Fox // 1996 // 145 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // April 4th, 2008
On July 2nd, they arrive. On July 3rd, they strike. On July 4th, we fight back.
Throughout cinematic history, real-world conflict has borne some of the greatest escapism projected upon a silver screen. From the nuclear scare of the 1950s to the jarring conspiracy theories of the 1990s, national and global crises, be they unprovoked or man-made, have served as an outlet for public uncertainties and anxieties. Akin to this is the branch of such entertainment that provides simplistic pride, rally, and reassurance. In the case of 1996's Independence Day, an intellectually lazy bit of diversionary entertainment, audiences befuddled by muddled national chatter regarding something called the "terror threat" and allegations that the presiding Administration was turning a deaf ear on a dangerous Middle East faction headed by Osama bin Laden were given a two-hour "pep talk" about how great the American military can be and how a militarily untested President might be propped up as heroic even though his exterior demeanor might argue against it.
There's little point in railing against the popcorn-munching spectacle, however, just as there's little chance of winning an argument that might suggest it as incisive filmmaking. The critics howled loudly in when the film made its theatrical bow, charging that it catered to the lowest common denominator filmgoer. Nevertheless, auditorium seats filled up to the tune of over $500 million worldwide.
Built upon the uncomplicated framework of the 1970's disaster pictures, Independence Day is wholly non-challenging. It's largely analogous to taking a nap, this one with your eyes wide open. While sights and sounds occur in front of you, none of it requires your active involvement or even marginal discernment, allowing you to peacefully rest as if mentally lulled into a passive state. Naps, however, are not necessarily bad and a film such as this can be beneficial in that it allows a healthy suspension of disbelief and enables you to view it upon its surface merits without need to dig for any redeeming subtexts. When consumed as prepared, however, Independence Day is very much like Fourth of July fireworks -- costly to produce, pleasing during execution, but largely non-redeeming after the smoke has appeared. Grab a hot dog and a beer to enjoy during the show, but don't expect much more than an assessment of, "well, that was sort of nice," when the celebration has ended.
Technically speaking, this Blu-ray disc fares only "well," certainly not "wonderfully" as we should expect. Because it's a fiery effects extravaganza, we would anticipate jaw-dropping enhancement to the image quality such that would reveal seemingly limitless details never before beheld. Nope -- that doesn't happen here. What we do get here is a fine looking presentation of the film, probably the best you've seen yet, but it fails to deliver the high-definition "wow" factor. The 1080p / AVC encoded transfer offers a nice re-mastering of the film and preserves a very film-like look, but even though the source elements appear practically flawless and the on-screen result is lovely to look at, ultimately it is a letdown to those who have invested in high-definition technology. The audio, however, offers a boost to the overall presentation, thanks to a vigorous DTS-HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio track that will rumble your seat while spewing crackling audio effects from all around. The bass response is most prevalent, actively punctuating the explosive events. Surround channels also get an active workout as alien fire an American counter-measures zing from all directions. Dialog is well represented throughout and, overall, this is a nice bit of ear candy even if it doesn't have much lasting impact after the show is over.
Unfortunately, much like that seemingly gigantic Block Party assortment of Red Devil fireworks, this shrink-wrapped package of explosive entertainment is deceptively hollow, too. The "Five-Star Edition" of 2000 featured two versions of the film (one nine additional minutes) plus a second disc brimming with making-of featurettes, an alternate ending, and more. Oddly, even though the Blu-ray format has been touted to have massive storage capacity, Fox barely fills the trunk by offering only the theatrical cut plus a scant few of the previously released bonus goodies. You'll get a repeat of the two commentary tracks, one with director Roland Emmerich and producer/writer Dean Devlin, the other with effects supervisors Volker Engel and Doug Smith. Some of the theatrical trailers are also ported over here but the rest of the five-star content has been inexplicably jettisoned. Instead, you get some rather low-value BR-exclusive material including a pop-up trivia track, a scene search and bookmark functionality, an odd interactive Alien Scavenger Hunt game that allows you to select items during the film's playback, and encoding for D-Box enhanced settings.
As far as blockbusters go, Independence Day is a penultimate example of the mindless bombast of the 1990s. It's fun, it's fast, and it's feverish in its use of high-cost effects wizardry. At its core, though, it's on par with the mentality that drove most rubber-suit monster aggressions some forty years prior. Enjoy it for what it is, but don't expect much more than a couple of hours of mental down time. And, as for the Blu-ray, you'd be wise to rent this one since it never lives up to the "reference material" distinguishing for which many HD enthusiasts had hopped.
Guilty, as charged.
Review content copyright © 2008 Dennis Prince; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 145 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Audio commentaries
* Trivia track
* Keyword scene search
* Personal bookmarks
* Alien Scavenger Hunt game
* Theatrical trailers
* D-Box enhancement