Action Movie Friday: Independence Day

It is time for Action Movie Friday, where I treat an action movie like an action movie and not like a drama and stuff. All movie reviews are subjective and while I may like something, you might think it’s shit, and vice versa!

Title: Independence Day
MPAA Rating: PG13
Release: 1996
Genre: Sci Fi, Action
Starring: Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Robert Loggia, Randy Quaid, Margaret Colin, Vivica A. Fox, Adam Baldwin, Brent Spiner, Harvey Fierstein
Director: Roland Emmerich
Writer: Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich
Distributor: Fox
Budget: $75 Million
Box Office: $815 Million

hey, it’s movie preview guy… nostalgia

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 60%

Gingersnaps Rating: Three Cookies!

I watched this July 4th, it seemed fitting. So happy belated fourth of July to all my American readers!

Summary:

The answer to the question of whether we are alone in the universe has been answered. The aliens have arrived and they aren’t friendly. With their mothership waiting just beyond our moon, the aliens have sent huge city sized craft and placed them over Earth’s cities. At first, their motives are unclear. Until David Levinson, MIT graduate and cable repairman determines that they are using Earth’s satellites to coordinate a countdown. President Whitmore has little time to act. With the aliens a step ahead of them at every turn, President Whitmore has to find their weaknesses and scrape together enough pilots to keep humanity from being exterminated and give the entire globe an independence day to remember.

Review:

On a 75 million dollar budget, this 1996 blockbuster raked in 817 million in foreign and domestic ticket sales. The only surprise is that this film didn’t get a sequel sooner. Yes, twenty years after the original film (man this makes me feel old), Independence Day is reportedly getting a sequel due out in 2016. (Checks cast) And oh God, little Patricia and Dylan look like they’re going to be all grown up. I’m excited now.

All right, so the plot is pretty basic. Aliens come to Earth and they try to destroy it, but humans rally with pluck, daring heroics and the art of computer hacking (because all computers can be hacked) and save the day. It’s a pretty basic plot that really, the only reason I doubt we’ve seen it over and over is because this movie did it so well, why bother. So, yes, there is Area 51 and big ships and green energy weapons. And while the special effects are amazing and still hold up twenty years later, the true strength of this movie is the characters. They are all generally likeable and fleshed out. The movie does revolve around pilots. The President is a former pilot. Captain Hiller is the in the middle of his career. And there is Russell Case who is a wreck broken version of the man he was but still is able to fly his crop duster. The last main character is the scientist type that makes the counter attack possible. They all have flaws and problems to address. The only main character that doesn’t quite breakdown during the course of the movie is Captain Hiller. Though he probably should have. Even the theatrical version with its extreme tight edit to increase the tension of the film, gives the main characters their moments being overwhelmed, out of their depth and touching interactions with the secondary characters. The special edition, thankfully, gives ten extra minutes to expound on those moments for viewers like me who wonder, what the every loving hell is going on! You don’t need those ten minutes to understand the story and the characters. I liked those ten minutes because it gave me a better feel for these characters as people.

And given it was 1996, this film gets definite points for having a cast that was really racially diverse for the time. African Americans, Hispanics, Jews and white men and women all shared the screen together. It was and is refreshing to see.

Unnecessary explosions, okay, where to begin. Really, anything that the aliens did was very over the top and unnecessary. It was just sheer over the top.

Fist Fights, well, we lacked fist fights. The movie is so well put together, I’m not sure it was really necessary. I mean, Will Smith got to throw a punch. But the jet dogfighting doesn’t really compare to a good rough and tumble brawl, as cool as it is. So, I’m going to have to subtract a cookie.

Another blatant problem with this movie is that all the women were cast in girlfriend, ex-wife and wife roles. Their importance to the story were defined by those roles. There were no female pilots shown. There weren’t female scientists shown either after the first five minutes. When David has his breakthrough to figure out how to defeat the aliens, it’s because of his father, not because of his ex-wife. These roles could have been literally filled by anyone. They didn’t really have their own stories. They were there to support the men only. And I understand that this is 1996. Let’s put it into perspective, JAG came out in 1995. The pilot of JAG involved female pilots on an air craft carrier. Female scientist roles, or even female Doctor roles are hard to come by even now. It’s just disappointing that in an otherwise great movie, there wasn’t one woman who really stood out and had her own story. So I’m going to subtract another cookie.

In general, the world building for this movie was pretty solid. Banking a fighter jet at high speed is a bad idea and will knock you out. No, you aren’t going to take out a city sized space craft with Amrams and Sidewinder missiles. While I’m sure that it was to build up tension, the alien shields didn’t go out right away, which makes sense since the virus had to download through the entire system. About the only thing that didn’t make sense to me, and still doesn’t, is how a blast from a central point ended up creating a circular explosion the size of cities. It seemed to be a rather focused burst of energy. I am not a physicist, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it is possible. Really, it looked cool and shocking and I suppose that is all that matters. It’s not enough for me to take a bite out of the cookie at least.

Independence Day is a film that has stood the test of time with complex characters and a tense plot. Its racially diverse cast was ahead of its time. It is unfortunate that it didn’t go further ahead of its time and provide strong independent female characters. What it lacked in fist fights, it certainly made up for in pizazz. Three Gingersnaps.

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