Thursday 23 June 2016

Review: Independence Day

Independence Day
Cert: 12A / 145 mins / Dir. Roland Emmerich / Trailer

A preamble: I first saw Independence Day back in 1996 during its initial cinematic release. The last time I watched Independence Day was in 1996 during its initial cinematic release. For reasons best known to the Summer of that year, I got completely caught up in the marketing hype for the event-movie of the year, but didn't get to actually see it until it had been playing for about a month or so.

By that point, I'd already bought a few of the fairly cool looking Trendmasters figures (they came with a floppy disk, mate. Do you know how exciting that was?), and they were busy taking pride of place in my luxury Kent penthouse flat when I finally caught the film at Canterbury's ABC, and I realised the aliens had a far more prominent position on my bookshelf than they did in Roland Emmerich's disaster-epic. Because that's what Independence Day is. A disaster movie; not a sci-fi one. Plenty of flying-saucers but an utter dearth of actual aliens, so that we learn little-to-nothing of the culture of the extra-terrestrial invaders, and instead learn little-to-nothing about the cardboard cutout characters sent to fight them off and save the world.

I wasn't angry at the film per se, just pretty disappointed that the figures I'd bought were basically the 90s counterpart of the Jawas from Star Wars: undeniably there and undeniably worth making toys out of, but not really the reason you should go and see the film. In many ways, I'd spoiled it for myself with over-anticipation (a thing I rarely do these days*1). So fast-forward twenty years and my local showed a double-bill to usher in the sequel*2, Independence Day: Resurgence. Under the normal run of things I wouldn't bother watching an underwhelming movie from two decades ago, but since I'd like to catch up before the new installment and since watching an underwhelming movie at home would provide far too many distractions to concentrate properly, I figured why the hell not?

Sure, Emmerich's film won't have changed in the intervening years, but maybe my appreciation of film will have..?*3

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An amble: Hmm. Yeah, it's not great, is it? Not so much that the film hasn't aged well, more that I was less than half an hour in before I realised that it's basically as crap as I remember. To be honest, I was already bored by the time Will Smith and Harry Connick Jr take to the skies for the first time in an attempt to beat the aliens into submission with standard issue Air Force script-clichés. I get the idea of making a sci-fi invasion movie that's about "the little people", the everyman watching TV news reports and not knowing what the hell's going on. But to make that work, you really need to write in some characters, rather than archetypal caricatures spouting the first line that came into Roland Emmerich's head.

It's tempting to say that the film is of its time, but both the structure and dialogue are insultingly hackneyed, even for 1996 (Jurassic Park predates this by three years, remember). It's more amazing to note how many films Independence Day has influenced, despite doing very little that was actually new. It's basically the first episode of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but without the sarcasm.

When Jeff Goldblum watches a 15 mile-wide*4 flying saucer glide slowly over New York for five minutes before suddenly remembering the piece of paper in his hand and gasping "...the signal!", and he's meant to be the smartest guy in the city, you know that humanity is basically (and deservedly) doomed. Although you'd also think that an invading force who have a bit of a gripe after the Roswell incident might actually target the Nevada hangar holding their still-operational scout-ship like in the first wave of attacks, or something.

And you detonate a nuclear device in an alien mothership (big enough to hold a shit-ton of 15 mile-wide bomber ships, remember) that's parked up within the planet's gravity-well? That's just going to be the Endor Holocaust all over again...

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A post-amble: On one hand, it's nice that Emmerich has used the alien fleet as a metaphor for resource-stripping, invasion-paranoia, especially as he'd later go on to obliquely suggest "Freedom Hatin' Terrorists" to moviegoers by employing the cunning cypher of "Actual Freedom Hatin' Terrorists".

But you've got to figure that that metaphor can be instantly read as relating to the settlers who all but wiped out the native population of America. And since this movie depicts a defiant America nobly saving the world, that suggests either crippling social-guilt, or a complete lack of self-awareness.

I guess the sequel will tell..?

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Films where people gaze concertedly into the middle-distance and croak "Good God…".
Every six minutes, or so

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Well, if you didn't catch it at tonight's double-bill screenings, chances are you'll be able to slot in a triple when Part 3 comes out.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
What, be an entirely mainstream version of a geeky thing?

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Given Roland Emmerich and Will Smith's involvement, I hardly think that's an appropriate question…

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Let's be honest. A little bit, yeah.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't, but there's a "I've got a really bad feeling about this" line.
Plus that whole pre-finale scene in Nevada, which is essentially the Yavin IV base but dragged out for three times as long

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Independence Day stars Mary McDonnell who appeared in the rebooted Battlestar Galactica, of course, alongside Katee 'Bo-Katan' Sackhoff.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Although it wasn't the last time I'd do this. A couple of years later I got similarly excited about the Stargate movie, buying a similar number of (admittedly smaller/less-expensive) figures in the process. These days, I only spend inordinate amounts of disposable income on spin-off merchandising after being disappointed by a movie...

*2 They might have showed an ID4 double-bill leading into a midnight showing of the new movie, but I went home after the first one. I'll catch Resurgence tomorrow. I'm suffering from Midnight-Fatigue a little if I'm honest, and after staying up until 3am watching the worryingly bland X-Men: Apocalypse with little more than a handful of patrons, I have no desire to repeat the experience. There were about 30 people in for the double-bill tonight, although additional midnight screenings of the new movie alone were taking place in other screens. If Resurgence is good sequel, it'll still be good at 20:45 on Thursday night, thanks very much. If it's a terrible one, then I won't be self-imposing sleep deprivation to find out...

*3 Spoiler: it has, that's the point of this blog, in fact.

*4 The "15 miles wide" detail was one I only picked up on tonight (having only watched the film once before, obviously). Don't know why it initially stuck, but every time we see a shot of the discs it kept popping back into my head as it made less and less sense each time. That crashed ship in the background at the end? That's 706 square miles of Nevada Desert spanged in one earth-smashing collapse, is it? And the same for all the other downed ships all over the world? I'm amazed there are any humans left alive on the planet for Resurgence

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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