Monday, April 22, 2013

Post Boston, are we still in the mood for "White House Down"?

Roland Emmerich likes to destroy national landmarks the way that Michael Jordan liked to win basketball games. From Buddhist temples to famous city skylines to the Statue of Liberty. The guy has a fetish for wrecking havoc on places people treasure.

One imagines Emmerich touring the world in an effort to become familiar with every nation's most revered buildings and symbols just so he can hole himself up in the dark somewhere and invent a an excuse to build the place in miniature, then blow it to bits in a movie.

With White House Down, coming from Columbia/Sony Pictures on June 28th, he'll score a hat trick for taking out America's highest seat of government, the White House. But the question, as we take a breath on this side of Boston's hell week is - has Hollywood, and Mr. Emmerich in particular, exhausted our tolerance for watching our symbols of pride and freedom get ripped apart on our local movie screens?

The poster that leads off this article names two other films Mr. Emmerich directed, which coincidentally also see a White House in ruins, 1996's Independence Day and 2009's 2012. Those attacks came by way of aliens in one and Mayan prophecy in the other. But with White House Down, the method of destruction is a terrorist attack, a plot that hits home with an unfortunate and unavoidable amount of believability.

In a world plagued by the violent whims of dictator dominated governments who strive to obtain nuclear weapons rather than feed or educate their people, and world "leaders", who, through their bluster and ego, supplant rational thinking by threatening mass murder with antics more suited to school yard bullies, it is abundantly clear that the world is demonstrably a dangerous and volatile place.

In the light of events in Boston last week, is there any appetite at all for watching a violent and destructive attack on Washing DC? Even on a movie screen?

Unfortunately for the Sony Pictures and the producers of White House Down, it becomes a question the entire movie industry will have to struggle with. It's just that their film will be first in line to grapple with the fresh wounds of a growing audience weary of real-life tragedy.

There will also be more articles like this one, questioning the need to splay icons of freedom, trashed and destroyed (even in miniature), for the sensationalization of a fictitious terrorist assault. Would the images on screen seem less upsetting if the destruction was of a less iconic and more generic nature? And would that lessen in any way, a director's ability to bring emotional impact to their story?

The last time the White House was destroyed on film was in last month's Olympus Has Fallen (Millennium Films, U.S. release on March, 22). In one month that film has had an $88m domestic box-office take. Though that number will be enough to lead to profits, it certainly doesn't register in blockbuster territory, a place where Mr. Emmerich has staked out his own plot of ground based on big budget destruction.

Watching Godzilla's off-spring savage Madison Square Garden or alien spaceships obliterate the familiar skyscrapers of famous cities, even the White House decimated by the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy as it is carried by a massive wave in 2012, the sense is that it's moviemaking. Craftwork. A piece of fiction that is simply entertainment.

That sense fades when we see deliberate destruction of places that represent our hard-fought struggles and sense of values. Destruction wrought by menace and malevolence on a society that is vulnerable through its own insistence in its belief in freedom and equality. Has it faded so much that it is no longer reasonable to ask moviegoers to find entertainment in fiction that too closely recalls fact?

There is no word if Sony will delay or adjust White House Down in either its content, its marketing (which recently has depicted increasing amounts of the destruction and psuedo-news cast realism depicted in the final film), or its release date. But the question looms large and, with violent acts and terror assaults so much of our national psyche and 24 hour news cycles, it will not be going away. After last week's horrific events in Boston, are we still in the mood for White House Down?

For a look at the controversial teaser poster campaign for White House Down, click The Art of the Poster: Does "White House Down" go too far?

Here's the latest trailer.

Thanks to Columbia/Sony for promotional posters and trailer. Still from "Independence Day" courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.

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