Independence Day


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Independence Day
"What is required is not another helicopter in flames."

A shadow moves across the face of the earth. It is a street from Galaxy Hell. It parks over Washington. The suits wet themselves. Meanwhile, another street hovers over New York. Faces look up, register disbelief. Panic ensues. On a mountain in Iraq, the sons and daughters of goatherds run for cover. The sky is boiling. A tracking station in New Mexico picks up messages from the moon that sound like rabbit farts. The President of the United States is woken in the night. Uniformed geriatrics at the Pentagon grit their gums. Is this the end of the world? Or Codswallop – The Movie?

Actually, it’s Independence Day, 1996’s blonster mockbuster. Statistics fall off the dial trying to measure its popularity. For this reason alone it should be treated with respect, although it won’t be easy. Why do these spacecraft resemble pavements? Why aren’t there any little green men? Why spend months on effects and no time at all on plot development?

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Such questions are ridiculed by box office receipts. Who cares if it looks like a video game and talks like a comic book when seat-to-bum ratio has entered the stratosphere? Red-necked Americans love its patriotic, gung ho, stars-and-stripey message.

“Nuke ‘em, sir?”

Mr Prez hesitates just enough to register a caring, human side.

“Do it!”

And the audience goes, “Yessss!!”

German director Roland Emmerich and his American co-writer Dean Devlin – they made the cheesy surprise hit Stargate – have borrowed ideas from here, there and everywhere. The result lacks originality and artistry. What is offered are blow up cars, firestorms, demolition, jellyfish on sticks (the bad guys) and acting from Harvey Fierstein that should be taken out and buried. It also has Judd Hirsch telling Jeff Goldblum, “I haven’t spoken to God since your mother died.”

The multi-character mosaic, copied from TV soaps and perfected in celebrity rich disaster flicks, is faithfully reproduced here. Each has a heart-tugging hook to it, usually involving the love of a good woman, or, in the case of Randy Quaid, the love of a good bottle. This technique personalises Armageddon, even if the sugar content remains a health hazard. Will Smith, as a fighter pilot who thrives on jive has the right approach. Take it to the limit, and then some. Bill Pullman’s President is a tad trad, by comparison, even if he ends up jumping into a plane and leading the forces of the free against the skinless, sinister pavement dwellers.

An alien invasion offers enormous opportunities to the computer graphics crew. They do their stuff, without leaving any lasting impression. What is required is not another helicopter in flames, but some understanding of how these inscrutable slimeballs operate their war machines. Or even their legs. The science is waffle. Goldblum, the ecologically minded electronics whiz, who works out how to break through enemy defences, talks of a computer virus. Really? Why?

Don’t ask. Questioning a script that sends heroes to their certain death and then brings them back alive is not worth the grief.

Reviewed on: 09 Dec 2008
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Independence Day packshot
Alien invasion of earth demands action from the White House and a thousand heart-tugging human stories.
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Director: Roland Emmerich

Writer: Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich

Starring: Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Robert Loggia, Randy Quaid, Margaret Colin, Vivica A. Fox, James Rebhorn, Harvey Fierstein

Year: 1996

Runtime: 145 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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