Sci-Fi popcorn flicks were all the rage in the 1950’s, offering escapism to atomic age patrons. Postwar America was a time when the future was bright indeed, and these films offered that vision in droves. Two decades later, it was the disaster movie that occupied America’s attention. Times had changed indeed, and now these movies offered a glimpse of hope in a time of cold war and economc crisis.
In the 1990’s, both of these movie breeds were essentially dead. People began expecting more from their movies, and the summer blockbuster season was quickly becomming the focus of the major studio’s time and commitment. Enter Roland Emmerich and his uber-blockbuster, Independence Day. Not only did it successfully combine the genres of easy-cheesy sci-fi and doom-inducing disaster, it became the essential summer blockbuster movie. Therefore, Independence Day, isn’t just noteworthy for its entertainment value, but for its ability to simultaneously showcase half a century’s worth of popculture.
Synopsis; At the most basic level, aliens are invading earth and in order to save our species we must somehow work together to fight them off. Like most of Emmerich’s movies, he uses what I like to call the “spider web” method of story telling; the movie focuses on several individuals/familys/groups of people living completely different lives (the strands of the web). Eventually, through the events in the movie, their individual paths will cross together to form the final endgame (the web). Meanwhile, the main driver in the story (the aliens invading) effects each one of these groups of people differently. In Independece Day, Emmerich gives us the President of the United States and his advisors, who are doing their best to cope with a situation where no one has an idea what is going on. Then we have Russell Casse and his family, where Russell is an alchoholic crop duster who claims he had been abducted by aliens. He and his family represent the rural population, trying to evade the aliens. There’s Captain Steven Hiller and his family, where Hiller is a hot-shot fighter jet pilot who leaves his family to help out in the fight anyway he can. His family comes to represent the urban population, displaced from their homes and helping those they come across. Last, there is David Lavinson and his father. David is a brilliant man working for the cable company and discovers the hostile intentions of the aliens long before anyone else.
Acting: While not the strongest cast, everyone pulls their weight. This is Will Smith’s (Men in Black) breakout role as Captain Steven Hiller, and he gives a typical not-quite-serious-but-not-quite-comedic performace similar to Men in Black or Wild Wild West. Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park) plays David, and does an admiral job as aguably the deepest character showing a wide range of emotions. Bill Pullman (Spaceballs) plays President Whitmore, and although in my opinion he doesn’t seem right for the role he does manage to give a riveting monologue near the film’s climax which (although seen as cliche nowadays) is about as emotional as this one gets. Randy Quaid (Vacation) plays a typcast Russell Casse, so no complaints there. Other roles in this movie include the first lady (played by Mary McDowell, TV’s Battlestar Galactica), David’s father (played by Judd Hirsh, TV’s Taxi), David’s ex-wife (Margaret Colin, TV’s Gossip Girl), Hiller’s girlriend (Vivica A Fox, Kill Bill Part 1), a crazy scientist (Brent Spiner, TV’s Star Trek: The Next Generation), and some government aids to the president (James Rebhorn and Robert Loggia, Basic Instint and Scarface, respectively). They all do a fine job, but really they’re there just to add some connections and personality between explosions and gunfire. (20/25)
Script/Plot: So maybe its pretty long, but its full of entertainment. The tension builds up quickly at the beginning and never lets up. So maybe it is a little cheesy and gimmicky, but unlike Transformers, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The humor throughout is great. In fact, it is one of those few movies in my opinion that has the right balance between humor, action, drama, and tension. Summer blockbusters tend to dive into one of these 4 categories without much regard for the rest. But rest is what the audience needs at times. As a result of this, I am willing to overlook the movie’s shortcommings as far as plot and length. (23/25)
Direction: This is Emmerich’s first, and so far still his best. I think the “spider web” technique works well here because the characters are cast correctly and the individual stories actually have to do with each other. I can’t say the same with Emmerich’s other movies, this is especially true with The Day After Tomorrow. Cinematically the action sequences are shot exquisitly, only in the immense alien vs human aerial dogfights to you ever feel like you don’t know what is going on. Even more impressive is the way the movie is shot to enhance the special effects. Blockbusters often times show too much. Independence Day only shows you what you need to understand what is happening (most of the time….there are a lot of Michael Bay explosion-esque moments). (23/25)
Special Effects/Music/X-Factor: Independence Day’s special effects are pretty impressive (Even more so that this movie is 13 years old!). They only are just now starting to look dated. Still, I can think of many newer movies that have less-convincing special effects (Van Helsing anyone?). In other words, this movie goes a long way into promoting the long lost art of model-making, especially with the use of some CGI to add additional realism. The music of the movie is fantastic. In fact, I can’t think of a better opening song in any movie. It fits, it works, its funny, it rocks! (25/25)
What Kept Me Watching: Impressive special effects and easy-on-the-eyes action make it fun to watch, and the comedic and tense moments make you keep on watching.
What Kills It: It is a bit long and there are lots of unnecessary side stories/characters that detract away from the main story. Also, don’t take it too seriously.
Summary: The blockbuster of blockbusters.
Final Rating: (91/100) = A-