Independence Day (1996) Movie Review

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Independence Day (1996) Movie Review

Independence Day (1996)

Independence Day is the sort of film that's best appreciated on a big screen, preferably a massive great plasma television that is so huge you had to cut the roof off your house and get airlifted in by helicopters just to get it in the living room. You should also have the most state of the art surround sound possible, with bass pickups so deep they cause earthquakes on the Eastern seaboard. Not because Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich's alien invasion flick is a masterpiece of cinematic art or anything, but because it's loud. Very loud. And if the windows in your house don't shatter when the spaceship flies over New York then well, you're just not experiencing it properly.

Taking the 1950's invasion narratives and pro-tooling them for 90's audiences, Independence Day is an absolute blast of visual flare and gung ho heroism. The plot is so straightforward as to be superfluous (aliens invade, fights ensue) but even so, it remains an invigorating watch purely because of the spectacle it provides. Back in 1996, the sight of that giant blue laser tearing apart lower Manhattan made jaws drop and while it's unlikely to do the same to today's overstimulated audiences, it's still an incredible visual feast. What's more, the ensemble cast makes it surprisingly unpredictable - we all know that the aliens will be defeated at the end, but what isn't so obvious is which characters are going to be alive to see it. Except for the kid and the dog. They're relatively safe bets.

Watching it now though, it does possess a cheerful naivety in the face of world politics. After all, this was 1996, the Cold War was over and 9/11 a long way off, so the entire world uniting against a common foe without being bogged down with petty arguments and personal agendas still seemed believable. Hell, even the gun-toting Arabs that briefly appear on screen are more than happy to rally behind Uncle Sam in the name of freedom. That's right folks, it's an Americans Save The World movie, complete with a snapshot of British officers drinking tea in the desert and waiting for those silly yanks to get a bally move on and show us what to do.

Needless to say, this is blockbuster entertainment through and through. The aliens are apparently here to strip mine the planet of all her natural resources, but they're quite happy to put that off for a bit in order to blow things up for the entire running time. Fans of in-depth characterisation, intelligent story telling and emotional engagement with the protagonists are wasting their time, but if you want to watch tourist attractions, jet planes and space craft exploding for three hours, you can't really go wrong. That business about a computer virus bringing down the mother-ship is a bit daft though, not once did they try switching everything on and off again.

I enjoyed this movie, sure it isn't the most original movie ever made or the best, but it was what it set out to be...which is a combo alien attack movie of the 50's plus an all-star disaster movie of the 70's. A lot of critics don't like this one and a lot of people who think of themselves as critics don't care much for it either, but it still brought in over 300 million at the box office in the summer of 96. I thought it was an entertaining film with lots of action and a good dose of comedy as well. One complaint I have is that it runs a bit long and you feel the time pass not like other movies like "The Two Towers" where it doesn't feel like all that much time has passed. Another problem with this movie is that it is best seen in the theater. This movie has a score of only six at imdb, so a lot of people who saw it probably saw it on TV. Or if they did see it at the theaters, realized it just wasn't as good on the small screen when they saw it on TV. The movie also benefited from a great ad campaign that started with a super bowl spot that showed the White House being destroyed. The movie is basically an alien invasion movie and it is like a 50's science fiction movie. It also has a lot of stars, not the biggest names, just like a 70's disaster flick. If you don't care for either of these genres you probably won't like this movie, but if you like one or the other or both it is worth checking out. Just don't take it too seriously and have fun watching it.

As a rule, I don't like high-concept movies. However, Independence Day is one of the few with some merits. It is also the best film to-date by German sci-fi/action director Roland Emmerich. The greatest flaw of Indepence Day (aka ID4 due to initial copyright problems with the Independence Day title) is the excessive jingoism. Completely America centric, it seems that the rest of human civilization is helpless without the Yanks. The American President is not just the only world leader fighting for a free world, he even moonlights as a fighter pilot attacking the aliens.

However, its still a damn entertaining film. There is a large ensemble cast of good actors, some in career best roles. Will Smith was really launched as a movie star by this film and he has some very funny lines. Jeff Goldblum actually looks nerdy-cool as a scientist who likes to play chess in the park. And Bill Pullman is the clean-cut American President who proclaims that July 4 will no longer be an American holiday, but a world holiday! The rest of the ensemble cast includes small but meaty roles for Judd Hirsch, Randy Quaid and Vivica Fox. Harry Connick Jr. has a small part but blows it completely.

The things that make ID4 watching is that something is always going on. There are plenty of one-liners and the one-dimensional character all have their peculiar personality traits and quirks. The action scenes are impressive and in fact this film has the largest number of miniatures ever built. That record will probably never be broken because digital technology is limiting the use of miniatures. If you can let your hair loose and just want to enjoy a light movie without letting the America is Great propaganda get to you, ID4 is for you.

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