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Join Date: Jun 2008
Marlowe Celebrates the 4th with a Blast From the Past: INDEPENDENCE DAY (Fox)
Professional Review by Peter Marlowe, 07/05/09; Region 1 (U.S.) Release Tested
Studio Name: 20th Century Fox
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Disc/Transfer Information: Widescreen 2.35:1; 50GB Dual Layer
Video Codec: AVC @27 MBPS
Tested Audio Track: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Director: Roland Emmerich
Starring Cast: Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum
EARTH. NICE WHILE IT LASTED.
MARLOWE'S PLOT ANALYSIS:
Ahhh. The annual analysis and retrospective recalling of 1996's Independence Day. What would a Fourth of July be without Roland Emmerich's wildly polarizing tale of Earth being invaded by tentacle-like aliens and our efforts to fight back with Star Wars-like resilience and none other than Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) to save us from total domination? That's a tough question, because hardly a 4th passes that I do not throw this seminal "corny classic" of sorts into a source deck of some kind -- well, now it's a Blu-ray player, but taking into consideration the fact that I have purchased this title on every format it was launched on so far, it can almost be said that I am a "fan" of ID4. Please...don't throw hot water on me!
Yes, I actually have bought this title first on VHS with the special holographic cover that came off due to weak glue material, then it was the so-called "Limited Edition" DVD (which was only "Limited" because it came with a money offer inside towards Emmerich's The Day After Tomorrow which was in theaters when the Limited Edition ID4 came out) and have since sold that for the Blu-ray version. But let me make something clear before we delve further: I made a sort of self-promise to my inner child when the new high definition formats arrived (which included HD DVD) that I wouldn't rebuy everything in my massive DVD collection just to own it in 1080p, and that I also wouldn't "blind buy" an old title I owned in HD incase the results were less than stellar in the video department; since making that promise, I have done it four or so times already. Christmas Vacation, Con Air, Independence Day, Batman Begins and Superman Returns were all re-bought on Blu, forcing me to sell my DVD copies, but perhaps Superman and Batman don't count since I received those as gifts. How did my broken promises to myself turn out? The only title I wasn't "burned" on (that is to say, I was not disappointed with the BD video transfer compared to the DVD) was Con Air, which ended up looking gorgeous in 1080p -- at least compared to the original non-anamorphic standard DVD. But I'll get to why ID4 burned my ass in terms of a blind-buy switch to Blu later in this review.
What hasn't been already said about Emmerich's Independence Day? It's widely criticized and usually lies amidst a thick, syrupy layer of negative commentary since its theatrical launch some 13 years ago. Indeed, its moments of cheesiness get staggering at times, and the dialogue in certain parts can make you almost wish the aliens had taken us over and erased humankind out of embarrassment. Yet at its heart, it is still a blueprint of sorts for brainless, fun, summer entertainment -- the stuff home theater excitement is made of. Since its launch, many summer action blockbusters continue to target ID4 as their basis and goal in terms of scope and magnitude, and say what you will about it -- it still plays back viciously in a home theater, whether it be in THX-certified Dolby Digital or DTS-HD Master Audio. But we'll get to that.
As I mentioned, Emmerich's ID4 has become a staple in my yearly 4th of July viewing schedule, and no matter how dripping-with-cheese the lines are exhibited, it's just such a cool flick for this time of year. I have to admit, I am an Emmerich "closet fan" of sorts; I actually liked The Day After Tomorrow and even The Patriot, both of which I own on DVD, The Patriot being in Superbit edition. To go into the things that went wrong when he tried to craft a serious period piece in The Patriot is simply too difficult in that this is a review of Independence Day, but suffice to say, Roland's history is a little hazy there. You know what really brought Independence Day down more than its ineffective special effects or embarrassing performances by Randy Quaid and most of the cast? It was the switch to Star Wars-like sequences when the American pilots were duking it out in the air with the mini alien space craft; I mean, Lucas did it already -- did Emmerich need to try and copy this?
Okay, so the plot was thinly plausible up to a certain point, and frighteningly so: On a Fourth of July weekend throughout the world, gigantic city-sized ships show up over some of Earth's largest cities, launched from a massive mother ship of sorts that orbits our planet from space. I am not convinced that this could not happen, and I'm actually frightened that one day -- perhaps not in my lifetime -- we will actually be visited or even invaded by hostile life forms because humans are arrogant enough to believe we are actually alone in this galaxy. And so Emmerich's suggestion here is not completely implausible...but then we're introduced to the film's characters who introduce implausible elements into the mix: We have Jeff Goldblum (probably the best actor in this lineup in terms of his performance in the film) as a satellite descrambler of some sort in New York City who stumbles onto the alien race's secret messages they're imbedding in Earth's satellites inbetween visiting his Jewish father (Judd Hirsch). We have Bill Pullman who plays the U.S. president, and it was hard to take that seriously after watching him in Spaceballs and While You Were Sleeping. Robert Loggia ("Frank Lopez" from Scarface) turns in a performance as the president's right-hand general, and then of course we have Will Smith who steals all the scenery in this and saves it with his witty humor as the American pilot called into duty to counter-attack the aliens (along with his squad of Black Knights, of course). Randy Quaid makes an ass of himself once again as Russell Case, a drunken pilot living in a camper with his dirty, white trash kids who dumps pesticides on crops from a plane for a living. Quaid's character had a run-in with these aliens in the past, in which he was abducted. Explains so much.
