Fox // 1996 // 153 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Neil Dorsett (Retired) // July 5th, 2004
Sesame Street has been brought to you today by the letters I and D, and the numeral 4.
In 1996, Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich were still heady from their successful foray into the realm of science fiction movies for people who have never seen a science fiction movie before, Stargate. Having established something of a modus operandi there, they decided to top their previous work and make a science fiction movie for people who had never seen a movie of any type. Placards advertising the movie with an illiterate, questionable abbreviation began to pop up in theaters, and before you could say Ender's Game, those two and the questionable stars of this vehicle had another few millions in their pocket from this movie, which could easily serve as one of the propaganda pieces of that novel. But at the edge of the bitterness, there's a little puppet reindeer flying around with a red glowing nose, waiting to claim one of its own. Now, Fox has double-dipped this dippy business once more by presenting the first disc of the two-disc special edition as a standalone package.
A bunch of big ol' alien spaceships piloted by aliens bent on naught but evil makes a violent appearance on earth in an effort to engage Jeff Goldblum in a computer game on his Macintosh laptop. Sort of like Godzilla. Only, from space. So, kind of like Spacegodzilla. Or not. Or, well anyway we whoop E.T.'s ass! Yee haw! Also, some sparklers are lit and enjoyed by all. Meanwhile, cinematic science fiction takes a big giant step backward.
Well, what can I say that sucks about Independence Day that you haven't heard a thousand times before? Should I mention the paper-thin characterizations, the awful Will Smith, the super-simplistic retrograde attempt at a plot to justify a bunch of truly uninspired special effects? The pathetic attempt to gather a multicultural Roddenberryism of a cast as some sort of representation of the Great American Melting Pot? The moralization of the film's killing off of gay or jadedly exotic-dancing characters by aliens who represent a Sphinxlike god who scourges the world until his riddle is solved? The chintziness of choosing "A. Fox" as a surname pseudonym? The fifteen hundredth iteration of the same Jeff Goldblum character? The braindead Fortean-craze invocation of Area 51? The incredible stupidity on the part of the humans, who think to challenge the alien god with their own god Bomb (see Beneath the Planet of the Apes for more about Bomb), after establishing that the payload can't get anywhere near the alien ship in the first place? The decision to let Will Smith get multiple post-kill punch jokes for a single kill? Furthering the overall misuse of Randy Quaid? Harvey Fierstein saying, "There's no shame in hiding?" The cheesy one-two-three reveal of Smith, likely dictated by his contract? The Rocky-and-Bullwinkle style delivery of all dialogue? The then-trendy inclusion of real life media personalities within the fiction? Ah, hell, you knew all that. And the truth is, anything I can say about the quality of this movie has been covered a million times in a million venues. It's worth examining the sphinx aspect of things, but that's probably something to explore in a multi-movie essay, so I'll just cut it short and say that this movie made my skin crawl. It was everything wrong that it's cracked up to be and more. There were a lot of explosions and there was a lot of noise, but good god, aren't there a few hundred less generic pictures for getting one's rocks off that way?
