This week, "White House Down," the deliriously silly (but ridiculously entertaining) White House hijacking movie, starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx, detonates onto Blu-ray and DVD. In honor of the film's release, we chatted with "White House Down" filmmaker Roland Emmerich and asked him to run down the five biggest influences on the film (which this writer places amongst the top tier of the director's work). At first he was reluctant ("I feel back in school, like I had to do homework"), but eventually he shared what fuelled his movie. Read on to find out what inspired "White House Down," the dirty wife beater Channing wears and Jamie Foxx's famous line about his sneakers.
It might have been hard to come up with five influences, but Emmerich has a clear understanding of what the film he was trying to make was and what it wasn't influenced by. During the conversation, when we tried to float the idea that some of the shoot-out sequences were inspired by the balletic Hong Kong works of director John Woo, Emmerich just shrugged it off. "Yeah, there's a little of that," he said, trailing off. Instead, he came up with a list of influences that are both creative and personal, making for an array of specific reference points that are also tellingly self-reflective. Sometimes, it seems, Emmerich is his own biggest influence. From the obvious to slightly off the beaten path, read on below...
Unsurprisingly, the first movie that Emmerich mentioned and the movie's chief influence was John McTiernan's 1988 action masterpiece "Die Hard." The two movies share a similar narrative core (about supposed terrorists taking over a building, but really gunning for something else altogether) and leading character (Tatum, like Bruce Willis, is a chronic fuck-up looking to redeem himself in the eyes of his family). "I think the biggest influence was probably 'Die Hard,'" Emmerich said matter-of-factly. "I watched it with my DP Anna Foerster and we said, 'What a great movie.' The movie itself is great, but it doesn't quite hold up stylistically."
When we balked at this comment, especially after watching it again on the big screen earlier this year, Emmerich held firm. "Maybe because it's the late eighties, the style… it just looks old. And not every movie from that period looks as dated." So Emmerich chose to borrow other parts from the movie. "It's still an amazing movie, the way it mixes humor with suspense." Apparently, screenwriter Jamie Vanderbilt is also a big fan of the exploits of John McClane. "It was also probably the biggest influence for the writer."
In terms of specific references to "Die Hard," it turned out that Emmerich was partial to a piece of the film's costume. "The wife beater!" Emmerich exclaimed. "We did a variation of it, we had a vest over it. And then at the very end, we just had the wife beater. Some of the people at Sony thought there wasn't enough wife beater in the movie." Channing Tatum in a wife beater? You can never have too much of a good thing, we suggested. "Exactly," Emmerich replied.
Another big influence on "White House Down" was Richard Donner's influential buddy cop movie "Lethal Weapon," released the year before "Die Hard." "It is one of my all time favorite movies, which I watched again and again and again." Where "Lethal Weapon" fits into "White House Down" is that both films share that buddy cop dynamic, even if in Emmerich's film it's the President (Foxx) and a plucky would-be Secret Service agent (Tatum). "It's just about the interaction between these two guys," Emmerich said about the 1987 classic. "And how their relationship is interwoven with the story is incredible." And it's clear in "White House Down," Emmerich and co. sought to replicate the easy back-and-forth chemistry between Danny Glover and Mel Gibson.