Independence Day (1996)
Independence Day (1996)

Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller Running Time: 2 hrs. 25 min.

Release Date: July 3rd, 1996 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Roland Emmerich Actors: Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Robert Loggia, Randy Quaid, Vivica A. Fox, James Rebhorn, Brent Spiner, Adam Baldwin, Lisa Jakub, Mae Whitman, Harry Connick Jr.

 


 

O

n July 2nd, at the New Mexico SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institution) installation, a radio signal from another world seems to have reached Earth. But upon closer inspection, it’s evident that the source of the transmission is somewhere on the moon. And, by no coincidence, an impossibly large mass heading straight for Earth appears to be slowing down, causing the Space Command division at the Pentagon to rule out the possibility of a meteor. Former Gulf War pilot and current President of the United States, Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman), is alerted when the object, stationed just outside of the Earth’s atmosphere, breaks off into nearly three dozen smaller pieces – spaceships that are themselves approximately 15 miles in diameter.

Widespread panic grips the world as each alien craft positions itself slowly and ominously over major landmarks and capitals. Meanwhile, SETI researcher David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) discovers that the subtly embedded signal, making use of U.S. satellites, keeps recycling itself down to extinction – like some sort of countdown. As major cities evacuate, a military helicopter welcome party is greeted by laser blasts that annihilate the ships. And that’s just the beginning, as the hovering starcrafts open their metal underbellies to unleash further examples of massive firepower that reduce their targets to ash.

The most entertaining aspects of “Independence Day” are the special effects, which make use of highly detailed miniatures to destroy, practical creature costuming, humongous explosions full of billowing balls of orange flame, and aerial combat sequences like something out of “Star Wars.” It’s an alien invasion of the hostile kind, though there’s a distinct focus on adventure and action over violence and scares. It’s a surprisingly well-balanced sci-fi thriller. The lighter tone even permeates the first encounter with an individual monster – while humor seems to graze every line of dialogue. A later attack scene, however, brings back the potential for suspense that could have been as terrifying as the killing machines from “Aliens.”

One of the major problems with the film is the extreme overabundance of characters. The cast is large and notable, but far from necessary. It takes more than 20 minutes just for Will Smith’s character, a fighter pilot captain, to be introduced. And each persona has friends, acquaintances, and a full family, with each member receiving several minutes of screentime to create not only personalities but also professions and idiosyncrasies. Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Robert Loggia, Vivica A. Fox, James Rebhorn, Harvey Fierstein, Brent Spiner, Lisa Jakub, Mae Whitman, Harry Connick Jr., and Margaret Colin are but a few of the players that crowd the frame, taking away from important roles and actions, which could have made the pacing tighter and the runtime more manageable. There’s even a former Vietnam pilot and current booze-loving cropduster named Russell Casse (Randy Quaid), who claims he was abducted by the tentacled conquerors, and get’s his own moments for exposition, backstory, and climactic revenge.

The touring of the underground, top secret Area 51 facility (complete with eccentric lead scientist); the postapocalyptic trek to army strongholds; and the designs for the alien spaceships and biomechanical, armored suits (and slimy little puppeteers) all provide amusing visuals. But excessive attention to subplots – such as multiple love stories, overenthusiastic patriotic speeches, and tearful goodbyes – stifles the intensity. There’s also a lot of levity in the face of evil alien invaders, along with hokey references to “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” But director Roland Emmerich sure knows how to blow up an iconic building or two.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10