Wednesday, March 30, 2011

1996 Saturn – Independence Day (ID4)

I'm posting today rather than Friday for personal scheduling reasons, but also to clearly avoid the many-tentacled hellbeast that April Fools on the internet has become. I mean, this is a review of ID4! I have to give it the proper reverence that it deserves!

With our second Emmerich movie, a smash summer hit, I think we’ve officially entered the second generation of the blockbuster. We’ve seen many of the best entries from the first, dominated by Lucas and especially Steven Spielberg. Emmerich and Producer Jerry Bruckheimer dominate the second: the films are bigger, even more special-effects-driven, more jingoistic, and, well, stupider.* That doesn’t mean they can’t be fun though….they just usually aren’t.

ID4, most of all, walks the tightrope between stupid and fun. Even watching it again for this blog, for the first time in at least a decade, I couldn’t quite decide if it was too stupid to be fun or too fun to worry about its stupidity. I kept swinging between those two options.

Basically, this is a rewriting of War of the Worlds to give it more patriotic Fourth-of-July action. Alien ships come down from the sky, and everyone is happy to see them. But, eccentric scientist Jeff Goldblum thinks the aliens plan an attack, and he rushes to tell President Bill Pullman (if the characters have names, I sure don’t remember them – that kind of character detail isn’t important… explosions!). The aliens promptly do shoot green beams that annihilate the White House, the Empire State Building, Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, etc., and the film’s characters take to wandering around Area 51, looking for a dues ex machina, which they promptly find and use, after the requisite number of UFO vs. jets dogfights. Even the President gets to fly a fighter after a fairly lame inspirational speech. Along the way we get lots of homages to that first generation of blockbusters, especially Close Encounters and Star Wars.

I should also add that this begins the era of Will Smith. Around this time, Congress passed a law requiring that all dominant summer blockbusters contain the Fresh Prince. This act was eventually repealed in one of the most controversial provisions of the Patriot Act, and everyone who had to sit through Smith’s various failed Oscar-bids, like 27 Pounds, laments the law’s end. How much better would Transformers have been with Will Smith’s unflappable charisma? I’m only partially kidding, as it is the easy charm of Smith, Pullman, and Goldblum that helps make the film bearable. On the other hand, Randy Quaid’s groan-inducing turn as an alcoholic Vietnam vet who pulls-it-together to save-the-day does not help. No wonder the star whackers are after him.

In the end, I’d say that the fun won out over the stupidity, but I’d add the caveat that the film (by which I mean the effects that the film leans so heavily on) has not aged well, and watching it today, the stupidity is even more evident.

*I’ll take any Emmerich film over almost any Bruckheimer film…except maybe Pirates of the Caribbean and The Rock.

Grade: C+

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