Friday, July 03, 2015

Zaki's Original Review: Independence Day

First published: August 27, 1996
Note: With Independence Day weekend upon us, I figured there was no time like the present to bust out this oldie from the archives. I haven't revisited ID4 in more than a decade, but I'm fairly certain that if/when I do, I'd have a very different response to it than that of teenage Zaki below. As it is, I pretty much disavow the entirety of this write-up. The comparisons to Star Wars and Jurassic Park betray my total lack of perspective, and the crack about the "current denizen of the Oval Office" in the next-to-last paragraph shows that this was during my brief, unfortunate Rush Limbaugh fanboy phase. Ugh.

Not since 1989's Batman has a movie's impending release been greeted with as much pomp and circumstance as Independence Day. Unless you've been living under a rock for the past nine months or so, you've probably become acquainted with this alien invasion epic, already well on the way to toppling Jurassic Park from its perch as the most successful movie ever. Going all the way back to the teasers played during the Super Bowl and stretching to the cover stories on Time, Newsweek, and Entertainment Weekly (all on the same week, no less!), this onslaught of hoopla helped make Independence Day what is arguably the most highly anticipated movie of the past decade.

This, in turn, made it impossible for Independence Day to meet all of the heightened expectations. With any film of this magnitude, it has been subjected to an inordinate amount of examination, often by a hearty band of nitpickers wielding fine-toothed combs looking for anything and everything that will point to the work in question as an incompetent waste of film.

Independence Day more than stands up to the scrutiny. ID4 (even with that idiotic acronym) is loads of fun, and it provides a real sense of what it must have been like for the people who had the opportunity to watch Star Wars on the big screen for the first time back in 1977. Proving to be the first real "event" movie to come down the pike in a long time, Independence Day really never professes to be anything more than escapist entertainment, with enough "gee whiz" pyrotechnics to enthrall audiences.

Sci-fi moguls Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich, the dynamic duo behind 1994's StarGate and now Independence Day, have brought the fun back to the movies. There are no hidden social or political messages to be seen here, just gleefully mindless mayhem, with death rays, lasers, and explosions abounding. The story is woefully predictable, but within the confines of the movie that's okay. Watching ID4 is not unlike being on a roller coaster: you know where you're going to end up, but it's getting there that's the fun part.

Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, and Bill Pullman headline the huge ensemble as a fighter pilot, a computer genius, and the president respectively, and they all turn in exemplary performances. Pullman comes off the best in this motley assortment, playing a role that casts him, for the first time, as an action hero, a president who could teach a few lessons to the current denizen of the Oval Office. Right behind the big three in supporting roles are Randy Quaid, Judd Hirsch, Mary McDonnell, and Viveca Fox, all helping to keep the action moving.

Mind blowing special effects and a top flight cast are only a few of the reasons Independence Day succeeds, not only in being a good film, but also in ushering in a renaissance for the alien invasion movie. It remains to be seen whether or not any of these efforts will manage to get Independence Day's good fortune to rub off on them, but that's not stopping other movie studios all over Hollywood from readying their own ID4-wannabes. One thing is for sure: it looks as if a whole generation is going to look with mixed feelings of excitement and trepidation to the night skies. A

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