October 22, 2013

Movie Review: Independence Day (1996)

“I saw... its thoughts. I saw what they're planning to do. They're like locusts. They're moving from planet to planet... their whole civilization. After they've consumed every natural resource they move on... and we're next. Nuke 'em. Let's nuke the bastards.” – President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman)

Director: Roland Emmerich

Writers: Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin

Producers: Roland Emmerich, Ute Emmerich, William Fay, Dean Devlin and Peter Winther

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Major Stars: Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Robert Loggia, Jeff Goldblum, Judd Hirsch, Mary McDonnell, Randy Quaid, Vivica A. Fox, Adam Baldwin, Brent Spiner

Admittedly a masterpiece of special-effects, Independence Day relies on them to cover up a cavalcade of errors and mis-steps in the script. And while the sheer scale of the film and the action it displays does earn it a place on this list (for now), it will be hard-pressed to hold on once 100 films are reviewed and each subsequent review could knock a film off the list.

I don’t think I need to cover the plot, do I? Ever since its release in 1996 Independence Day has seemed to be playing somewhere on television every single day. At least one movie channel seems to have it in perpetual rotation on the weekends.

Besides, we all loved it when it first came out, right? Be honest; you likely fell for the hype. I know I did. I saw the damn film three times at the old Cheri in Boston. The spectacle on the screen was amazing. The special effects really pushed the envelope for the time though they weren’t revolutionary in the way Star Wars was in the 70s. The large-scale destruction was impressive to behold. Independence Day was loud and brash and cleaned up that summer.

It was only later as the buzz on the film wound down that the flaws in the film became more and more apparent. The one-dimensional characters. The “by-the-numbers” plotting. And the logic holes!!

How could a computer on Earth talk to, let alone infect, an alien system? How can a rolling wave of fire destroy all in its path yet not enter an open door in a tunnel to fry a major character? Why does the rest of the world sit around with their thumbs up their asses waiting for the Americans to think of something? How does the First Lady internally bleed to death in Area 51 after surviving over a day in the ruins of Los Angeles? Feel free to add your own.

That is where the film falters. Special effects alone cannot carry a sci-fi movie through repeated viewings. It eventually becomes old-hat. The story underneath the glitz has to be solid enough to support the film on its own. Films like Aliens or The Terminator have that kind of story. Independence Day does not.

So…we have a film with stunning effects and a mediocre script with logic holes galore that become more noticeable upon repeated viewings. Where does this go on this list? To me, it’s a simple question of whether it goes above or below Logan’s Run. These are what I consider “foundation films.” They build the base of the list and set the minimum standard for consideration but can easily be bumped off in the future.

The effects are obviously superior on Independence Day. But the script for Logan’s Run, even with the out-dated “overpopulation” motif, is more coherent and solid. And I don’t do ties. I give Independence Day the edge, but not with any kind of enthusiasm.

It’s worth watching for free on television if you haven’t seen it in a while and nothing else is on. To be fair, the whole “destruction of the world” sequence does still get my attention. But I wouldn’t spend a dime to add Independence Day to my collection.


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