Cinepub


Review: Independence Day by Jamie

It’s hard to believe that our little America was 234 years old yesterday. It seems like only yesterday that you were dressing up like Natives and dumping our tea in the Boston harbour. Now look at you. All grown up with your own postal service, building codes and monuments. We’re so proud of you.

It’s equally hard to fathom that the film ‘Independence Day’ is fourteen years old. Seriously, just try and fathom that, I dare you. See? I told you. It’s practically unfathomable. Still I can remember watching this film in some tiny cinema in some backwater Essex town which name escapes me now but it was certainly between the time that Braintree’s cinema closed and it’s new one opened. It could have been anywhere but I can still remember thinking how weird it was that this place that was essentially a village had a cinema whilst Braintree, an averagely sized town had none. I think I saw ‘The Blair Witch Project’ in the same place.

Anyway, that’s besides the point. The point is that I can remember that I was blown away by the film back then. It was fucking awesome seeing all those alien spaceships and exploding monuments. What wasn’t to love? My excitement was probably heightened by the fact that I was an eleven year old seeing a 12 rated film in the cinema and also the fact that I was deep into my fascination with the paranormal back then, particularly aliens so the fact that this film referenced things like Roswell and Area 51 was just icing on the awesome cake for me. Still some things stuck out as odd to me even back then. In particular the portrayal of the British soldiers but I’ve already gone into that in my ‘2012’ review.

I remember even have the graphic novel adaptation of the film which I read on the way to the cinema, something that I certainly wouldn’t do now. Fuck I even try and avoid comedy trailers nowadays simply because I don’t want the funny bits of the film ruined. I loved this film so much that I even had a couple of the alien action figures. I thought they were awesome with their weird bio-mechanical suits and frail little inhabitants. Yes, I was completely sucked in by the awesome I perceived ‘Independence Day’ to be.

So what would it be like watching it again now? I have actually watched it since, well, watching it may be a bit of an exaggeration. Let’s just say it’s been on whilst I’ve been in the vicinity of the television. Yes, it was time to actually sit down and watch it properly… And then watch it with the Rifftrax commentary directly afterwards. If anything’s worth doing it’s worth doing right.

So what’s the film about? Really? You need me to explain it? Everyone’s seen it, right? Can I finish a sentence in this paragraph without a question mark? Yes. Yes I can.
Anyway the basic gist of the plot is that aliens come and attack Earth. A group of generally unrelated characters come together and fight back and save America and the rest of the world from the alien menace. That’s pretty much it.

So who are these disparate characters? Well, there’s uh… ummm J-Jeff… Ah, yes Jeff Goldblum playing Jeff Goldblum playing David Levinson. No, that wasn’t a typo. Jeff Goldblum basically brings his usual Jeff Goldblum thing to this character but hey, he’s good at it so who am I to complain? David is a genius who manages to figure out the aliens are planning to attack. He decides to travel to Washington with his father Jewlius Levinson played by Judd Hirsch… Sorry, that should be spelled Julius. I just got confused because Julius is perhaps the most stereotypical portrayal of a New York Jewish character ever portrayed on screen. Seriously, he’s meshuga with the over the top Yiddish. Oy vey.

Anyway as I was saying, they schlep to Washington to meet David’s ex-wife Constance Spano (Margaret Colin) who just happens to be an advisor to President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman). In fact it was her decision to further her career in politics that caused their divorce. Still right now David needs to see the President so I guess it all conveniently worked out for the best.

Meanwhile The Fresh Prince of the US Air Force Captain Steve Miller (Will Smith) is having problems. The first is that he wants to become an astronaut but is finding it difficult because he is in love with Jasmine Dubrow (Vivica A. Fox), a stripper, and NASA apparently has very strict rules against hiring people as astronauts if they want to marry a stripper. His second problem is that his Fourth of July weekend has been cancelled thanks to the massively inconvenience of an alien invasion. Thirdly, he has the most annoying best friend in the history of the world, Captain Jimmy Wilder (Harry Conick Jr). Thankfully the aliens sort out his third problem for him.

Even more meanwhile redneck drunkard Russell Casse (Randy Quaid) is having issues due to an alien abduction related incident ten years prior. It causes him all sorts of drink related problems such as crop-dusting the wrong fields and being a really, really shitty father. He’s just been looking for a chance to get back at those extra-terrestrial bastards and it looks like he might finally get it.

So that’s your main cast I guess. There are a few other characters that round the whole thing out like the president’s other employees, William Grey (Robert Loggia) , the wise but gruff military general and Albert Mimzki (James Rebhorn), the nuke happy, douche bag Secretary of Defence. There’s also wacky Area 51 researcher Dr. Brackish Okun, a man apparently so despised by his own parents that they named him after salty water and Marilyn Whitmore (Mary McDonnell), the First Lady who may or may not die in order to provide a poignant moment. By the way, she totally dies. Seriously though, they should have let her play the president, though I may be biased by my complete love of Battlestar Galactica.

So does the film hold up these days? Do I still believe it to be an unrelenting pile of awesome? Well, no. The special effects certainly look a little shoddy these days especially the scene with the incredible slow moving fireball in the tunnel which Jasmine, her son and their dog manage to escape by escaping into a maintenance room. The green screen effect is pretty fucking horrible, probably even by the standards of big blockbusters in the 90s. Plus there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of detail on the spaceships, more the illusion of detail… That’s not fair perhaps but what I’m talking about specifically is the giant death ray on the bottom of the ships. There’s just some metal bits and then a lot of ill-defined blue stuff.

As for the story it’s certainly true that much has been made of the ending where David and Steve manage to upload a computer virus into the alien ships systems and with good reason. It’s perhaps one of the most patently ridiculous plot points in any movie ever made. Seriously. If Macs are safe from the majority of viruses that can seriously shit up a Windows PC then how are we able to accept that we could infect a completely alien computer network with one? That shit just doesn’t make sense. And yes, I realise that it’s all supposed to be a modern, technological reference to ‘The War of the Worlds’ with the cold that wiped out the aliens replaced with a computerised version instead but I don’t care. As I previously stated, that shit just doesn’t make sense.

I suppose I can’t really finish this without bringing up President Whitmore’s little speech. Now thanks to the magical wonders of someone who can’t hold a camera still filming their television screen whilst the scene is playing, we can watch it. Let‘s do that, won‘t we?

Well, what can I say about it? Is it a bit cheesy, over-emotional and over-patriotic? Yes, yes it is. But then so is America. Don’t get me wrong, America, it’s these very qualities which endear you to me. I may not understand your rampant patriotism or emotionalism and there’re certainly not everyone’s cup of tea or light beer or whatever it is you drink in the States but I can find them charming in the same way that you find our Britishness quaint and endearing. Unfortunately the emotional impact of this scene is somewhat hampered by that whole British soldiers thing I mentioned earlier which happened but a few moments earlier.

And despite all the bad stuff I’ve said about this film, there’s an undeniable quality to it that just makes it somewhat entertaining. Sure there isn’t actually as much action and blowing shit up as you might expect from a sci-fi summer blockbuster and there are definite sections of the film which just seem to lull for what seems like an inordinate amount of time and the characters may all be cardboard cut-outs or stereotypes with no real reason to care but still about them but the movie somehow overcomes all those little problems to do what it sets out to do. Much like a little band of colonies did some 234 years ago. Happy America Everybody!

Oh, also the scene where the White House blows up is still pretty awesome.

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