the fresh films reviews

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Independence Day (1996)

Roland Emmerich
Science Fiction/ Disaster
Independence Day
145 minutes
Dean Devlin
Dean Devlin
Roland Emmerich

Cast includes:

Captain Steven Hiller Will Smith
President Thomas J. Whitmore Bill Pullman
David Levinson Jeff Goldblum
First Lady Marilyn Whitmore Mary McDonnell
Julius Levinson Judd Hirsch
General William Grey Robert Loggia
Russell Casse Randy Quaid
Constance Spano Margaret Colin
Albert Nimzicki James Rebhorn
Marty Gilbert Harvey Fierstein
Major Mitchell Adam Baldwin
Dr. Brackish Okun Brent Spiner
Alicia Casse Lisa Jakub
Captain Jimmy Wilder Harry Connick, Jr.
Secret Service Guy Lyman Ward



When Independence Day was released after a hefty marketing campaign in the summer of 1996, it was intended to be the most humongous sci-fi/disaster movie to date, with the most remarkable special effects. And even though the critics found the storyline fairly stupid and the characters rather one-dimensional, they also mostly hailed the special effects and the action, and the audiences flocked to the cinemas and movie theatres. Seen today, the idiotic storyline and the cardboard characters are still there, but the special effects now look not only incredibly unimaginative, but also strangely cheap and dated compared to visuals in far older films, such as for instance 2001 or Close Encounters, or contemporary counterparts such as Jurrasic Park. Director Roland Emmerich arguably tried to create the ultimate B-movie, inspired by the sci-fis of the 1950s, only with top-notch production values. Seen in retrospect, however, ID4, as the film was also known as, has become just another B-movie, with just as insipid special effects as the films it was originally inspired by.

And when the visuals don't really work to hold the film up, all its other weaknesses become much too apparent. The characters aren't only one-dimensional, they are utterly lame − seemingly written by a kid. If you think James Cameron's caricature dichotomy of goofy scientists and bad-ass military guys is ridiculous, wait until you see Emmerich's version (Dr. Okun is the worst example). And as if that wasn't enough, people here act and react in the most outrageous ways. They are neither authentic under the extreme circumstances which make up the premise for this movie nor if they had been placed in a normal interpersonal context. Everything they do is done for the camera, and the actors desperately try to make the most of the horrible one-liners they've had written for them.

When I first saw and reviewed this film some 18 years ago, I largely panned it for the things listed in the above paragraph. This time (although I still partly enjoyed the film on some absent-minded level), I'm also appalled by the film's mediocre technical merit. Not only are the aforementioned special effects disappointing, but so is Emmerich's lack of ability to create an effective spatiality. Despite an ostensible "adventurous" nature, in which the various characters are being thrown from place to place, we do not get any macro-sense of the settings or the devastations in them (the standard around-the-world news-reports are used) nor for where the final scenes are played out.

And to finish it all off, Emmerich's flippant stance to his themes, like war and death for instance, kills off any thematic value the film could have had. Interesting and valid questions concerning whether or not we're alone in the universe, or whether the characters' aggressive actions are justifiable, effectively become smothered by the film's goofy, unintelligent overtone. There's not much left to enjoy here, unless you can enjoy the antics of a kid with his hand deep down the candy jar, which is how Emmerich comes off, and probably must have felt when he was given the green-light for this project.

Re-reviewed: Copyright 12.5.2014 Fredrik Gunerius Fevang
Original review:
Copyright 18.10.1996 Fredrik Gunerius Fevang