James Helsby

LRE #36: Independence Day

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Little Red Envelope

In my mailbox this week:
Independence Day

Release Year: 1996

Staring: Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Mary McDonnell

Who hasn’t seen Independence Day… But have you seen it in… HD?

Actually, it doesn’t really look that much better. Strange that. But you know what, Independence Day rocks! For being some 15 years old at this point, it still is a favorite, and helped usher in a new revival in Alien action films. But watching Independence Day in HD did make me realize just how far we have come in terms of special effects in just a short amount of time.

Independence Day, if you need it explained to you, was the major blockbuster of 1996.  Costing a measly $75 M, back then (101M adjusted for inflation), ID4 brought in over 800M in gross revenue (1B$, adjusted). You can’t scoff at how successful it was.

The story follows an alien invasion that happens on July 2nd, present day. In a synchronized attack targeting major cities and world capitols, the aliens lay waste to the largest population centers of the world in one fell swoop. As humanity sits on the brink of ruin, and pall mall attack is coordinated against the alien ships. The attack is utterly defeated.

Humanity is broken, and forced to flee into hiding. The president (Bill Pullman), a few trusted staff members (Robert Loggia, James Rebhurn) who were warned of the pending attack by David Levinnson (Jeff Goldblum), who is married to but separated from Constance Spano (Margaret Collins), the Presidents Communications Director. David unlocked the code the aliens were using to coordinate their planetary assault.

Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith), who is the only survivor from the failed assault on the alien ships, crash lands in the desert outside of Area 51. The President and compatriots, are themselves redirected to Area 51, where man kind will make it’s final stand.

Filmed largely in Utah, Independence Day was a joyride of a film. Humanity doesn’t fair well against the aliens, and only through one final act of self sacrifice, are we able to prevail. Whoops, did I just spoil that for you?

Seriously, if you haven’t seen ID4, you have been living in a cave for 20 years. And if you were living in a cave, then you probably wouldn’t have the Internet, so I am less concerned about spoiling it than before. The film is awesome, watch it because you remember how awesome it was, and not necessarily how awesome it still is.

The highlight to the film is definitely the special effects. For their time, they were mesmerizing, and excellent. But truthfully, watching it in HD made me realize that they weren’t as grand as I remembered.  There were scenes where the CGI breaks into slow-

motion (usually a rendering problem that is unnoticed) or very grainy (HD conversion problem). It’s much like porn, sometimes things don’t look better in HD. Still, it looks better than it did on my VHS copy of ID4.

The acting, well, what can really be said. I mean, you stick Jeff Goldblum in a film, and you will basically always have the same character. From Buckaroo Banzai to Jurassic Park to the Fly, Goldblum is basically the same guy regardless of what happens. But this movie wasn’t really about him. It was about Will Smith.

Smith had a few ‘major’ rolls before ID4 came out, Six Degrees of Separation and Badboys, but most notably he was the Fresh Prince of Bel-air. ID4 launched his film career. It was followed shortly by Men in Black, Enemy of the State and Wild Wild West. Now Smith stands as one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood, netting on average $20M per film.

To juxtapose against Smith’s rising star, was Bill Pullman. Often sited as being the largest downfall to the film. The dude is made of stone, with the range of basalt. Seriously, I think you could get a better performance out of a volcano than you could Pullman. And that speech at the end. Oh sure, back in the day it would warrant a standing ovation, but today it flows like a can of Ez-Cheeze that’s been shot with a 50-cal bullet. Blaraaaarrg.

But who cares. This isn’t a film you watch because it is so awesome, or want to show your friends the marvels of your new HD TV. This is a film that you put in, just so that you can shout…. America! F*ck Yeah!. This is a film you watch so that you can remember that girlfriend you had in high school. Or middle school. From this day on, Independence Day will no longer be remembered as an American blockbuster, but as a movie where the world declared in one voice:  I will not watch this quietly in the night! We will not let it vanish without a fight! We’re going to watch it, we’re going to survive.

Today, we celebrate… Independence Day!

(sorry. I had to.)

How painful was it:  F’ing loved it.

Rating: 7/10. One of those movies that you can hate and love at the same time. It’s a classic, and I mean it in the truest sense. Like all time classic film.

The Wife’s Retort: meh. Apparently you liked it more than me.

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