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Independece Day(1996) ID4 - Mothership Connection? Not so much...sort of.. [User Review]


Independence Day was the runaway hit of its year. It propelled Roland Emmerich to the A-list, made a star out of Will Smith, and provided audiences with some of the most extravagant special effects and action sequences not seen since Jurassic Park.

But for all that, Independence Day typifies everything wrong with Hollywood blockbusters. Spectacle comes first. At the expense of everything else. When it comes to this type of gratuitous bludgeoning, Roland Emmerich is a particularly guilty offender. He has a list of empty-headed, special effects action bonanzas on his CV, with patriotic flag-waving to back it up. And Independence Day is the one film on Emmerich's resume where these faults are at they're most extreme.

Its the worst kind of Hollywood entertainment. Everything about it is designed to be a crowd-pleaser. It pushes the right buttons at all the right moments. Plenty of eye-popping effects. Mind-blowing stunts. An all star cast. And its meant to appeal to the American heartland. The last time I saw a film that embodied such patriotic rabble-rousing was the equally perverse Top Gun.

Naturally for a film so commercially calculated, ID4 was an inevitable success. But I was left underwhelmed by the whole thing. Alien invasion films have been done much better before and since. Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds was much more respectful because I cared for the people in it. But as with everything else Roland Emmerich gets his hands on, he can't resist filling out the film with stock characters and easy clichés.

Bill Pullman is the gung-ho All-American President. Jeff Goldblum the eccentric scientist who stumbles onto the truth that nobody listens to. Will Smith is the wisecracking fighter pilot. As well as the straight arrow US military types who believe the best defence is a good offence. And small-minded bureaucrats and techno-nerds this type of film can't seem to live without.

Independence Day seems a conscious ripoff of every SF film ever made. From The War of the Worlds to The Day The Earth Stood Still (shown on TV at one point). Even the climax seems modelled on the assault on the Death Star at the end of Star Wars. There's also a dash of X-Files style paranoia added to the mix with the whole inclusion of Area 51. The aliens recovered in Roswell are the same aliens invading the Earth. The one amusing spark of originality in the entire movie.

The film uses the days leading up to the 4th of July as a device to frame the invasion in. Starting with they're arrival. The attacks. And a last ditch counterstrike. The gigantic spaceships and they're massive attacks turned out to be the selling-point of the entire film. (Add to that a rigorous marketing campaign). And while there is a certain amount of fun to be had watching national monuments and The White House get blown to pieces, there does seem something a little flat about the special effects sequences.

When we got our first glimpse of an alien spaceship in Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the result was awe-inspiring. Like something transcendent and immense had touched down on Earth. But the ships in Independence Day are curiously unremarkable. They only impress by the sheer vastness of they're scale. They may have Grand Canyon-sized interiors, but they lack any of the elegance and mysterious beauty Spielberg conjured up in Close Encounters. They never really connect with their audience.

And then there are the aliens themselves. I wish Roland Emmerich had come up with something a little more original than octopus people. Its disappointing when you take into account the alien creatures 20th Century Fox have produced in the past. The Alien and the Predator were genuinely otherworldly. They truly felt like creatures one had never imagined before, much less seen.

Another problem I have with ID4 is its patriotic flag-waving. Roland Emmerich, although German, shows a peculiar reverence for his adopted country in his films. This one displays it more than any other. We get majestic closeups of the Statue of Liberty, the Lincoln Memorial, the American flag. And despite the fact its a worldwide invasion, not once do we see how the rest of the world is affected. Just the American side. Bill Pullman's stirring speech has become the stuff of legend. It practically drowns in its own sentimentality. And he personally leads the troops into battle. George Bush Jr didn't follow his example when he waged war on Iraq.

The cast are quite a mixed bag of ethnic diversities. Will Smith rises above it all, and although not as funny as he would be in his next alien invader film Men in Black, his effortless charm is a winner all the way. Jeff Goldblum basically plays the same flaky scientist sort he's been typecast in ever since The Fly. And beyond Bill Pullman's all-American president, there isn't much more to learn about him.

There are some interesting faces found in the supporting cast. Brent Spiner (Data!) amuses as the (mad) scientist in charge of Area 51. All the more when you realise who's behind those thick glasses and grey hair. So does Randy Quaid as the whacked out crop-duster kidnapped by aliens some years back. Judd Hirsch is warm and engaging as Goldblum's father. They're scenes together are quite believable. Also look out for Adam Baldwin, six years before he played wild-card Jayne in the muchly missed Firefly. His lantern-jawed US Major is a rather witty reversal.

I'm not sure I believed the way the aliens are dispatched. Its just too convenient. And ID4 has an improbably happy ending. It does have the occasional nice idea, like Area 51 used as the base to strike back against the aliens, but I find Independence Day much too unpalatable. Too caught up in its own patriotism and spectacularity, the dramatics of the story end up swamped by it.

Source of the Bitter: RetroGuy09

Comments, rants and other stuffs below
JAS on Sun, 02/28/2010 - 11:13am

Even though the actual design of the aliens (the suit they wear, not the beast inside) was cool, The special effects when they actually show them were. subpar. The cast is so eclectic that it could have worked had Emmerich tried to make a serious movie and abandoned the whole "I'm the drunkard that swears he was abducted by aliens" bit. That was a major turn off for me when I saw the movie the first time. In fact, almost all the humor in it with the exception of Brent Spiner was so blatantly looking for a laugh that they actually irritated.

Emmerich is one of those directors that just needs to retire. He's not good and his whole "what monument will we ruin next" schtick was old even during the first time he tried it.

The most unforgivable thing about this movie is the thought that some jackass can manage to read alien, decipher their computer system and coding structures and code a virus for it in a matter of days. I found this utterly ridiculous.

While I enjoyed some of the effects, for when they were made, left the theatre extremely disappointed.

P.S. Thanks for the review!

jafeny (not verified) on Mon, 04/05/2010 - 3:17am

where do i get more information on this

odomba (not verified) on Thu, 04/01/2010 - 3:57am

great post

JAS on Sun, 02/28/2010 - 11:14am

I'd like to note that yes Spiner was out for laughs, but he actually was able to make it work.