REVIEW: Independence Day (1996)

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Directed by Roland Emmerich
Written by Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich
Starring Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Robert Loggia, Randy Quaid, Margaret Colin, Vivica A. Fox

A bonefide 90s blockbuster, a certified pop culture phenomenon, and a patriotic mainstay of 4th of July movie marathons nationwide. Can you get anymore entertaining than Independence Day?

On July 2nd, communications systems worldwide are sent into chaos by a strange atmospheric interference, revealed to be gigantic spacecraft, piloted by a mysterious alien species. After attempts to communicate with the aliens go nowhere, David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), an ex-scientist turned cable technician, discovers that the aliens are going to attack major points around the globe in less than a day. On July 3rd, the aliens all but obliterate New York, Los Angeles and Washington, as well as Paris, London, Houston and Moscow. The survivors set out in convoys towards Area 51, a strange government testing ground where the military has a captured alien spacecraft of their own. The survivors, led by the President of the United States (Bill Pullman), devise a plan to fight back against the enslaving aliens, and July 4th becomes the day humanity will fight for its freedom from extermination.

With ID4, Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin established themselves as the big budget dream team of the 1990s. Taking in over $300 million in the box office and becoming as equally big a hit on video, ID4 is still fondly remembered by most moviegoers today. Sure, some critics still turn their noses to it, but by now, one has to admire the staying power this one has.

And this is directly attributed to Emmerich and Devlin, whose script balances any of the cheesier aspects of the alien invasion genre with disaster film tropes and surprisingly sharp drama. Devlin is on record as stating that, “you can have the greatest special effects shot in existence, but if you don’t care for the characters, it won’t matter at all.” Luckily he was able to live by his words in this instance, because his characters are all as top-rate as possible in a film like this.

In his first post-Fresh Prince role, Will Smith swoops in as one of the three main protagonists, holding his own against Golblum and Pullman. Though Goldblum’s character David is my favorite of the bunch, Smith’s macho air captain Steven Hiller is riot to watch and laugh at. And that sense of fun only gets better once they both pair up for their final mission, cramped together in an alien ship, matching wit for gut-busting wit.

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Pullman’s character, President Whitmore, is a different beast: written to be a largely ineffective leader who is bullied around by his more ambitious Secretary of Defense (James Rebhorn), Pullman conveys enough of a heart to be genuinely likable and sympathetic, even if as an Executive he makes the worst decisions ever.

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Rounding out the ensemble cast are a collection of some of the finest character actors and topical stars of the time, including solid performances from Loggia and Colin. Randy Quaid, however, is the main scene stealer, followed by a pleasant surprise in Brent Spiner, who relishes getting out of his Data persona to play a hilariously-eccentric Area 51 scientist.

But the main draw, really, behind ID4 was the impressive array of visual and special effects on display. ID4 was made at an interesting time in the industry, in which Jurassic Park had just displayed what was possible with photo-realistic CGI. ID4 happily took advantage of the technology, present in the swarms of alien attackers and F/A-18s buzzing in and out of the frame. Emmerich, however, thankfully preserves a heavy in-camera miniature element, and this decision pays dividends. Many of the buildings and cities erupting in spectacular explosions are scale models and pyrotechnics, and they still are as breathtaking as they were back in the day. The White House’s destruction even became an indelible cultural image, thanks to the saturation of the moment in the film’s marketing. The visual effects earned an Academy Award in 1997.

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ID4 is available in the home video market with two versions, the 145-minute theatrical version and the 155-minute Special Edition. The theatrical cut is already a well-put-together, narratively solid piece, so any added material in the Special Edition, even when fleshing out Quaid’s role, feels somewhat redundant. It doesn’t help that the sound mix in these scenes seems to be incomplete, and the excellent pacing of the first act is the most shattered by additions. I recommend the theatrical cut heartily.

All in all, ID4 is still a blast to watch. The humor is on-point without overbearing the natural drama, the special effects are still convincing, and the musical score by David Arnold has aged very well. I honestly can’t find any fatal faults with the picture. If you’re looking for a good War of the Worlds-style throwback that isn’t a stretch for non-viewers of sci-fi in general, Independence Day is your ticket.

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Maestro’s Marathons: The American Spirit Marathon

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This 4th of July weekend, prepare for the fireworks by catching the best of the best of red-blooded, patriotic American cinema!

The 4th of July. A time to celebrate freedom,

Independence,

Courage,

And star-spangled explosions.

The Movie Maestro presents to you, on this July 4th weekend, the American Spirit Marathon. 12 explosive, ass-kicking films, all ready to pump the free will of America straight into you! This Independence Day, welcome those freedom-hating aliens and Russians to ‘Earf’ and soar beyond the clouds to plant the Old Glory on the face of the Moon!

