Weeks ahead of its two decades-in-the-making sequel, 20th Century Fox is issuing a 20th anniversary Blu-ray edition of Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day reminding us once again of the original film’s ambitious special effects created in the service of an elaborate but in the main weakly constructed science fiction epic.
The Production: 3/5
Weeks ahead of its two decades-in-the-making sequel, 20th Century Fox is issuing a two-disc 20th anniversary Blu-ray edition of Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day reminding us once again of the original film’s ambitious special effects created in the service of an elaborate but in the main weakly constructed science fiction epic concerning the invasion of Earth by an alien force and how that force was met and matched by the use of good old American know-how, lots of pluck, and an Apple computer.
Independence Day, even twenty years after its original release, is breathtaking in its technology but infuriating in its art. There are far too many characters and subplots that steal attention from the film’s alien invasion/doomsday story line (screenplay by director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin), an invasion that seems to have been forty-plus years in the planning. Even in the far-fetched situation as we’re presented with here, one expects some measure of rationality in human behaviors, the laws of physics, and the reality of distance (characters meet in extraordinarily convenient ways, cover great distances in regular vehicles in mere hours, and survive impossible alien encounters with nary a scratch). Worst of all, director Roland Emmerich’s pacing is erratic to the point of distraction. A science fiction special effects extravaganza like Independence Day had better deliver the visual goods in spades, and thankfully for this movie, the effects are there with a vengeance. Scenes of mass destruction of such cities as New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC, are unprecedented in one movie (Earthquake did a great job demolishing Los Angeles, but this beats that hands down), and the feeling of calamitous extermination is palpable. What’s so disappointing, of course, is that the effects are focused on at the expense of sensibility, logic, or coherence.
The film is almost two-and-a-half hours long in its theatrical form and more than nine minutes longer than that in the extended cut, but at least twenty minutes of it could easily have been dispensed with. Various subplots featuring the plight of the President’s wife (Mary McDonnell), the dysfunctional family of Russell Casse (Randy Quaid), or Marine Captain Steven Hiller’s (Will Smith) uneasy alliance with a stripper (Vivica Fox) slow up the show and belabor the need for these men to have personal reasons for joining the fight against the aliens (like our planet’s survival isn’t reason enough). There’s even a wedding ceremony right before the final confrontation with the aliens that may make sentimental viewers sigh with pleasure but is a ludicrous postponement of the action climax we’ve been waiting two hours to get to.
Will Smith makes a conventionally aggravating macho pilot, the kind of person who laughs at problems, punches out aliens not knowing how he might be affected by touching them, and makes constant quips on his way to his likely death (the film made him, needless to say, a huge box-office star). Better is Bill Pullman as the President, forced finally to make the tough decisions of his office by following his heart rather than his political status charts. Pullman has a speech on the eve of the final attack that is as patently rousing as the makers of the movie intended it to be and which proves that he has the force and presence to deserve star billing. Jeff Goldblum, as the brainy computer whiz who cracks wise as he strives to find a key to the aliens’ destruction, pretty much replays his role from Jurassic Park with nothing new to offer apart from his kibitzing relationships with his pushy father (Judd Hirsch) and his ex-sweetheart (Margaret Colin). A huge supporting cast brings many familiar faces to the screen, some basically wasted (Harvey Fierstein, Robert Loggia, Harry Connick, Jr.), some engaging and fun (Brent Spiner almost unrecognizable as a secret government scientist, Randy Quaid as an alcoholic former pilot), and some really impressive. In the latter category are Adam Baldwin as the quietly no-nonsense Major Mitchell, director of a secret military base in the Nevada desert, and Judd Hirsch, touching if occasionally irritating as Goldblum’s concerned father. All of the actors make honest stabs at giving life to basically routine characters, but some are more successful than others in fleshing out their personas in a movie that is concentrating on cataclysms rather than characterizations.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s 2.39:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully rendered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness varies from good to great with most live action scenes not involving CGI very striking. Color is consistently saturated and most appealing with realistic skin tones throughout. Black levels are really quite something in this transfer giving real pop to the fireball explosions that feature in the original alien attacks and later in the mass destructions in the climax. The lengthy movie has been divided into 57 chapters.
Though the liner notes claim a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 encode, the readout on my equipment for both the theatrical and extended editions was DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. No matter, it’s a fully engaging and immersive track that lacks only in comparison to today’s more advanced, full-bodied sound mixes. There is plenty of heft to the bass throughout (your subwoofer will not be unhappy with the workout), and atmospheric effects are very good spread through the soundstage with some effective pans where appropriate. Dialogue is always easy to understand and is never lost with the sound effects or the very dramatic, gung-ho nature of David Arnold’s background score.
Special Features: 5/5
Audio Commentaries: two are available: the first and less interesting features director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin while the second is chattier with Oscar-winning special effects supervisors Volker Engel and Doug Smith
ID4 Trivia Track: pop-up information about the making of the film can be turned on while playing the theatrical cut.
Independence Day: Resurgance Trailer (2:07, HD): the preview of the upcoming sequel to the original film.
The other bonus features are contained on the second disc in the set:
Independence Day: A Legacy Surging Forward (30:40, HD): a new documentary on the making of the original film featuring remembrances from director Roland Emmerich, producer Dean Devlin, special effects supervisors Volker Engel and Doug Smith, production designer Patrick Tatopoulos, and actors Brent Spiner, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsch, Vivica Fox, and stars of the upcoming sequel.
Original Theatrical Ending (4:16, SD): features unidentified commentary.
Gag Reel (2:05, SD)
Creating Reality (29:19, SD): Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin, and Patrick Tatopoulos among others discuss the use of models, motion controlled aliens, and the use of CGI and compositing.
ID4 Invasion Mockumentary (21:57, SD): staged news reports about the alien invasion followed by promos for the movie.
The Making of ID4 (28:29, SD): Jeff Goldblum hosts a special featuring sound bites from the director and actors, clips from the movie, and some behind-the-scenes looks at the creation of the special effects.
Combat Review (9:04, HD): a montage of the city destruction scenes followed by the climactic dogfights and aerial combat sequences.
Monitor Earth Broadcasts (51:08, SD): simulated around-the-world broadcasts about the alien invasion.
Galleries: seven galleries that feature stills, behind-the-scenes shots, artwork, and storyboards which may be stepped through automatically or manually.
Teaser Trailers (5:09, SD): three trailers which may be viewed individually or in montage.
Theatrical Trailer (2:30, HD)
TV Spots (3:57, SD): eight TV spot ads which may be viewed separately or in montage.
Digital Copy/Ultraviolet: code sheet in the case.
Even with all of its borrowings from War of the Worlds, Alien, and most of the other outer space invasion films from previous decades, Independence Day is still a fun popcorn movie, but what it really offers is freedom from thinking; it’s no-brainer fun at best. Sometimes, that’s enough.