HDF's Resident Reviewer
Join Date: Jun 2008
INDEPENDENCE DAY REVIEW CONTINUED...
Okay -- let me sit down, get buckled in and prepare for my onslaught here, because I know it's coming. I have said this since my very first experience with Independence Day on Blu-ray, and although I seemed to be in a massive minority, I still need to stick with my initial evaluation -- this 1080p 50GB 27 MBPS encode just doesn't look that good to me. Every time I watch ID4 on my Blu-ray Disc, I try and find something that will change my mind, but I don't. It's one of the reasons I have completely stopped blind-buying older titles to replace my DVD versions with because I feel I got burned on this one; from the very opening shot of the mother ship flying over the moon towards Earth, there's an horrendous amount of grain in the image. It litters the sequence that closes up on the astronauts' plaque on the moon. But that's not the worst example -- as the panic sets in during the opening Pentagon sequences, the noisy grain can be seen again, distracting to the point that I would go as far to say my Limited Edition DVD looked cleaner in these shots.
There are definitely positive traits of this transfer -- the outdoor sunlit shot of Goldblum and Hirsch playing chess in a New York park looked gorgeous, clean and sharp as a tack in 1080p. You could make out the threads in Hirsch's sweater; but to be fair, this scene looked absolutely awesome on standard DVD also as I recall, and the Blu-ray may have nudged this effect perhaps slightly higher. Another example of this parallel is when Smith is leaving in his red Mustang for his base in El Toro; Fox's kid is inside the car, and as Smith gives him fireworks to play with (real smart move for a kid his age) you get a sense of the absolute tactile punch of the clarity here -- where the red of his car was always stunning on DVD, it's extra-stunning here with lush and rich greens in the foliage behind Smith and Fox in the scene. But a thick layer of film grain appears to be a reappearing problem in the transfer -- I have had this debate with many who have snapped back (when I originally reviewed the title) that "it's supposed to look like that" or "the grain is logical and appropriate" but in many of the sequences, this grain is just plain excessive. Other reviewers have agreed with me, and I can quote those references if need be, but one particular scene that stood out in this way was a sequence involving Adam Baldwin's character in the Area 51 bunker. As the aliens are preparing to attack the bunker, towards the end, a ridiculously heavy, staticky swarm of noisy grain litters the screen and really takes you out of the experience -- film grain to preserve an original presentation and artistic expression is one thing; this was completely unenjoyable.
In my opinion, Independence Day didn't have to be one of those titles you double dip on to replace a DVD copy; I suppose if you don't own the title, go ahead and get the Blu-ray, but no matter how many times I watch it, I can't get past some of the softness and noisy appearance of this transfer. Some professionals have said this is because Fox used an inferior digital compression scheme for films around this era, including Fight Club and some others; whatever the culprit, I feel I could have held on to my Limited Edition DVD and been satisfied.
Here's another avenue for debate; all the previous Region 1 DVD releases of ID4 came with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, albeit THX certified. It was difficult to judge that track -- sometimes it appeared as though it was thundering, at other times, it seemed lacking, as if Fox could have done so much more with it. This is a film that demands tactile audio, but as the years passed, I came to appreciate the aggressiveness of the standard Dolby Digital track on the DVD. At the time of the title's initial DVD release, Fox wasn't really behind DTS as they are now, so DTS fans were left with this "mere" Dolby track; the Blu-ray, on the other hand, has been swept up in Fox's high definition frenzy of equipping almost every release with DTS' new codec, Master Audio. Unfortunately, my system does not have the capabilities to process Master Audio, so these tracks drop back to a core DTS signal. Still, all the Master Audio-equipped titles I have ran through my system at core DTS have sounded Earth-shattering nonetheless and so I cannot wait to experience them in true Master Audio once I can make the player update. The only title, to date, that I was a bit disappointed with wearing a Master Audio track has been Quantum of Solace.