Every year on the 4th of July, I always popped in a movie to celebrate. Most of the time, my infantile mind picked Independence Day or Air Force One, and in recent years, I’ve stayed a bit infantile in my picks, going for a mix of some more nuanced examples of patriotism and the most bombastically-nationalistic action-fests out there. And now that we are here for the first Independence Day at the Movie Maestro, I figured I would share my usual picks for the ultimate American marathon.

Spaced out across four days, from July 1st to the 4th, the American Spirit marathon is the best prep for ‘Murican festivities out there!

And also, just because I know there’s someone out there who won’t get the joke, there is a heavy bent of irony to most of the picks here. No, I’m not a brain-dead idiot who will literally blow my arms off this 4th because I love me some ‘Murica, I’m just having fun with this. I hope you will too!

The picks:

Live Free or Die Hard
Live Free or Die Hard Movie PosterStart off the American festivities by saving the nation with its favorite foul-mouthed, working-class hero, John McClane. Live Free or Die Hard takes the old New Hampshire motto and puts it to work, throwing McClane into the high-stakes world of cyberterrorism. The holiday weekend, indeed, the entire country, is being threatened by a digital madman, the former NSA golden-boy Thomas Gabriel. His power seems endless, his goals are nefarious, but we have a secret weapon: Bruce Willis with a gun. And Justin Long with a laptop, but he’s obviously not the most important part. Leave it to that scruffy New York beat cop to bring an old-fashioned dose of analog justice to those high-tech freedom-haters, with fireballs aplenty. If you’ve ever felt that uniquely American need to blow up the grid over one annoying traffic light, then this is the movie to start with.

1776
1776 Movie PosterSetting aside the explosions and the gunfights for a moment, why not go back to the very beginning? With a splash of Broadway melody, this film details the lengths to which the Continental Congress had to go to keep the American Revolution afloat, while never sugarcoating the compromises that the founding fathers had to make to secure independence. It’s like no other history class in existence as the Founding Fathers spit rhymes like musket fire and dance circles around the Crown like their lives depended on it! (What’s that? I am being told their lives did depend on it. History!) You even get a crash course in some lesser known American history, like the fact that Benjamin Franklin was a big horn-dog or that John Adams was really Mr. Feeny! Don’t let the fact that it’s a musical scare you off; think of it as a break before more booms!

Air Force One
Air Force One Movie PosterWho doesn’t want their President to be an ass-kicking Freedom Machine? While in real life that leads to tired old TV stars becoming President, and unmitigated disaster as they charge into battle unprepared, getting their jacket threads caught in their rifle sling, resulting in Taps being played way too early, in movie-land it is a recipe for American pride, as Harrison Ford unleashes justice upon the terrorist hijackers of the Presidential Plane, one bullet at a time. Now that we seem to have to deal with Russian aggression again these days, won’t it be comforting to have Han Solo wreck their plans, American style? In an amazing suit, no less? While F-15 soar alongside, blasting bogeys with air-to-air missiles? Sign me up, I’m ready for that! Settle back into the action with this Die Hard-inspired thriller with an Executive twist! Harrison Ford has my vote.

Olympus Has Fallen
Olympus Has Fallen Movie PosterWhile Aaron Eckhart’s President isn’t as tough as Ford’s, at least he has one incredible bodyguard in Gerard Butler. Yet another Die Hard clone finds its way into the American Spirit marathon with Olympus Has Fallen, a battle for supremacy in the White House itself. It looks like those dastardly Kims have started their ultimate gamble, attacking our very seat of power with both subterfuge and superior firepower. Never fear though, as resident badass Butler, a.k.a. King Leonidas, a.k.a. Mike Banning loads up and singlehandedly defeats the North Korean menace within the walls of our most hallowed mansion! Does it matter that Butler is actually Scottish? Or that he seems just as well known for -shudder- romantic comedies as well as actioners? It won’t during this hairy-chested roller coaster ride of a movie! And we even have God–er, I mean Morgan Freeman on our side!

Rocky IV
Rocky IV Movie PosterThose Russians are at it again. In between election hacking and straight-up invading neighboring countries, now they’re sinking their dirty mitts into our sports! This time, their greatest boxer, Ivan Drago, has killed the Master of Disaster, the freedom-shorts-wearing Apollo Creed! Only one man stands in Drago’s way of claiming the title from the U.S. of A: Rocky Balboa, the Italian Stallion! A crowd-pleaser by any and all means, Rocky IV presents good old Philadelphian Rocky at his most triumphant, winning the Cold War all by himself in the ring, without a single Nuke fired or submarine sunk. While the original Rocky may be the better film, who doesn’t want to see the Stallion win in the most bombastic way possible, decked out in Old Glory, smashing communism with his powerful fists? There, I said it. Rocky IV is better than Rocky. Except it isn’t. Except it is. Isn’t it?