Emmerich starts things off with a bang, showing the massive saucers arriving over New York, L.A. and Washington and immersing the cities in clouded terror; at the White House, Bill Pullman's president character is given information from scrambling, panicking Pentagon staff and Loggia's general character that the massive object in space has broken off into smaller pieces, thus the city-sized ships that are dispatched to hover over Earth's major cities. It is assumed the aliens were here before, based on Quaid's abduction backstory and the fact that Area 51 in Nevada has ownership of one of the "baby ships" from this fleet, and so they must know which of our cities are the most populated. The SETI foundation in New Mexico first gets signals from the approaching mother ship, which makes its way over our moon and into Earth's atmosphere, and in New York, Goldblum discovers the reason the planet has satellite disruption is because the aliens are using our satellites to embed a secret code amongst the attacker ships over the cities.
While panic begins setting in and the major U.S. cites are fraught with rampaging evacuations, Goldblum's character and Hirsch drive to Washington, where Goldblum is desperate to locate the president's press secretary, who happens to be his ex wife (Mary McDonnell). In a completely implausible sequence, Goldblum gets into the White House -- where the president and his cabinet are preparing to watch a "welcome wagon" helicopter dispatched to offer friendship greetings to the alien ship over Washington -- and asks McDonnell to confront the president because he knows they're going to attack in a matter of minutes. Based on Goldblum's assessment, the president orders an evacuation of the White House but that's after the welcome wagon chopper is blown to bits by an attack from the alien craft's green laser rays. It's clear these guys aren't E.T.
Of course, Air Force One just barely escapes the aggressive attack on the White House and Washington itself by the ship, taking off just in time before being thrown into a fireball, and it seems the attack signal which Goldblum's character predicted worked perfectly as all the ships around the world begin blowing up the cities they're covering. Back in L.A., Smith's stripper girlfriend (Ms. Vivica A. Fox) who's ass didn't look that good in her silk panties as she danced onstage at her club, has taken her kid and they're dog, Boomer, and escaped the city as Smith gets called into action for a counter assault on the ships. Actually, Fox's fat ass looked like bags of ricotta cheese as she danced around the stage -- not a stripper whose crotch I'd dump 20 bucks into. But I digress -- as Smith and company prepare to attack the ship over L.A. they discover that these massive alien crafts have a shield around their hulls, much like in Star Trek and so their rockets and missiles can't penetrate them. I appreciate Emmerich's desire to tell a "revenge" story here, that is, having the U.S. forces strike back at the aliens for what they did to our cities, but with borrowing themes from Star Trek and then Star Wars after mini alien ships fly out of the bigger ones and engage the U.S. troops with green laser beams, the whole thing started to get silly. Now, Smith and his Black Knight squadron are dodging and fighting mini alien ships that also boast shields and shooting green rays of light, and it really does begin to feel like any battle sequence in any of the Star Wars sagas. That's precisely where I believe Emmerich went wrong. But it sure does make a fun home theater ride.
Once most of Smith's Black Knight squadron is wiped out, Smith himself gets into a nasty chase with a single alien mini ship that he ends up out-maneuvering and causing to crash in the California desert. In a rather humorous sequence of the film, Smith opens the hatch to the smashed alien craft (after he safely ejects from his doomed plane and lands via parachute) and gets the first glimpse of the alien invaders with their huge heads and massive tentacles. With a knockout punch to the face, Will exclaims "welcome to Earth!" and then "now that's what I call a close encounter..." as he drags the unconscious alien through the desert under his parachute. At this point, while Pullman's president character contemplates launching nuclear weapons at the alien ships in Air Force One above, Smith runs into Quaid and a whole gaggle of escaping motor homes moving through the desert. Their next stop? The top-secret military installation known as "Area 51" outside Las Vegas, Nevada.