Running its core DTS stream stripped from the Master Audio track, Independence Day's dynamics were all there -- where the LFE boom which accompanied the opening logos and initial scenes were rumbling in Dolby Digital on DVD, here they're punched up even more. The sonic shock from the bass hits during the opening scenes is dramatic, drowning out the cues around them. As the mother ship enters Earth's atmosphere, the LFE rumble is alive and menacing; the real prowess of this track, though, comes during the alien battle sequences in which they're flying around trying to take out the U.S. fighter planes. There's so much directionality and scope to the soundstage, it really makes for a fun ride -- every time Will Smith's plane ducks below a rock or an alien ray beam shoots from its ship, the effects engulf you in the proper channels, creating a seamless soundfield. This is what a good, properly executed action soundtrack should be experienced as. Dialogue, as it was on the DVD, is a bit low compared to the other action, and can get overwhelmed when explosions are taking place amidst the conversations and such, and there is still a tad bit of that "old" sound to the mix -- as if you can tell this was from a film of mid-1990s Hollywood. This may be due to some re-purposing of the soundtrack from old stems for the new Master Audio mix, but it's not really distracting.
But constant surround activity and wall-rattling bass are what really make this track stand out; you can almost ignore the illogic and implausibility of the plot once immersed in the soundtrack of ID4. Watch your master volume control when the ships attack simultaneously around the world -- as the Empire State Building and the Capitol explode into fireballs and debris gets thrown at you from all sides, your speakers will respond with fury...a fury unfortunately not enjoyed by neighbors if you have any, as I do.
The length of the initial attacks on the major cities really give this track room to shine -- the breaking of glass, concrete and steel explode around the soundstage as fire engines, cars, pieces of buildings and people are hurled into the surround channels in a startling fashion, and this sonic assault goes on for awhile. By the time the sequence ends with a tunnel in L.A. crumbling from an alien attack while cars and trucks are flung every which way as Fox and her son and dog escape into a service closet, your breath is taken away as the following sequence depicts a crushed Statue of Liberty floating outside of Manhattan, allowing for an aural recovery of sorts.
And oh yes, I almost forgot -- there is an extreme example of how to do kinectic surround material the right way during the scene when Adam Baldwin's character fires his gun at the Coke can inside Area 51...the resounding pinging of the bullet and then the can as it fires around the soundstage and into the appropriate rear channel is jaw-dropping, as is the wallop of LFE that accompanies the bullet hitting the spacecraft's shields. Amazing audio work.
How can I really summarize this; I mean, you're either an ID4 fan or you're not. Some call it incredibly cheesy -- and it is in some parts -- and critics won't even mention it on their lips, almost throwing Roland Emmerich into a virtual pot of boiling hot water for making this. It's still a "cheesy action classic," right up there with cheese gems like Commando, Fast & The Furious and Emmerich's own Day After Tomorrow. I will continue watching it every year on the 4th.
I know I am going to be strung up from the rafters and burned like an innocent Alabama child at a KKK rally for re-standing my ground on this, but I don't think the Blu-ray release of Independence Day was that stellar -- and it's a shame for the very reason I personally double dipped on the title, which is because I assumed an action epic like this would probably benefit tremendously from the higher bitrate. It's not terrible along the lines of, say, 88 Minutes, but it's definitely not spectacular looking for most of the run. I know fans of film grain and preservation in film will argue this until two people are dead and buried in the ground, but the amount of grain in many of the sequences on this disc borders on excessive; it appears as static in one scene in particular it becomes so aggressive.
It it better than the DVD version(s)? Sure -- the scenes that looked excellent on DVD now look super excellent; but I am not sure if that warrants a replacement. In many outlets, this title is expensive, and I cannot recommend a double dip if you already own it on DVD. If you don't own it already, by all means make the Blu-ray your first foray into Roland Emmerich's "cheesy masterpiece."
Just remember that you're not watching Star Wars when Will Smith's plane dukes it out with the invaders and their little ships...
As always, thank you for taking the time to read this little flashback title review, and please fire away with any commentary!
Last edited by Peter Marlowe; 07-05-2009 at 07:59 PM..