Lincoln
Lincoln Movie PosterReturn to the history books with Lincoln, one of Steven Spielberg’s best docudramas and Daniel Day-Lewis’s finest performances. Dealing with the difficult passing of the 13th Amendment in 1865, Lincoln presents everything the titular President had to do, both painful and unethical, to bring about justice and freedom to a suffering people within the borders of our United States. A bit more somber than the rest of this marathon, it nevertheless is an important addition, reminding us that in between the RPGs and fistfights, there are true battles to be fought every day in the name of equality. And if I’m being much too serious and melodramatic about it, perhaps you can take solace in the fact that while there’s an overload of politics, it is much more interesting than your average CSPAN viewing, what with representatives engaged in the best insult battles I have ever had the pleasure of seeing.

Double Feature: The Right Stuff / Apollo 13
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Jaws
Jaws Movie PosterIs it a typical July 4th movie? No. Is it particularly patriotic? Not really. To be honest, Jaws is mostly here because of its setting: on the eve of a big 4th of July weekend full of tourists and sunny beaches. Depending on the holiday to pull them out of debt and off of welfare, because it’s very un-American to be on welfare, Amity Island finds itself in a pretty pickle, and in the sights of a killer shark. Resolving to eliminate the menace in the only way New England Americans know how, Chief Brody, ichthyolgist Hooper, and Captain Quint get ready to go sharking. Because fishing is for Europeans. One-half horror movie, one-half Moby Dick with a decidedly more explosive climax, Jaws is just what Uncle Sam ordered for his extra-large seafood platter. It could be your town. It could be your beach. It could be you as lunch. So kick back and take a bite out of this summer classic!

Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The First Avenger Movie PosterYou knew a superhero film was going to end up on this list sooner or later. They’re just as American as apple pie, fireworks, and massive nuclear weapons! But while Superman may stand for truth, justice, and the American way, well, he’s got nothing on the Captain himself, who launches headfirst into battle with the flag on his uniform and his indestructible shield! Steve Rogers just wanted to be a good citizen and serve his nation, but his sickly body prevented him from doing what he felt was his duty. Enter Dr. Erskine, who’s Super Soldier Serum transforms Steve into Captain America, the Star Spangled Man with a Plan, ready to sock it to old Adolf and his fascist monster, the Red Skull! Full of 1940s action and feel-good American vibes, this movie is ready take back the weekend from sharp-toothed fishes! Revel in Marvel’s over-the-top version of the Greatest Generation’s greatest fight with The First Avenger!

The Patriot
The Patriot Movie PosterWith one more trip into the past we arrive at Roland Emmerich’s The Patriot, the ultimate revenge story set within the embryonic throes of the United States during the Revolution. Join Benjamin Martin as he cuts a swath through the British redcoats, intent on avenging his fallen sons by destroying his nemesis, the brutal Colonel Tavington. Join his son, Gabriel Martin, as he mends Old Glory and beats back jolly old England on the hallowed shores of our home. And join General Cornwallis as he learns firsthand what happens when Brits mess with the U.S. of A. Is it accurate? Nope. Is it awesome? You bet! What, you expected a movie showing Mad Max going all Ahab on the British Hitler wouldn’t be rousing? It’s a damn blast, is what it is! So stop whining about “historical context” and “nuanced drama” and just enjoy the show!

Independence Day
Independence Day Movie PosterA July 4th classic, Independence Day offers the best of both worlds: a sci-fi extraordinaire set during the holiday, and a patriotic romp, as President Whitmore rallies the entire world to declare its own Independence Day against the alien invaders intent on conquering it. It’s got metropolitan sights, military hardware, and cheesy conspiracy theories, so it has to be American! To top it all off, President Whitmore gives us one hell of a cinematic speech, and it’s only the primer for the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind, complete with a crazy crop-duster ready to deliver the final blow to those meddling alien overlords. It doesn’t hurt to have Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith in the mix, puffing cigars and ruining alien motherships with the almighty power of the Apple Mac. It doesn’t get much more American than that. Now say it with me, “TODAY WE CELEBRATE OUR INDEPENDENCE DAY!!!”

Armageddon
Armageddon Movie PosterWhat could possibly beat Independence Day as the quintessential July 4th film? How about Michael Bay’s Armageddon, a movie with more American flags than any other? As detailed in my editorial, Armageddon lends itself well to patriotic fervor, and it’s a damn fun movie to watch on a day already centered around drinking and barbecue. You even get the biggest explosion of them all at the end as Bruce Willis (yep, he’s back!) blows up the mother of all asteroids! If you want to feel the tingle of America without blowing your fingers off, finish the marathon with Armageddon. You won’t be disappointed.

 

 

And that is a wrap! Now, of course, these are only suggestions, feel free to mix and match or add your own. This is the day of freedom, so embrace it!

Happy 4th of July Weekend!

Happy Independence Day from the Movie Maestro! Looking to add a cinematic flair to your 4th? Well, look no further, because I have endeavored to bring you Americanized picks of celluloid all weekend!

Check out my picks for the ultimate 4th of July movie marathon, as well as reviews from patriotic flicks all weekend!

Once again, Happy 4th, and stay safe!