Emmerich would have us believe that the U.S. president doesn't know that Area 51 even exists...but can this really be true? I'm voting no; Pullman's character, amazed that this underground bunker and science lab is real, is introduced to the strange Dr. Orkin, played by Star Trek: The Next Generation's "Data" (Brent Spiner) who has been heading up the investigation into these aliens for 15 years. In fact, the scientists of Area 51 have a few in containment from previous crashes on Earth. Learning of their vulnerabilities and physical structures, Pullman is advised that they communicate through some kind of telepathy. The huge cobra-like heads of the aliens are actually a front of sorts, peeling back to reveal their metallic-looking tiny faces and bodies, but when Spiner and his crew of doctors are attacked after attempting to perform experiments on the creature Smith captured in his aerial assault, the alien kills Spiner and uses his body to communicate to the president and his staff. When Pullman makes a peace offering to the alien, he learns of their true intentions on Earth: Destroy all mankind and devour our resources, to then move on to the next planet and do the same; it seems water and air to live are the same specifications these aliens require.
Pullman's decision to then nuke the ships fails, as the ships withstand even the blasts of a nuclear arsenal. It's only until on July 4 when Goldblum, in a drunken fit, figures out a way to give the mother alien ship a computer virus that will cause the shields to fail on all the other ships -- the only problem is that the only way to get this virus into the mother ship is to fly the captured aircraft from the '60s (that's in Area 51) out of Earth's atmosphere and into the mother ship itself, where the virus can be loaded and a bomb can be set to destroy the mother ship. How are they going to do this? Well, remember when I said much of ID4 gets extremely implausible? Emmerich really reaches here in that Smith's pilot character assumes he can maneuver this old ship enough to fly it in outer space, no less, while Goldblum seems to know enough about the ships that he can get the virus into the aliens' "computer" system in the mother ship. The whole notion is ridiculous, but I will say this -- on the "Limited Edition" version of the DVD, there is an extended cut of the film that really adds nothing, but there's a sequence that's hinted at in which Goldblum learns a bunch of things about the crashed ship from Brent's character, so I guess it can be assumed that Goldblum gains some information about the alien craft. But the Blu-ray version of the film does not come with this branching option for the extended cut. We only get the original theatrical version here.
So, after proving with a Coke can test that Goldblum can successfully get the ships' shields to drop with this virus, he and Smith get into the old captured mini alien craft and fly it out to the mother ship, where they are brought in on some kind of tractor beam. Meanwhile, on Earth, it seems the aliens are preparing for their next wave of final attack, and it's up to Smith and Goldblum to install that virus and get back to Earth before there is no more Earth; because most of the U.S. military has been wiped out, volunteers with flying experience are needed to make this last ditch effort to defend the country against the aliens. This includes Randy Quaid, who only dusted crops in a prop plane prior to this (with some Vietnam experience too). In an absolutely ridiculous stretch by Emmerich, the president himself gets into a fighter plane and prepares to lead the amateur squadron against the aliens in the final battle! Can all of you imagine Obama doing this? Can you, really?
Back on the mother ship, Goldblum and Smith have uploaded the virus successfully, but they're facing another obstacle now in that the alien leader seems to have caught onto what they're doing as their ship is locked in place and they can't escape. Fearing they're doomed anyway, they launch the explosive device they equipped the ship with before leaving Earth and that seems to break them loose. Again, Emmerich would have us believe that Smith is such a seasoned pilot, he can once more outrun the attacking dozens of mini alien ships that follow them towards the outer door of the mother craft. Of course, they escape (this all being done in an alien space ship no one on Earth knew how to fly) but back over Area 51, while the ships' shields have been dropped thanks to Goldblum's virus, the weapons from the U.S. planes just can't do enough damage to the alien ship. That is, until in a ridiculously embarrassing end sequence, Quaid's character decides to fly his plane directly into the path of the main weapon beam the aliens are preparing to fire down on Nevada -- and that seems to be the answer of how to destroy the ships. What? Is Emmerich kidding me? Cousin Eddie from the Vacation films saves mankind, and wants us to believe that this redneck idiot screaming "Hello, boys! I'm BAAAAAAAAAAACK!" as he sacrifices himself by flying into the main weapon is what destroys these ships? Apparently so, as this sets off a chain reaction explosion, ripping open the hull of the ship and eventually getting it to crash into the desert -- Loggia orders the method in which to destroy these ships be sent to squadrons all around the world via Morse code (being that there is still no satellite function due to the alien attack). I still can't sleep well at night knowing Cousin Eddie saved the Earth from alien domination.
If you can look beyond the idiotic implausibility outlined above, there are still things Emmerich didn't tie up in this...are we to believe that if these alien beings, which were so strong, angry and aggressive, came to Earth before, now they were defeated in an attack, that they wouldn't return to find out what happened to their brethren? And what about the fact that almost every previously inhabitable location on Earth has been reduced to smoldering rubble? Where are these survivors going now?
What do I know...I asked the exact same thing after the Northern Hemisphere was frozen solid in Emmerich's Day After Tomorrow when it ended...
INDEPENDENCE DAY REVIEW CONTINUED BELOW...
Last edited by Peter Marlowe; 07-05-2009 at 05:04 PM..