Saturday, July 5, 2014

Independence Day - Will Smith Battles Aliens

4 out of 5 Stars

Eighteen years ago in 1996, Independence Day was the big blockbuster of the summer.  I did see the movie two or three times in the theater and I got the movie on VHS before eventually picking up the DVD.  I have no idea how many times I’ve seen this movie.  I ended up leaving the movie on when I found it on one of the Encore channels on the 4th of July. 

On July 2, satellites start having issues and a huge space ship is discovered orbiting Earth.  Smaller ships break off the big ship and move above major cities all around the world.  A few groups of people around the country, including the President and his wife, are shown dealing with the initial situation and then the aftermath of horrible attacks on the various major cities.  Not everyone that is introduced survives.  Eventually the different groups of people end up at Area 51.  David, who works for a cable company, plays a big part in developing a plan of attack that is launched on July 4th.   

At first, it might seem like Independence Day is a complicated movie.  A lot is going on, but it is all tied to the spaceships and the attempts to deal with that.  The plot ends up being rather simple and predictable, but it does work overall as an entertaining movie.  Things start off a little slower as all the various characters are introduced.  The movie jumps around among all the characters throughout the movie, showing little bits of what is going on with them before jumping to the next group of characters.  All the jumping around does get a little old and things don’t flow as well as they probably could.  The story itself of aliens showing up has a lot of potential.  It just isn’t as developed as it could have been.

There is a lot of action throughout Independence Day in the form of various fights and some explosions.  All the characters are in danger at some point, some more than once.  Air Force One barely takes off ahead of a massive fireball from the attack.  Another character, Jasmine, somehow finds the one spot that will withstand a similar fireball in Los Angeles with seconds to spare.  There are a few air fights with smaller attack type ships that deploy from the larger ships hovering over the cities.  The action is a bit over the top at times, but those scenes are entertaining.  The aliens are seen and look suitably creepy.  One or two scenes featuring an alien is a bit gross.  Some scenes have a bit of violence, but there really isn’t that much violence overall considering how much action there is.  The movie is rated PG-13, so parents should probably check the movie out before letting children see it.  There is an attempt to add humor to what is going on, usually through what some characters say.  That happens even during action scenes at times which can mess with the flow of the scene.  Some of the lines are more cheesy and some of the other dialogue that isn’t trying to be funny isn’t that great.

I’m sure that a lot of things were created with special effects throughout the movie.  The effects are done well and have held up well for the most part without looking really dated.  When I watched again this time I did notice a few things with the effects that I didn’t before.  It was mainly that the edges around people or objects - like when the fireballs were approaching -  looked a little off in scenes that must have used green screen.  I may have noticed this time because I was watching on an HDTV.  I think the last time I watched a few years ago was on an older tv.  The Encore channel was HD as well.  I have no idea if Encore was using a high definition copy of the movie or not though.  The overall picture quality was good and it didn’t look like grainy or anything like that.    

Since making Independence Day, director Roland Emmerich has made two more disaster movies, 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow.  He also made the 1998 Godzilla, which is kind of a combination of monster and disaster movie.  Those movies have followed the same basic formula, with different disasters for the characters to face.  There is even a plane taking off barely ahead of a fireball in 2012 along with a limo that somehow manages to outrun fire, explosions, and massive falling debris.  I think there was more than one escape just barely ahead of a fireball in that movie, but I don’t remember for sure.  I think I have blocked a lot of that out.  I’ve seen all four of these movies and I notice a lot of similarities in them.  It really seems like Emmerich has used this movie as a template for others because the structure of the other three movies is so similar.  There are groups of characters that the movies jump between, showing how they all are dealing with the disaster.  None of the characters are that developed and they mostly just fill a certain type of role.  There is one scientist type character who figures out what is going on that no one will listen to until it is too late.  Someone will give a rousing speech just when things seem to be the worst that inspires everyone.  There tend to be one couple that is estranged for some reason who realize they still love each other by the end.  Most of these movies have also had another couple who start out happy, somehow survive everything, and end up eve closer.  The story and the set up of everything works all right for this movie, but it would be nice if he would try more originality.  He has done other things that were very different, but he seems to keep returning to this formula time after time.

