- by Jeff Beck
Independence Day (20th Anniversary Edition): Still a Fun Epic After 20 Years
“Independence Day” is the earliest “event movie” that I can remember going to see as a kid. I was on the cusp of turning 11 and I can recall being really excited to check it out on the big screen. The theater was completely packed for the sold out show, with me barely being able to see the screen thanks to the people sitting in front of me, but somehow it didn’t seem to matter as long as I had a decent view. Two and a half hours later, I had thoroughly enjoyed the sci-fi epic. There had been lots of cool battles and tons of explosions. It had even made me laugh quite a bit, so all-in-all, it was exactly what I was hoping it would be. Over the next 20 years, it’s one of those films that I revisited a few more times, though at this point, it had been probably nearly a decade since I last watched it, which makes it a fascinating experience to come back to it now and see if it still manages to hold up after all this time.
Beginning on July 2nd, SETI (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) receives a signal of something massive moving from the moon to the Earth. As it turns out, the object is a gigantic UFO, from which several smaller UFO’s detach and position themselves above the world’s largest cities. Unsure of their intentions, the President (Bill Pullman) tries to keep everyone calm while authorities try to determine what would be the best course of action. Meanwhile, a satellite expert (Jeff Goldblum) discovers a hidden signal that is acting as a countdown, a countdown that ends up ticking down to a coordinated attack by the UFOs. With the major cities of the world destroyed, it’s up to the survivors to coordinate their own attack against the aliens on July 4th in order to reclaim the planet.
Admittedly, this synopsis leaves out a lot of the side stories that don’t really have that much to do with the main plot, though the characters do end up playing pivotal roles by the end. These include a crop duster (Randy Quaid), who was supposedly abducted by aliens years ago and is now trying to warn everyone about their intentions, all the while trying to protect his family. There’s also a fighter pilot (Will Smith), who is called in as part of an assault on one of the alien ships. All together, they form a rather interesting tapestry of people that are trying to deal with a completely unexpected situation, from the very top of the government to the regular Joes. This is actually what brings about part of the film’s charm, getting to see how different people react and witnessing the lengths they’ll go to stay alive and save the rest of mankind.
While the story is supposed to be taken seriously in part, there’s also an ever-present humorous quality to it, which could accurately be described as a kind of campiness. Thinking back to disaster movies of old (“The Towering Inferno,” “The Poseidon Adventure,” “Earthquake,” etc.), they were always a little amusing even when they weren’t trying to be. Filmmakers Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich made “Independence Day” knowing full-well that it was a rather silly premise, but perhaps that was one of the things that compelled them to write this story. They even went the extra mile of throwing in a lot of jokes to point out even further just how ludicrous a lot of this scenario is. Thinking back to when I was a kid sitting in that theatre, I laughed at the jokes, but over the years, I realized that it was one of those movies you could really laugh at on the whole, and yet, still appreciate as an entertaining disaster epic, just like the classics from the ‘70s.
Speaking of disaster films, these are the kinds of films that wouldn’t have much of an impact if it weren’t for the stellar special effects, with “Independence Day” being no exception to the rule. Back in 1996, everyone marveled at the amazing effects that went into the film, from the gigantic flying saucers hovering over the major cities of the world to the spectacular aerial battles to entire cities being blown right off the map. It’s no surprise it ended up winning an Oscar for those effects, once again putting it in the company of some of those ‘70s classics mentioned earlier. Looking at the film again recently, they still hold up very well, producing the desired thrills that are needed to get you into the story and keep you planted firmly on the edge of your seat.
On the whole, it was indeed an intriguing experience to see the film again after so long. It’s humorous and has several moments of excitement, but I don’t think I’d go so far as to call it a great movie. It was meant to operate as a fun spectacle, and that’s exactly what it is. Even 20 years later, it still holds up as such despite effects having come even further in those two decades. Director Roland Emmerich would go on to try and replicate the success he had here with further disaster films like “Godzilla,” “The Day After Tomorrow,” and “2012,” but he was never able to get back to the level of entertainment that he had achieved. Perhaps the sequel no one asked for will be his grand return? Or perhaps it will simply further certify that he’ll never be able to top his original disaster outing.
The 20th Anniversary Edition of “Independence Day” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.39:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of outstanding quality. The film looks better than it ever has before with a perfectly clear image that does a great job of preserving its Oscar-winning effects. The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is equally excellent, giving you all of the Oscar-nominated sound from the dialogue to the multitude of effects in top-notch quality. Overall, it’s been given a marvelous makeover that makes it look new again, which is sure to please the film’s many fans.
3 Commentaries: 1) Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich (Theatrical Cut), 2) Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich (Extended Cut), and 3) the Visual Effects Supervisors: Informative tracks with the director/co-writer, the producer/co-writer, and those behind the film’s incredible Oscar-winning effects.
ID4 Datastream Trivia Track: A track that has little pieces of info pop up throughout the film.
Independence Day: A Legacy Surging Forward (31 Minutes): A fascinating retrospective that includes interviews with the filmmakers and cast.
Original Theatrical Ending (4 Minutes): A look at the silly way the film was originally going to end.
Gag Reel (2 Minutes): An unfunny blooper reel that is easily skippable.
Creating Reality (29 Minutes): A vintage featurette that looks at creating the film’s effects and production design.
ID4 Invasion (22 Minutes): A mock-umentary about the alien invasion. Easily skippable.
The Making of ID4 (28 Minutes): Another vintage featurette that explores the making of the film through behind the scenes footage and interviews with cast and crew.
Combat Review (9 Minutes): A pointless inclusion that is merely clips of destruction from the film.
Monitor Earth Broadcasts (51 Minutes): Fake news clips created for the film.
Even after 20 years, Roland Emmerich’s epic disaster flick “Independence Day” still has a charm about it. It brings with it a sense of humor that’s both subtle and outright, while providing plenty of excitement with its thrilling action sequences that hold up very well even to this day. If, like me, you have fond memories of seeing it when it first came out, then it’s definitely worth checking out again for the fun nostalgia trip it brings with it. It may not be what you would call a great film, but that doesn’t stop it from being the fun spectacle it was always meant to be.
Available on Special Edition Blu-ray starting tomorrow.
Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic and be sure to subscribe for the latest updates.