Colonel Hicks), Michael Lerner (Mayor Ebert), Harry Shearer (Charles Caiman), Arabella Field (Lucy Palotti), Vicki Lewis (Dr. Elsie Chapman), Doug Savant (Sergeant O’Neal) and Malcolm Danare (Dr. Mendel Craven).


Moon 44 (1990, Roland Emmerich)

Watching Moon 44, one can imagine Roland Emmerich sitting in a Bonn theater during Blade Runner, loudly opining he can do the same thing. Only with an incompetent German crew.

There’s nothing good about Moon 44, as it doesn’t turn out to be a romance between nebbish Dean Devlin and brooding Michael Paré. If it were a gay romance, it’d at least be innovative. Instead, Devlin just moons over Paré, likely due to a combination of bad acting, bad directing and terrible writing.

The script’s so bad Lisa Eichhorn is terrible. She’s even worse than Paré, who’s still better than Devlin and Leon Rippy. Rippy is really awful.

It’s hard to determine the order of bad performances, actually. But Malcolm McDowell is okay, which is surprising, and Roscoe Lee Browne maintains composure in a tiny role.

Brian Thompson might give the best performance of the principals.

The special effects are a great example of why budget and competence are important. Shockingly, Emmerich and cinematographer Karl Walter Lindenlaub are able to give a sense of scale, but the mechanicals of the effects are just bad. You can’t see the wires on the “flying” spacecraft, but the restricted movement makes them obvious. Moon 44, except the recognizable (if bad) actors, looks like a hobbyist home movie. An electric train set, only with spaceships.

Joel Goldsmith’s score, though derivative, isn’t bad. It’s better than the movie deserves.

The big surprise is Eichhorn. One feels embarrassed for her. The rest being awful is expected.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Roland Emmerich; screenplay by Dean Heyde and Oliver Eberle, based on a story by Heyde, Eberle, Emmerich and P.J. Mitchell; director of photography, Karl Walter Lindenlaub; edited by Tomy Wigand; music by Joel Goldsmith; production designer, Oliver Scholl; produced by Heyde and Emmerich; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Michael Paré (Felix Stone), Lisa Eichhorn (Terry Morgan), Dean Devlin (Tyler), Brian Thompson (Jake O’Neal), Malcolm McDowell (Major Lee), Stephen Geoffreys (Cookie), Leon Rippy (Master Sergeant Sykes), Jochen Nickel (Scooter Bailey), Mehmet Yilmaz (Marc), John March (Moose Haggerty), Drew Lucas (Riffle), David Williamson (Lt. Gallagher) and Roscoe Lee Browne (The Chairman).


Universal Soldier (1992, Roland Emmerich)

Universal Soldier is nowhere near as bad as I thought it was going to be. The beginning is exceptionally painful, as Roland Emmerich does a Platoon impression. As bad as Charlie Sheen was in that film, however, nothing compares to Jean-Claude Van Damme as a farm boy from Louisiana or Dolph Lundgren’s attempts at conveying insanity. It’s painful.

And then it gets jokey.

It’s horrific.

But then, even with the incompetent writing, Ally Walker shows up and essentially saved my hour and forty minutes. Walker’s a decent actor, but her intrepid reporter somehow makes the ludicrous plot sound feasible (Walker does have a great voice).

The film’s concept is basically a mix of Robocop and Terminator, but done in such a way to be uninventive (Van Damme and Lundgren aren’t robots, so no neat cyborg moments) and cheap. Emmerich’s a terrible fight scene director and his action scenes, instead of relishing their absurdity and amplifying it to the extreme, are dull. And it’s still frequently impossible to know what’s going on.

But the movie’s watchable–there’s a bunch of good dumb bits, like Van Damme bare-assing it around a motel parking lot or the inexplicable scene with him beating up an entire diner. Emmerich and co-writer Dean Devlin have made careers out of going as cheap as possible for a positive audience reaction and Universal Soldier is no different.

Walker tempers the whole thing and Van Damme’s bad acting isn’t static. He has a couple scenes where he’s not atrocious. It’s amazing, given their wooden acting, neither he nor Lundgren can successfully stare absent-minded as the brainwashed super-soldiers. Jerry Orbach, pre-“Law & Order” legitimacy, has a small role and is silly. Not all of it’s his fault; the script’s just terrible.

Lundgren’s particularly awful for much of the movie, then all of a sudden he becomes hilarious. Once he gets his mind back (again, the script doesn’t make any sense), he’s having a ball. His performance in the movie’s second half suggests he should have done comedy.

