Click for a big picture of a big ship!
A review by Professor Neon
June 28, 1996
Starring: Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Written by: Dean Devlin & Roland Emmerich
Produced by: Dean Devlin
20th Century Fox (1996)
MPAA rated: PG-13
Professor Neon's rating (0-10, 5=average, 10=best): 6
Total run time: 144 minutes
Opens Nationally: July 2, 1996
Remember most of those old 1950's sci-fi movies? Trite, recycled, and implausible plots, often poorly (or over) acted, and replete with cheap special effects? They were cheesy to be sure, but they were fun for teenage audiences, and for other segments of the movie-going public who appreciated the genre (myself included).
"Independence Day" is essentially a "feel good" 1996 version of such a film, with the addition of competently executed big-budget special effects. But all of the other elements mentioned above are most decidedly present. Whether or not this is your cup of tea is a personal decision, of course.
The film brings us a slick rehash of the classic "War of the Worlds" concept. The aliens arrive (in really big ships this time--the film's single truly unique visual hook), and they have some rather powerful weapons. They want us all to die, period. Our overwhelmed forces fight back in a most patriotic manner, with some rather motley characters at the forefront. Guess who prevails?
Fans of old (and even many later) sci-fi films and television will be quick to notice the many major and minor plot elements in "Independence Day" that are extremely familiar. Remember the grand battle sequence finale of the first "Star Wars" film? How about the manner in which Data dealt with the Borg ship about to attack Earth in a "Star Trek: The Next Generation" season closing episode? If you recall these sequences, you already know a great deal about "Independence Day" (the latter case is particularly ironic, given that Brent Spiner, who played Data in "Star Trek: TNG", also has a role in "Independence Day", as a "spaced-out" scientist at the "secret" Area 51 UFO center).
I'm disposed to give the producers the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they were actually paying homage to these other films and shows, rather than reusing their ideas in the belief that audiences wouldn't recognize or remember the original sources. At least I certainly hope this was the case.
It's also important to realize that, giant, ominous, hovering ships destroying major cities notwithstanding, "Independence Day" is generally not an emotionally intensive film. There was no significant emotional "hangover"; certainly not an "earth-shattering" film-going event (no pun intended). The acting and dialogue were played mostly so far "over the top" in terms of believability, that there simply wasn't any way to take them seriously. After the first few instances of realizing I knew the upcoming lines before they were spoken (having heard the equivalent so many times before over the years), I just settled back, realized that apparently it wasn't meant to be taken seriously, and enjoyed it a lot more as a result.
There were some genuinely funny bits. My personal favorite (as a Los Angeles native) was an L.A. TV news commentator, complete with appropriate international "NO" graphics, pleading with citizens to please resist from shooting their guns up at the giant alien ship hovering low above the city.
Fans of Jeff Goldblum will presumably be happy to see him cast again in what has become his "standard" role. You know the one--the introverted, offbeat, techno-wiz who has the answer, but nobody in authority wants to believe him. Somehow he still saves the day after staring at a page of 1's and 0's, with quickly created feats of technology and instant computer programming. Like I said, the acting is all strictly 1950's; in the context of the rest of the film this seems appropriate.
"Independence Day" seems to be targeted at a relatively young audience, who apparently are expected to be less concerned with plot than with explosions and other special effects. And it's probably OK to take the kids (at least older children) to see this film. Even though cities are being burnt to a crisp by the napalm belching ships, there is a distinct absence of any serious blood, gore, or even dirty language. When the startled soldiers on sentry duty are using terms like "Holy Moses", you know it's going to be OK for our youths' "virgin" ears.
Don't bother counting up the serious plot implausibilities if you see this film; you'll run out of fingers and toes in short order. Most of the time you'll be getting more corn from the screen than from that popcorn bucket on your lap. But all that having been said, if you're looking for an easy-viewing summer flick, extremely light on logic and acting but heavy on the effects, you may very well enjoy "Independence Day", especially if you were a fan of those original, old sci-fi flicks. Check your brain at the door and watch the aliens blow up some cities "real good"!
Professor Neon's rating for "Independence Day" (0-10, 5=average, 10=best): 6
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