Independence Day (1996)
THIS is really the movie that should have been marketed using the “size does matter” tagline that was instead wasted on the lacklustre, though enjoyable enough for me, Godzilla movie. Director Roland Emmerich gives viewers a smart blend of War Of The Worlds, Top Gun-lite moments and your standard disaster movie melodrama and then frames it all with some of the finest scenes of grand-scale destruction shown onscreen (only topped, arguably, by the man himself with the likes of The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, does this man dislike the planet or something?).
The cast gives us a great mix. Alongside Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Randy Quaid, Judd Hirsch, Vivica A. Fox, Robert Loggia, Adam Baldwin, Brent Spiner and Mary McDonnell we get a whole host of familiar faces filling out the crowd scenes and vying for our sympathies as the aliens attack Earth.
Oh, did I forget to mention the plot of the movie? That’s it. Giant spacecraft enter our atmosphere and “park up” over numerous large cities before beginning a devastating attack on the planet that the President of the USA (Pullman), a techno boffin (Goldblum) and a brave fighter pilot (Smith) end up working together to try and save the entire human race. No small feat, but nothing in this movie is small.
The effects perhaps don’t impress as much today as they did back when the movie was initially released but there’s still a lot of fun to be had watching some of the world’s best known landmarks being blown to smithereens and everything has enough care given to it to help maintain the cinematic façade while you’re busy being easily entertained by the whoosh-bang-wallop of the dramatic/action beats.
The build up is superb (a lead-in from the memorable, ingenious marketing campaign including some fantastic teaser trailers), the pacing just perfect for this kind of movie and the characters are all sketched out nicely enough in between the escalating danger. In fact, one of the major plus points of the movie is its humour. The banter between Goldblum and Hirsch, then later Goldblum and Smith, is genuinely amusing and helps you stay in a good, receptive mood even when the movie threatens to get bogged down by its cheesier moments.
Speaking of fromage, I have to warn everyone right now that there are few moments in modern cinema cheesier than the rousing “Independence Day” speech delivered just before the grand finale of this film. But, somehow, it’s okay. The movie can absorb that moment and turn it into something slightly sickening yet thoroughly enjoyable at the same time. It shouldn’t manage it . . . . . but somehow does.
It helps that there are a lot of nice little gags and references dotted throughout (sci-fi fans will, of course, enjoy seeing Brent Spiner appear while War Of The Worlds fans will love the updated version of that tale’s revelation) and that the script (written by director Emmerich and Dean Devlin) mixes in self-awareness with a carefree willingness to milk every moment for all it’s worth. The fact that Emmerich seems to have been aiming towards filming this kind of mass destruction for years also helps, he’s capable enough in the director’s chair to juggle everything expertly and to maintain the delicate balance between the bombastic and the more personal moments (although many may disagree with me there).
Independence Day is not a movie that will win over Godard fans. It’s not a movie for those who despise everything that the modern special effects extravaganzas have become. But it IS an absolutely fantastic piece of entertainment that embodies everything that’s great about blockbuster entertainment, when done well.
The 2-disc, special edition, Region 2 DVD includes both the theatrical & special edition of the film, scene specific audio commentary by Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin for both editions, Special Effects Supervisor audio commentary for the special edition feature, original theatrical ending, those great trailers, TV spots, documentaries, storyboards, some enjoyable “puff-pieces” and a number of dastardly easter eggs. Well worth investing in if you like the film.
DIRECTOR: ROLAND EMMERICH
CAST: WILL SMITH, JEFF GOLDBLUM, BILL PULLMAN, VIVICA A. FOX, BRENT SPINER
RUNTIME: 145 MINS APPROX