The movie’s crap, but manages not to be too offensive throughout, only in parts. And I suppose it’s somewhat impressive how good Emmerich made a moderately budgeted production look.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Roland Emmerich; written by Richard Rothstein, Christopher Leitch and Dean Devlin; director of photography, Karl Walter Lindenlaub; edited by Michael J. Duthie; music by Christopher Franke; produced by Allen Shapiro, Craig Baumgarten and Joel B. Michaels; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme (Luc Deveraux), Dolph Lundgren (Andrew Scott), Ally Walker (Veronica Roberts), Ed O’Ross (Colonel Perry), Jerry Orbach (Dr. Christopher Gregor) and Leon Rippy (Woodward).


Stargate (1994, Roland Emmerich), the director’s cut

When I was sixteen, I wrote a review of Stargate for my school newspaper and I gave it four stars. Out of four. Since watching it for the first time since then–though I might have seen it on VHS pan and scanned, which isn’t the same film, Emmerich does use his whole frame–I’m not experiencing the embarrassment I thought I would. Sure, it’s probably atrociously written, but whatever… This review came out in a pre-Enlightenment period–maybe I was just applying the film quality qualifications others instilled in me (such as the unapproachable goodness of John Woo, Robert Rodriguez, and True Romance) and, (while Stargate is certainly better than most of those films just through lack of insult, I wouldn’t have known it then) by comparison, I came to the conclusion it must be a film of great import. This theory is a bunch of malarkey–sixteen year-olds simply are not reasoning readers yet–but it would at least pass the buck to some degree.

The 1980s had their share of science fiction/fantasy films, but as time passed (and Dune proved just not anyone could do it), they became lower budget and foreign-funded until they practically disappeared. Carolco put together Stargate, so it probably did have a lot of foreign money in it, but special effects had changed by the time Stargate came along… there was CG. Stargate hardly uses it, but, at the time, morphing was still big. Watching the film, I realized Stargate is one of the most influential films of the last twenty years. It’s content-less adventure (albeit, without the pop culture references now a cornerstone of blockbusters–thanks to Pulp Fiction of all things), it’s a blockbuster without integrity. Before Stargate, with the exception of Rocky IV, blockbusters tended to have some integrity. Stargate wasn’t even a blockbuster, but it was the prototype for the blockbusters immediately following–when Spielberg, in a sense, lost the blockbuster. The film’s legacy–and it does have one–is integrity-free CG. Computer generation imagery would not be a special special effect, it would be mundane. This legacy didn’t play out immediately (Dragonheart failed, for instance), but by 1996 and 1997, it was in full effect–and it’s produced absolutely nothing of value.

Again, Stargate isn’t too bad. It’s so bland–though one can amuse oneself by recognizing the Spielberg “homages,” there are plenty from Raiders of the Lost Ark–it just passes the time. Emmerich’s direction is okay. The film is very pretty and his shot composition is fine, uninteresting but fine. While the writing is incredibly stupid, since Devlin and Emmerich hadn’t yet hit the big time, it’s not offensive. I rented it because I’ve been watching Spader so much on “Boston Legal” I was curious and he’s fine. I’d forgotten Kurt Russell was in it (I think Stargate actually relaunched his brief mid-1990s film career, Kurt Russell has a lot of career relaunches). He’s awful when he’s supposed to be mourning (his son died playing with one of his guns, which I think Devlin probably lifted from “Beverly Hills, 90210”), but there are moments when he can’t help smiling. He’s good in those moments and he and Spader actually have a couple good scenes together. John Diehl shows up, getting more lines than usual. I won’t even discuss Jaye Davidson, though Emmerich and Devlin did always interestingly cast and miscast. For example, French Stewart is in Stargate. As a soldier no less.

Stargate isn’t worth getting virulent about. I suppose in recognizing its terrible aftereffects, one could easily rant (and I do realize I talked about the film for one paragraph of four–there’s just not enough in the movie to talk about it’s so shallow). Hollywood rarely produces–anymore–free dumb movies. Today (and immediately following Stargate practically) dumb movies come at a cost–the realization of sitting through the dumb movie and feeling stupid for it. In fact, I think film audiences have passed through that phase and now, they no longer expect to engage with filmic narratives… nor do they particularly want such engagement. As it works out, Stargate is, by default, a lot better tripe than today’s tripe.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Roland Emmerich; written by Dean Devlin and Emmerich; director of photography, Karl Walter Lindenlaub; edited by Derek Brechin and Michael J. Duthie; music by David Arnold; production designer, Holger Gross; produced by Devlin, Oliver Eberle and Joel B. Michaels; released by Carolco Pictures.

Starring Kurt Russell (Col. Jack O’Neil), James Spader (Dr. Daniel Jackson), Viveca Lindfors (Catherine Langford, Ph.D.), Alexis Cruz (Skaara), Mili Avital (Sha’uri), Leon Rippy (General West), John Diehl (Lieutenant Kawalsky), Carlos Lauchu (Anubis), Djimon Hounsou (Horus), Erick Avari (‘Good Father’ Kasuf), French Stewart (Lieutenant Ferretti), Gianin Loffler (Nabeh) and Jaye Davidson (Ra).


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