Jeff's Reviews

Thoughts on every movie I've ever seen.

Independence Day (1996)

Directed by Roland Emmerich

Starring Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Mary McDonnell


An awful lot of hype. In an attempt to be the king of all movies, they mix genres (romance, sci-fi, and drama). It fails miserably.

Kinda fun to watch. Amazing effects. I’m surprised that a big movie like this (one that deals with aliens at least semi-seriously) hadn’t really been attempted since Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Perhaps the special effects were the limiting factor. The effects were undoubtedly awesome, but at times they looked so computer-generated (smooth and matted) that they looked fake. Sometimes they were even unnecessary. Smith, an accomplished pilot, should have known that he could pull up a bit on the alien ship and fly out of the nuclear plane of debris after the explosion of the mother ship. But instead, he risks his life but trying to fly through it. And in the last shot of the movie, the falling pieces of the mother ship would be spraying outward, not inward. I suppose they are all falling in toward the ship ruins for dramatic effect. Excessive title and place graphics. Overall, a pretty bad movie with pretty good effects.

Bad direction. The attempt to make it a comedy/action thriller may have been the biggest knock against Independence Day. I don’t care how funny your characters are, if Earth was REALLY being invaded by aliens, NO ONE would be making any fucking jokes, especially if that huge fucking thing was flying over them. But throughout the movie, the characters (and the director) feel the need to stray from the obvious drama of the moment to make a dumb joke or be silly. It’s as if Emmerich tried to ruin all the good moments with stupid lines. The film has too many catchphrases and not enough real dialogue. As a whole, I just don’t think the film captured the sheer pandemonium that would grip the planet if it was really being invaded by aliens, and maybe the comedy mix was the biggest reason. Maybe it would have been better to try the science fiction/action thriller mix and keep comedy at a minumum. Independence Day seemed to be obsessed with the typical Hollywood action BS, including fast-cuts and no dramatic pauses. Can you imagine if they had used BS like that in Close Encounters of the Third Kind?

Sure, the film copied a whole bunch of stuff from other movies, but most of it was done in fun (Hal from 2001). Other parts (music, action formulas) were just copied because they had proven to be so successful with audiences in the past. A few of the scenes (like the smoking plane shot from The Right Stuff) were blatant reproductions, didn’t work, and were pretty corny. Some things it even tried to pawn off as entirely original, like the Terminator 2: Judgment Day keys in the visor and through-the-city explosion. The aliens looked a lot like Giger’s alien in Aliens. The fallen Statue of Liberty, right out of Planet of the Apes. And just as in War of the Worlds, a virus saves the day.

Bad writing. If they had steered more towards drama, it could have been a great one. Close Encounters of the Third Kind took the issue seriously, and it was an amazingly real film. Can you imagine if Dreyfuss had been cracking jokes the whole time in Close Encounters of the Third Kind? It wouldn’t have worked. It would have made the same mistake that Independence Day did. I think if more attention had been paid to how serious such an invasion would really be rather than trying to inject it with Will Smith one-liners, it would have been better. Sure, Wil Smith is funny. Sure, Judd Hirsch has some good lines, too. But the comedy is way out of context with the global chaos around them.

Implausible. Wouldn’t the President know what time it was in Los Angeles? Wouldn’t they have detected a ship long before it reached the moon? An entire civilization based on C++? Why didn’t the mother ship detect that Smith and Goldblum were hijacking the alien ship? Or at least detect that it’s been gone since Roswell (which was in the 40’s, not in the 50’s as stated in the movie)? And that computer virus? Please. I think it would have been much better if Smith and Goldblum would have died when they were in the mother ship. Just smoke their cigars, and then they’re done. It would have given the film ten times the dramatic impact. Hell, it worked in Braveheart. Imagine how effective Braveheart would have been if William Wallace, a likable character who the audience fully supports, had gone on living at the end of the film. No, it was the sacrifice for a greater cause that made the film so good. Such a sacrifice was needed in Independence Day. But Independence Day, as a Hollywood action super-production, had to be a feel-good movie. So no one significant dies on the screen, and the film has remarkably little dramatic effect as a result.

Bad acting. Will Smith was okay (I don’t think his “in-your-face” style works), Bill Pullman was great (one of his best performances, which surprised me), Jeff Goldblum was decent but kind of annoying (he seems to have mastered that type of character, although it may have been taken advantage of–“typecast overkill” in a sense), and Randy Quaid was also good (he seems to have mastered the drunk loser character, as in Vacation). The First Lady was good. Even Connick was pretty good (I don’t know why everyone hates him). Goldblum has always had that cool walk. Quaid was the only character who should have been funny (because he was too drunk to KNOW what was happening to the world). Maybe he even should have been given MORE funny one-liners. It was great seeing Brent Spiner from “Star Trek: TNG” in his role as the mad scientist. He did a fabulous job.

They whooped E.T.’s ass commercially, but any sane moviegoer knows that E.T. would have Will Smith for lunch.

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