Professional Review by Michael LoManaco, 07/05/09; Region 1 (U.S.) Release Tested
Studio Name: 20th Century Fox
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Disc/Transfer Information: Widescreen 2.35:1; 50GB Dual Layer
Video Codec: AVC @27 MBPS
Tested Audio Track: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Director: Roland Emmerich
Starring Cast: Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum
EARTH. NICE WHILE IT LASTED.
LoMANACO'S PLOT ANALYSIS:
Ahhh. The annual analysis and retrospective recalling of 1996's Independence Day. What would a Fourth of July be without Roland Emmerich's wildly polarizing tale of Earth being invaded by tentacle-like aliens and our efforts to fight back with Star Wars-like resilience and none other than Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) to save us from total domination? That's a tough question, because hardly a 4th passes that I do not throw this seminal "corny classic" of sorts into a source deck of some kind -- well, now it's a Blu-ray player, but taking into consideration the fact that I have purchased this title on every format it was launched on so far, it can almost be said that I am a "fan" of ID4. Please...don't throw hot water on me!
Yes, I actually have bought this title first on VHS with the special holographic cover that came off due to weak glue material, then it was the so-called "Limited Edition" DVD (which was only "Limited" because it came with a money offer inside towards Emmerich's The Day After Tomorrow which was in theaters when the Limited Edition ID4 came out) and have since sold that for the Blu-ray version. But let me make something clear before we delve further: I made a sort of self-promise to my inner child when the new high definition formats arrived (which included HD DVD) that I wouldn't rebuy everything in my massive DVD collection just to own it in 1080p, and that I also wouldn't "blind buy" an old title I owned in HD incase the results were less than stellar in the video department; since making that promise, I have done it four or so times already. Christmas Vacation, Con Air, Independence Day, Batman Begins and Superman Returns were all re-bought on Blu, forcing me to sell my DVD copies, but perhaps Superman and Batman don't count since I received those as gifts. How did my broken promises to myself turn out? The only title I wasn't "burned" on (that is to say, I was not disappointed with the BD video transfer compared to the DVD) was Con Air, which ended up looking gorgeous in 1080p -- at least compared to the original non-anamorphic standard DVD. But I'll get to why ID4 burned my ass in terms of a blind-buy switch to Blu later in this review.
What hasn't been already said about Emmerich's Independence Day? It's widely criticized and usually lies amidst a thick, syrupy layer of negative commentary since its theatrical launch some 13 years ago. Indeed, its moments of cheesiness get staggering at times, and the dialogue in certain parts can make you almost wish the aliens had taken us over and erased humankind out of embarrassment. Yet at its heart, it is still a blueprint of sorts for brainless, fun, summer entertainment -- the stuff home theater excitement is made of. Since its launch, many summer action blockbusters continue to target ID4 as their basis and goal in terms of scope and magnitude, and say what you will about it -- it still plays back viciously in a home theater, whether it be in THX-certified Dolby Digital or DTS-HD Master Audio. But we'll get to that.
As I mentioned, Emmerich's ID4 has become a staple in my yearly 4th of July viewing schedule, and no matter how dripping-with-cheese the lines are exhibited, it's just such a cool flick for this time of year. I have to admit, I am an Emmerich "closet fan" of sorts; I actually liked The Day After Tomorrow and even The Patriot, both of which I own on DVD, The Patriot being in Superbit edition. To go into the things that went wrong when he tried to craft a serious period piece in The Patriot is simply too difficult in that this is a review of Independence Day, but suffice to say, Roland's history is a little hazy there. You know what really brought Independence Day down more than its ineffective special effects or embarrassing performances by Randy Quaid and most of the cast? It was the switch to Star Wars-like sequences when the American pilots were duking it out in the air with the mini alien space craft; I mean, Lucas did it already -- did Emmerich need to try and copy this?
Okay, so the plot was thinly plausible up to a certain point, and frighteningly so: On a Fourth of July weekend throughout the world, gigantic city-sized ships show up over some of Earth's largest cities, launched from a massive mother ship of sorts that orbits our planet from space. I am not convinced that this could not happen, and I'm actually frightened that one day -- perhaps not in my lifetime -- we will actually be visited or even invaded by hostile life forms because humans are arrogant enough to believe we are actually alone in this galaxy. And so Emmerich's suggestion here is not completely implausible...but then we're introduced to the film's characters who introduce implausible elements into the mix: We have Jeff Goldblum (probably the best actor in this lineup in terms of his performance in the film) as a satellite descrambler of some sort in New York City who stumbles onto the alien race's secret messages they're imbedding in Earth's satellites inbetween visiting his Jewish father (Judd Hirsch). We have Bill Pullman who plays the U.S. president, and it was hard to take that seriously after watching him in Spaceballs and While You Were Sleeping. Robert Loggia ("Frank Lopez" from Scarface) turns in a performance as the president's right-hand general, and then of course we have Will Smith who steals all the scenery in this and saves it with his witty humor as the American pilot called into duty to counter-attack the aliens (along with his squad of Black Knights, of course). Randy Quaid makes an ass of himself once again as Russell Case, a drunken pilot living in a camper with his dirty, white trash kids who dumps pesticides on crops from a plane for a living. Quaid's character had a run-in with these aliens in the past, in which he was abducted. Explains so much.
Emmerich starts things off with a bang, showing the massive saucers arriving over New York, L.A. and Washington and immersing the cities in clouded terror; at the White House, Bill Pullman's president character is given information from scrambling, panicking Pentagon staff and Loggia's general character that the massive object in space has broken off into smaller pieces, thus the city-sized ships that are dispatched to hover over Earth's major cities. It is assumed the aliens were here before, based on Quaid's abduction backstory and the fact that Area 51 in Nevada has ownership of one of the "baby ships" from this fleet, and so they must know which of our cities are the most populated. The SETI foundation in New Mexico first gets signals from the approaching mother ship, which makes its way over our moon and into Earth's atmosphere, and in New York, Goldblum discovers the reason the planet has satellite disruption is because the aliens are using our satellites to embed a secret code amongst the attacker ships over the cities.
INDEPENDENCE DAY REVIEW CONTINUED BELOW...