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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Aug. 1, 2014

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In Movies & TV Commentary

"Independence Day" was Roland Emmerich's first cinematic attack on the White House, but it wasn't his last.

Olympus has fallen ... many times: Five cinematic attacks on the White House


Washington D.C. just can't get a break. It's not enough that most people now associate the nation's capital with childish politicians who couldn't agree on the color of the sky if it meant admitting the opposite party was right. Now, Hollywood wants to blow up the White House in the new action thriller, "Olympus Has Fallen." Guys, I know things are a little rough right now in politics, but jeez.

It's not as though Hollywood hasn't done this before either (and won't do it again; "White House Down," another shoot-'em-up about an attack on the president, is hitting theaters in June). Here are five other notable cinematic attacks on the White House – because nothing says escapism like watching your leader get kicked in the face by aliens or a terrorist.

"Independence Day"

Director Roland Emmerich has blown up enough landmarks in his films to be on the government's terrorist watch list. He flooded New York City and sent tornadoes rampaging through Los Angeles in "The Day After Tomorrow," had a huge lizard stomp through New York in "Godzilla" and wiped out the entire globe in "2012." He even tried to destroy Shakespeare in "Anonymous," his costume drama about the Oxfordian theory (it didn't work; nobody saw it).

Emmerich's most famous exploded landmark, however, is easily the White House in "Independence Day." The 1996 flick was the director's first entry into the global disaster movie genre, and he introduced himself in style, blowing up most of the U.S.'s biggest cities. It's the White House that people remember (and that gets billing on the DVD cover).

It's not just the spectacle of watching our country's most important household become flaming kindling that makes the shot so memorable; it's that it looks so real. The film used a five-foot high model instead of CGI, and the extra work was worth it. When the White House blows up into wooden shards and chunks, it really looked like a building exploded because, well, they really blew up a building (albeit a building for ants).

"X2: X-Men United"

Director Bryan Singer's terrific follow-up to 2000's "X-Men," the movie that made comic book superhero adaptations blockbuster material, opens with one heck of an action scene: Nightcrawler's siege on the White House. There's no massive explosions or fireballs. Instead, Singer simply delivers really well choreographed, tense action as the teleporting mutant Nightcrawler – played with a creepy hissing menace by Alan Cumming – scampers through the White House's corridors, knocking out guards and immediately hooking the audience. It's a great, intense way to open one of the best comic book movies ever made.

"2012"

Emmerich wasn't done with menacing the White House (does this guy have a extreme hatred for taxes or something?). In his 2009 magnum opus of destruction "2012," the German director, apparently unsatisfied with merely blowing up the White House in "Independence Day," decided to give the office of the president a more humorous on-screen death. This time, the national landmark gets bombarded with a massive tidal wave.

But the tidal wave isn't really what wipes out the White House; it's what the wall of water is carrying: the USS John F. Kennedy. Emmerich was apparently not very keen on destroying the White House again, but the idea of JFK symbolically returning to the office was entertainingly ironic enough to make it worth revisiting. If you're attempting to find some sort of deep political message with that sequence, you might be thinking too hard. This is the same movie in which a crazy hippie played by Woody Harrelson happily gets squashed by a flaming volcanic rock.

"Superman II"

Another comic book super hero movie calls for yet another siege on the White House and threat to the president. In 1980's "Superman II," General Zod (Terrence Stamp) and his two minions, Ursa and Non, drop by the White House to force the president to surrender before Zod. Pardon me, I mean he forces the president to "kneel before Zod," which Stamp says with the kind of silly seriousness that makes him such a memorable villain (he makes the request even more dramatically, and therefore even more goofy, later in the film).

The whole scene is a great combination of silliness and seriousness. The tension of the president being forced to surrender is actually a fairly intense moment, but before it happens, our villains literally just drop into the White House from some windows in the ceiling, which you'd think security would be prepared for. Non even breaks a machine gun in half with his bare hands. It's the early Superman movies in a nutshell: kind of dopey but also kind of awesome. You certainly couldn't make a "Superman" movie like it nowadays; just ask Bryan Singer, who tried with "Superman Returns."

"Mars Attacks!"

Tim Burton's directorial style has always been influenced by the goofy, kitschy sci-fi B-movies of the '50s and '60s, especially classic schlock artist Ed Wood. Burton attempted to bring this love to the screen in his 1996 silly schlock-fest "Mars Attacks!," in which little green murderous Martians come to Earth with laser guns in hand and invasion in mind.

As is expected of an alien invasion movie, lots of monuments and landmarks get ruined in the process – including the Washington Monument, Mount Rushmore and the Eiffel Tower. And, of course, there's an attack on the White House and the first family (played by Jack Nicholson and Glenn Close). Close gets squashed by the Nancy Reagan chandelier while Nicholson escapes out the back thanks to the help of two young schoolboys with ray guns. The scene is slightly more realistic than "2012."

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