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Article updated: 6/25/2013 5:24 PM

'White House Down' director unfazed by 'Olympus'

By

LOS ANGELES -- Roland Emmerich knows all about disasters.

The 57-year-old filmmaker laid waste to several landmarks in "Independence Day," turned New York into an ice cube in "The Day After Tomorrow" and leveled most of the world in "2012." However, when it comes to his latest film, "White House Down," the biggest catastrophe might not be that terrorists have commandeered America's most famous home.

It's perhaps that the action-packed film starring Jamie Foxx as the President of the United States and Channing Tatum as his impromptu bodyguard is being released Friday -- just three months after "Olympus Has Fallen," which featured a strikingly similar under-siege White House plot with Aaron Eckhart and Gerard Butler in the parallel roles.

Yet Emmerich doesn't think the coincidence is the end of the world.

"You do your film," said Emmerich. "They do their film. I remember when there were two volcano and two meteor movies. I thought, 'Isn't Hollywood stupid to do that?' All of a sudden, I was in the same situation, and I said, 'I'm not stopping.' I like my script. I have the two coolest dudes I always wanted to work with together in one film. I'm not stopping.'"

"White House Down" focuses on Sgt. John Cale, a Capitol police officer played by Tatum who is touring the White House with his daughter right after tanking an interview for a Secret Service job. When rogue former soldiers and government employees begin wreaking havoc on Pennsylvania Avenue, Cale must step up to rescue his daughter and the president.

While there are more than a few similarities between the films, there are some differences. The "Olympus Has Fallen" baddies were led by a former North Korean terrorist who kept Eckhart's President Asher in captivity for most of the movie. The "White House Down" villains are a rag-tag band of mercenaries who spend their time hunting down Foxx's President Sawyer.

The biggest contrast is that FilmDistrict's "Olympus Has Fallen" was rated R and Sony's "White House Down," which was originally set for a November launch, is rated PG-13. It's a lighter, less violent occupation of the presidential palace. Emmerich said he encouraged just as many jokes from Tatum and Foxx as he did stunts during filming last year in Montreal.

"You have to release a lot of tension with humor," said Emmerich. "I personally don't like movies that are too intense. I just don't like them, so when I'm making something as intense as this when a girl is constantly at gunpoint, you have to figure out ways to laugh in between. Otherwise, it becomes too fast and not enjoyable anymore."

Emmerich first learned another White House takeover movie was in the works when he traveled to Louisiana to meet with Foxx about the commander-in-chief role. At the time, "Training Day" director Antoine Fuqua wasn't attached to "Olympus Has Fallen," so Emmerich didn't take the movie seriously. He still hasn't seen it -- and doesn't intend to for a while.

"I will probably watch it at Christmas when all is said and done," the director said with a smirk.

When it comes to like-minded movies, there's no conclusive box-office evidence that going second is a death sentence.

Sure, "Dante's Peak" grossed more than "Volcano" when it erupted two months earlier in 1997, but "Armageddon" outperformed "Deep Impact" when it struck seven weeks later in 1998. Last year, "Snow White and the Huntsman" mined more than double at the box office two months after the debut of fellow live-action Snow White adaptation "Mirror Mirror."

"Olympus Has Fallen," which also starred Angela Bassett and Morgan Freeman, opened higher than expectations last March, earning $30.3 million in its first weekend after distributor FilmDistrict originally pegged it at somewhere in the under-$20 million range. The thriller has gone on to bank $98.4 million in North America. Emmerich isn't concerned by such figures.

"You make your own thing and hope for the best," he said. "That's it."

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