Film Review: Independence Day

It’s scary to think that it’s nearly 20 years since Jeff Goldblum declared “Check Mate” and Will Smith told the world that he just had to get himself an extra terrestrial space craft as aliens flew 90 billion light years to come down here and start a fight. If we are currently living the era of the comic book franchise then Independence Day comes slap bang in the middle of the testosterone filled arms race of the 1990s when it appeared that the films were directed solely at men and the bench mark for a good story was not the cast, the script or the plot but rather how much petrol you could ignite and how big an explosion you could make. Con Air, The Rock, Armageddon, Jurassic Park all arriving as I neared my teenage years and along with Independence Day, cemented my love of cinema not through exquisite refinement but rather, simple visual action; and throw away one liners.

And I loved it, I remember seeing Independence Day in the cinema and being enthralled, I brought it on VHS (in a case that had an explosive lenticular cover) and even up-scaled to DVD when it was released on that. But I was young, and influence by a good fire ball and dreams of saving the day. I didn’t look at movies as I do now. I didn’t question plot holes, poor acting or implausible twists. I simply watched the film and got swept up in the entertainment.

Sonic 2 (SEGA Megadrive) - Independence Day

Sadly though, watching it now threw matured eyes it doesn’t quite hold the impact it once did. Firstly, it has dated badly. The special effects look cheap and nasty now. The lack of connection between the characters and their surroundings is so defined on green screen shots that it stands out so badly that you almost want to laugh that you even looked at these as cutting edge. I sat there watching it feeling like I do every time I see pictures of my old computer games. Wondering how I could ever think this good and thinking that kids of today really don’t know how lucky they are graphically.

Then there is the problem of the love story rammed without care into the tale. It is obviously there to add that layer of humility and grounding to the film, and to give wives and girlfriends something to ohh and ahh over having been dragged to see it by unloving partners. But at times it just feels too clichéd and silly. And when Will Smith goes gallivanting off to rescue the women he loves things just go a little bit too far, becoming just a little bit too comedic to fit the tone of a film that on the surface has ideas of being a potentially serious story.

HG Wells - War Of The Worlds - Independence Day

And that’s the third problem. The story. It’s really nothing new, in fact it’s such a modern interpretation of HG Well’s War of the Worlds that it borders on plagiarism. But I don’t actually care, so many alien stories borrow from Well’s original that it’s almost the de facto standard for how an alien invasion would play out. Mars Attacks! and even Scary Movie 4 are other examples of this burglary. It does, however, mean that you know where it’s going, you know how it’s going to finish. When you’re sticking to a formula it’s hard to make the tale feel fresh and new when the ending is already known.

And lastly, I hate with a passion just how flag wavingly American it becomes, to a point where it almost starts to poke fun at the other nations around the world by portraying every stereotype and cliché it can think of. It’s honestly close to the RAF turning up and declaring that it’s a “jolly good show” before taking a mouthful of cucumber sandwich, with the crusts cut off.

Cucumber Sandwiches - Independence Day

There are however, some good points. Firstly the cast just feel right. Jeff Goldblum is perfect, and continues the perfect performance of arrogant yet deprecating genius he started in Jurassic Park, while Will Smith brings the indestructible military stud to life with complete conviction. They maybe one step removed from the people you’d actually find in that situation, from real people, but for the tone of the story they fit brilliantly.

Also, the rest of the supporting cast just work. Bill Pullman is an out of his depth President, Margaret Colin echoes vast amounts of Allison Janney’s West Wing character to bring a real calm composure to the administration and leadership while Judd Hirsch, Randy Quaid and even James Rebhorn just look completely at home with their parts. And I cannot talk about the cast without mentioning Brent Spiner, who not only looks perfect as a scientist almost driven mad through devolution of sunlight and freedom, but also who never once makes you think of Data from Star Trek.

Independence Day Cast

Independence Day even has a inspirationally fitting soundtrack. Scored by David Arnold, it’s cheesy at times and the main theme feels like it has John William’s finger prints and influence all over it, but it feels like an integral and emotive part of the story rather than an overlying distraction.

To end this review, I have to admit that I am somewhat torn by Independence Day now, I adore it as a film because of the memories it holds and the simplistic and explosive ideas it imparts. But it’s aged into limbo because the effects have dated so badly. It’s a film that relies on it’s visuals more than it’s narrative to survive and I no longer enjoy them. And so when I watch it, I’m left clutching at its themes and ideas more than it’s explosions and special effects, and that a fight it can never win, because that’s a punch it never set out to throw.

6 out of 10 stars (6 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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