I didn’t notice it when I first saw the movie, but the alien ships look a lot like the ships from V, a television mini series about aliens that come to Earth that aired in the 80s.  There was a new version of the series on a few years ago that I also watched.  When the new series started to air, there was some criticism that the show was just copying things from Independence Day.  Evidently the people that claimed that never saw or knew about the original V, which came out well before this movie.  It was around that time that I realized how much the ships look like the ones from V.  I watched V when it originally aired, but enough time had passed before this movie came out that I didn’t pick up on the similar look. 

There is such a large group of characters in Independence Day that really none of them are that developed.  They just sort of fill certain characteristics without any depth being added to them.  Several of the characters are nice enough, but they are very flat.  David works for a cable company is very intelligent.  He discovers something early on tied to the aliens, but of course, no one will listen to him at that point.  He is still in love in with ex-wife and still wears his wedding ring.  Jeff Goldblum does fine with the part.  Julius is David’s father who ends up going along.  Judd Hirsch is wonderful in the role and has some of the best lines even though he doesn’t get much to do overall.

Constance is David’s ex-wife who works for the president.  She doesn’t listen at first, but she starts acting differently and seems to still love David.  From what was said in a few scenes, it seemed like she had put her job first.  It also didn’t help that David had some trust issues and even punched Thomas at some point.  Margaret Colin is fine in the part.  Thomas Whitmore is the president.  He fought in the Gulf War which seems to have been a big reason why people elected him.  When things begin, people aren’t happy with how he has been doing his job.  David and Thomas still have issues.  Bull Pullman is fine in the part.  Marilyn is Thomas’s wife.  She is in Los Angeles when the attack happens.  Mary McDonnell does well with what she has to work with.  Albert Nimzicki works with the president and has his own ideas about how to deal with the situation.  He is a former CIA agent who may know than he admits at first.  James Rebhorn does fine with the part.

Steve is somewhat cocky, but he is a talented pilot.  He wants to be an astronaut, but he keeps getting turning down.  Will Smith does well with the part.  Jasmine is Steve’s girlfriend.  She is an exotic dancer.  At one point she mentions doing it because she makes good money and her son is worth it.  Jasmine is nice enough.  Vivica A. Fox is fine in the part, though nothing special.  Harry Connick Jr. is in a few scenes as Jimmy Wilder, a pilot and friend of Steve’s. 

Russell is a crop duster who tends to be drunk most of the time.  He is sort of considered a local crackpot because of how he acts and the fact that he talks about being abducted by aliens just about every chance he gets.  Randy Quaid is a bit over the top with his performance, though that does sort of fit the character.  Miguel, Alicia, and Troy are Russell’s children.  Miguel is really fed up with Russell.  Robert Loggia is in several scenes as William Grey, a general who is involved in the situation.  Adam Baldwin has a small part as Major Mitchell, someone stationed at Area 51.  Harvey Fierstein and Brent Spinner also have small parts and only turn up in a few scenes.

DVD Information

I have seen a few different DVD versions of Independence Day.  I have a two disc version that has several extras tied to the making of the movie on the second disc.  I’m not sure what sort of extras are on the other DVD versions.  The movie is available on Blu-ray, though since I don’t have that version, I don’t know what sort of extras it has.  The movie does air on various cable channels at times, especially near or on the fourth of July.  Depending on which channel it is on, it could be edited.  When commercial breaks are added on some channels, it makes the movie almost unbearably long, especially with how often the commercials are.  It is better to watch it from the DVD, Blu-ray, or a channel that doesn’t have commercials.  The movie is long enough by itself.  One of the Encore movie channels aired the movie all day on the 4th of July this year (2014).  I don’t know exactly what time the marathon started, but I’m guessing that it lasted twenty four hours.

Independence Day has some flaws, but it is an entertaining movie overall that has held up fairly well and is still worth watching.  Fans of the cast or people who like disaster movies will probably find something to like about the movie.  Anyone who doesn’t care for disaster movies or mindless action movies will want to skip this one.  It is one of the few movies I own or have seen that is set around the fourth of July.

I originally posted this review on Epinions on July 4, 2010 as dragonfire88.  I made changes to the review before posting it here.


  1. The whole "spaceships looking like the ships from 'V' " thing: Flying saucers are, well, flying saucers. Huge flying saucers the size of cities or bigger...maybe Devlin and Emmerich were giving "V" an homage. They certainly made lots of references to other sci-fi flicks. "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," the original "War of the Worlds" movie, and, of course, "Star Wars"!

  2. That is a good point. There aren't too many ways to make a flying saucer look different. I guess the main thing that made them look like the ones from V were just how huge they were.