So here it is once again Saturday night, my wife has left me to fend for myself to quilt of all things. I must be getting boring in my old age! Anyway thank god for Dish Network, HBO and the Saturday night movie. First, there was Must Love Dogs (2005), a purely formulaic (predictable) romantic comedy that I usually do not waste my time on, but for love of craft (Epinions review) I decided to watch; I was not overly impressed. Following that movie (my wife is now playing scrabble on her computer) came a now classic movie, the doomsday thriller Independence Day (1996).
I remember the buzz surrounding this movie when it was in theatrical release, and I had to go see it; it is one of those movies that have to be experienced on the large screen. So I saw it then, and I have seen it several times since then, including tonight.
Written, produced, and directed by Roland Emmerich (The Day After Tomorrow, Stargate, Eight Legged Freaks) Independence Day starts on the moon, or above the moon I should say as a larger than life black space craft (one-third the size of the moon as a matter of fact) slowly passes over the surface heading towards Earth. As the craft exposes itself the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project picks up its radio chatter and of course is flabbergasted to find out the source is hovering above the Earths moon. Shortly thereafter television and radio broadcast go haywire, fuzzy, and out of sync.
As the huge craft draws closer to Earth the Secretary of Defense is notified, he in turn notified President Thomas J. Whitmore portrayed by Bill Pullman (A League of Their Own, Wyatt Earp, 29 Palms), who happens to be an ex-fighter pilot. The president wanting to give peace a chance, dithers while the aliens draw closer still to Earth hijack our communications satellites and disperse a multitude of baby craft, each 15 miles across, which take up station over major population centers, including New York, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Paris, Tokyo, London, Beijing, and Berlin to mention a few.
Meanwhile In New York City, a physicist and MIT graduate David Levinson portrayed by Jeff Goldblum (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Earth Girls are Easy, The Fly), who currently works for the local cable company figures out that the aliens plan to attack. He surmisesby analyzing the transmissions between their cable television satellitesthat the aliens are using the satellites cable feeds to communicate with one another around the globe and coordinate an attack on Earth. He calls his ex-wife Constance Spano portrayed by Margaret Colin (The Butchers Wife, Chicago Hope, Unfaithful), who works for the President. She of course hangs up on him, forcing him to drive to Washington D.C. with his father Julius portrayed by Judd Hirsch (Taxi, A Beautiful Mind), before the aliens attack in hope of winning an audience with the President who he once engaged in a fist fight with.
The president, who at first was committed to saying in the White House, in order to show strength, believes Levinson and there is a scramble to leave the capital nine minutes before the aliens are slated to attack. So with his loyal former commander General William Grey portrayed by Robert Loggia (Prizzis Honor, Thats Life!, Gladiator) flees the capital in Air Force One flying out of DC just as the city disappears in flames. First they chart a course to NORAD where the Vice President and Joint Chiefs of Staff are hanging out, but the aliens destroy that undisclosed mountain retreat, so they detour to the ever elusive and mysterious Area 51 in Nevada. Once there they find that the government has known for quite some time that we are not alone. There is indeed a secret program heretofore unknown to the President, led by a wild eyed, eccentric Dr. Brackish Okun portrayed by Brett Spiner (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Threshold, The Aviator), who has been studying the aliens for forty years.
Meanwhile, on the west coast, Captain Steve Hiller (USMC) portrayed by Will Smith (Six Degrees of Separation, Bad Boys, Men in Black) and his girlfriend Jasmine portrayed by Vivica A. Fox (Soul Food, Batman & Robin, Kill Bill Volume I) awaken to find one of the large, black alien ship hovering over Los Angels. While everyone flees Hiller, an F-18 fighter pilot, heads back to his base El Toro to help defend the nation. Jasmine heads to work as an exotic dancer.
Once back on the base, Hillers squadron is given the task of attacking the alien ship over Los Angles. He flies in with his wing man Captain Jimmy Wilder portrayed by Harry Connick Jr. (Memphis Bell, Copycat, Basic) in what turns out to be a useless dogfight since the alien shipmothership and fightershave shields. Most of the squadron is shot down; including Hiller and Wilder, but Hiller survives and recovers an alien.
In one final plot-line a drunken ex-Vietnam War pilot portrayed by Randy Quaid (The Last Picture Show, Of Mice and Men, Brokeback Mountain), who claims to have been abducted by aliens, leads a group of RV driving survivors across the California and Nevada desert to Area 51 where Quaid is instrumental in the final assault on the aliens.
In crafting Independence Day Roland Emmerich barrowed a lot from what was. By that I mean there are very familiar themes throughout the film; e.g. the young idealistic, if not somewhat naïve President who served in a recent war; the cliché ex-military drunk; the cocky current fighter jock; and an ending lifted straight from the notebook of Orson Wells. But this in no way took away from my enjoyment of the film. Emmerich did a great job of building suspense into the beginning of the movie and making the aliens terrifying.
The action once it started was almost non-stop, though I was hoping the that destruction of more cities could have been depicted; as it was the annihilation of New York, Washington D.C. and Los Angels was realistic if not a bit unnerving. Most of the special effects were top-notch with the exception of the live alien; parts of him seem, rather 1960s.
Will Smith, as he is wont to do, stole the move with his high energy, street wise and cocky bravado. It helps of course that the man is buff. In sharp contrast Bill Pullman plays his character in a drastically understated manner; so much so, that he almost disappears altogether. Vivica A. Fox makes her big budget debut in this in this film; at least this is the first time I saw her, and makes a big splash as the alluring ghetto-wise African American single mother (cliché) who becomes the heroine of the tale.
Final Read: Independence Day is a fun if not terrifying movie to watch. Like its predecessor War of The Worlds from with it barrowed, Independence Day is a wild ride and although there was little character development there didnt have to be; the action was a character all its own and that was very well developed indeed.
Principle Actors: Bill Pullman, Mary McDonnell, Jeff Goldblum, Judd Hirsch, Will Smith, Vivica A. Fox, Randy Quaid, Robert Loggia, Margaret Colin.
Director: Roland Emmerich
Format: Anamorphic, Color, Dolby, Dubbed, Limited Edition, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only.
Number of Discs: (1)
Rating: Rated PG-13 for sci-fi destruction and violence.
Studio: 20th Century Fox
DVD Release Date: May 11 2004
Run Time: 153 Minutes
o Available Subtitles: English, Spanish;
o Available Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround), French (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround);
o Commentary by: Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin (scene specific)Unknown
o Format, special effects supervisors Volker Engel and Doug Smith Unknown Format;
o Multi-story option: Viewer can select original theatrical release or special edition release with 9 minutes of added footage
Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older
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