Nostalgia Review: Independence Day

This is going to be an experimental post for another new type of post I’m thinking about doing. The majority of the post is going to be me talking on and on about how the film stands out today, and then, at the end, I’ll give a very short scored review like I do for the rest of my posts, so skip ahead if you don’t want to hear me ramble for a few minutes.

If there’s one movie that I’ve seen more than any other movie, it is probably Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day (1996, so as not to confuse those of you who had no idea that the film being released in a few days is actually a sequel to a 20 year old film… wait, holy crap this movie is 20 years old already???) Have I viewed it this many times because the movie is that good? Absolutely not. It’s kind of a mediocre movie if I’m being completely honest, but damn, if it isn’t fun to watch every time. It seems to always find itself on TV, especially during the summer, though not as often anymore now that the Marvel movies have been making their way into movie channels’ regular rotations.

And you know what? I really want this sequel to do well, because I think I can trust Emmerich to keep true to the heart of his movies. Roland Emmerich himself is not a great director. He is pretty much limited to big summer blockbuster movies like 2012The Day After TomorrowWhite House Down10,000 B.C. and a plethora of other really mediocre movies that you’ve actually probably heard of but never thought too much about. His best work was without a doubt The Patriot, but he probably has to share a lot of that credit with Mel Gibson. Still, despite Emmerich’s lack of artistic and stylized direction, you still know that there’s just something different about his movies when you look at his works. Something sets him apart from the other huge budget summer blockbuster champions like Justin Lin (known for the more recent Fast and Furious films), Joss Whedon (known for most of The Avengers films), and…. ugh… Michael Bay (no).

These other 3 directors have a style that people seem to easily point out; Lin likes to dazzle you with insane stunts and very fast (no pun intended) paced action, Whedon is a huge nerd and likes to fill his movies with easily recognizable characters and give fan service, and Bay has a very special talent for making people like me angry. So what is it that makes Emmerich so special? His movies typically don’t have incredible stunts or action sequences, and they don’t appeal to our inner nerds. In fact, it’s starting to seem like he has a lot more in common with Bay than I’m willing to admit! Most of his movies are filled with CGI destruction-porn of the world blowing up (in fact, he is probably the original creator of destruction-porn), which is way too similar to the CGI bullcrap that Bay puts in his movies too. How can I defend this guy?

It’s because his films are grounded with real characters. As an audience, we can connect with these characters so much better than we can connect with Vin Diesel, Robert Downey Jr., or even Optimus Prime, no matter how much we like them. Emmerich knows how to get us to care about his characters, whereas these other directors… really can’t.

Take a look at Independence Day; sure Will Smith’s character is probably the best fighter pilot in the world, there’s no way he’s a real character, right? Wrong. Go back and look at the beginning of the film; where does he live and who does he live with? He lives in a city suburb with his soon-to-be-wife and his son. In the beginning, they worry about every day things like school, work, marriage, etc. They are regular people. Jeff Goldblum’s character is the same: sure, he’s a computer genius (as computer-geniusy as you could get in the 90’s), but he also has issues at work, with his father, and with his ex.

By using real characters, Emmerich is able to actually put his audience in the action by begging us to ask ourselves, “what would I do?” Because as we watch the story unfold, you see (at least in Emmerich’s eyes) how normal people like ourselves might actually respond to these situations. While these two films are very similar (and one far more superior than the other), The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 probably do this the best, because the stories revolve around natural disasters that are impossible to stop and require the entire world to take action.

In conclusion, what makes Emmerich’s blockbusters a little more special than all the others is that we can actually immerse ourselves in them. We’re allowed to imagine ourselves being a part of the action through characters like Russell Casse (Randy Quaid), an alcoholic who quits his habit to save his children, or Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson), a retired military leader who takes up his arms once more to protect his children, or Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid), a genius meteorologist who does whatever is necessary to find and save his son, or Jackson Curtis (John Cusack), a mediocre father and husband that has to step up in order to save his family… sooo as long as there are fathers whose children need saving!

 

Story: 6.5/10

Aliens are going to destroy the world. There’s nothing unique about this story except for its characters. Also, this story is littered with problems like: why do alien computers work the same way our computers do? Why are all the alien ships connected to the mother ship and how does that work, are their shields generated by some kind of wifi signal instead of their own power sources? How did the countries without air-forces manage to destroy the alien ships over their lands? If the aliens are targeting the most heavily populated cities, why does one specifically target the White House? If the aliens are so smart and advanced, why are their invasion tactics so bad?

 

Acting: 8/10

The relationship between Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum pretty much made this movie, though this relationship only forms a little more than halfway through the film. Will Smith owns the beginning of this film though. However, there are people in this film like Brent Spiner (who plays Dr. Okun, but you might know him better as DATA from Star Trek) that I think are hard to watch.

Still, a bonus point or two for Bill Pullman still holding the “Best Fictional Movie President” title 20 years later.

 

Visuals: 4/10

It’s hard for the CGI to hold up 20 years later. The CGI took up a majority of the budget for the film, despite being pretty underdeveloped at the time, and seems to constantly be filling up the majority of the screen during action sequences. I know that back in the day, these action sequences were pretty great, but it doesn’t hold up as well as other films that came out around the same time. Heck, Jurassic Park came out 3 years prior and, in this wannabe-critic’s mind, is still one of the greatest uses of CG in a film to date. Spielberg figured out early that CGI should be used sparingly.

 

Music: 7/10

As far as film scores go, it’s not the greatest, but it definitely works very well for the movie, especially in action sequences where suspense is key. The music is also masterfully edited into the film and pairs up with visuals nicely to create memorable scenes that really shouldn’t be all that memorable (i.e. the missile jam scene).

 

X-Factor: 8/10, *cue theme-song for Team America: World Police*

This film is loaded with way more patriotism than all of Michael Bay’s films combined and it doesn’t even need an American flag in the background of every shot to do it. As a kid, this movie showed me that when it comes to saving the world, if America couldn’t do it, then nobody could.

 

Overall: 6.7/10

Independence Day is exactly what you’d expect from an end-of-the-world movie starring Will Smith in his prime, before he became that guy who whines every time he doesn’t get an Oscar nomination. It’s a classic blockbuster that wants to immerse you in a lot of potential danger but make you feel good by the end of the movie. It’s not dark or very thrilling, but ultimately it’s a fun film that everyone can find some enjoyment from. I only hope that the upcoming sequel can remember why people loved this movie.

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