When I mentioned I was doing a review of this movie and preparing to savage it, someone I know said, "Hey, it's just a piece of entertainment, it's not Citizen Kane." How perfectly this sentence represents the crisis of expectation that Devlin and Emmerlich so gleefully exploit. Citizen Kane, for those who have had a massively slanted view of the movies forced upon them by the likes of those two, is a piece of entertainment! There's not some subclass out there that draws some kind of racial divide between movies that try and movies that don't care if they suck. It's not a double standard. It's Independence Day failing to meet the most rudimentary elements of what makes a movie actually work. And for those who would argue that this movie appeals because it is "eye candy," let me point out that there are many, many alternatives which also offer "eye candy." Hell, some really crazy people actually consider photography to be "eye candy." And if the general filmgoing public were as devoted to "eye candy" in its pure form as apologists tend to make out, then Microcosmos and Criterion's Brakhage collection would be best-sellers. They're not. Instead this, this dull collection of fighter jets and saucers, this collection of explosions utterly divorced from originality of design and anything but the most fleeting of visual interest, hits big. So don't tell me it's about "eye candy" when there's a whole eye candy store and people always just go straight for the pixy stix. This is about familiarity -- an American child's steadfast refusal to eat anything but hamburgers when traveling with his parents in Nepal. And like the pixy stix, it is also about boiling things down into a pure form that takes no design effort on the part of the producer, and takes no effort on the part of the consumer. And rots your teeth. So no, I don't really care for apologism for generic dunderheadedness on the level of "it's only entertainment." Yes, refined sugar may technically be considered a candy. No, it does not by any means represent even the candy norm, let alone a gourmet treat. For cryin' out loud, at least take some spice with your sugar. How far have things gone when a three-colored Astro-Pop can become thought of as a standard of complexity? Is there a way to make this into a metaphor about "truffles before swine" without bending over backward? Probably not, so forget it.
So, what can I say that's nice about Independence Day? Well, it had Margaret Colin in it, and she still looked like a million bucks. It employed Brent Spiner without having the name Star Trek on it. It had Bill Pullman and Robert Loggia onscreen together. For a few moments, it turned into The Day the Earth Stood Still, and that part was good. And it did have one good joke in it. I kept a tally.
Ah, but that little reindeer! He's been flying around this whole time. Why, it's Rudolph, from Rankin-Bass's classic series of Christmas specials. Let's see what he has to say. Hmm. Rudolph says we shouldn't judge Independence Day as a movie, exactly. He says it belongs with him, in the land of holiday specials, with the Misfit Toys and Charlie Brown's Arbor Day tree. He says it's not fair to take something that's meant to give you the warm holiday fuzzies and judge it as though it had the same intentions as an ordinary movie.
But, Rudolph, I say, the things you mention that belong in that land, those were things that were brought to us as gifts by corporations who could just as easily have been sponsoring ordinary shows, they were things that came in for free on one's television and invited one to share in the joy of the holiday -- or at least, they were loss leaders, like premiums in a cereal box. Is it not better, Rudolph, if we let Independence Day share a country not with purveyors of holiday joy like yourself, but with such exploiters as Jim Carrey, Tim Allen, and the producers of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians? After all, they want money for this, and they've already made plenty...Rudolph? Rudolph! Where ya goin'?
20th Century Fox Home Video has presented this disc before; the results are the same. The picture is strong and clear and the mix bold. This movie is all about making a big stink and noise in your face; this disc is up to the task. There is an additional nine minutes of movie; I couldn't bring myself to watch the shorter version after seeing the longer one, I'm afraid, so I don't know what's different between them. I can say that the movie barely makes even its own sense in the longer version, I can't imagine it having even the vaguest cohesion with nine minutes of "slow stuff" missing. There are a couple of commentaries, one from Emmerlich and Devlin, and the other focusing on special effects, with designers Volker Engel and Doug Smith, who won awards for this movie (and that I don't get, jets and saucers aren't what I think of when it comes to effects awards). I don't know how to feel about recommending this over the two-disc digipak edition or not; frankly, I don't recommend either. Those who are actually interested in this movie know who they are and are capable of making such decisions on their own. Considering that the extra disc in the digipak only makes a $7 price difference (base price), this double dip seems, like most releases of the lead disc of a two-pack as a standalone, pretty needless.
Worthless old ephemera + half a special edition = buy something else.
This movie is guilty of everything negative anyone's ever charged it with and is a destructive force in the history of cinema. Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! This movie is sentenced to be remembered in the same breath with The Swarm and Jaws: The Revenge. And that's too damn good for it.
Review content copyright © 2004 Neil Dorsett; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 153 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Audio Commentary from Roland Emmerlich and Dean Devlin
* Audio Commentary from Volker Engel and Doug Smith
* Original and Extended Versions of the Movie