Independence Day (1996) / Sci Fi-Action

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and language
Running Time: 145 min.

Cast: Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Judd Hirsch, Robert Loggia, Randy Quaid, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Margaret Colin, Vivica A. Fox, James Rebhorn, Harvey Fierstein, Adam Baldwin, Brent Spiner
Small role: Harry Connick Jr.

Director: Roland Emmerich
Screenplay: Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich
Review published January 10, 1999

Independence Day 1996 Will Smith Jeff GoldblumIn the 1990s, it seems that if you're given a budget over $100 million, the rule of thumb is to put 90% of it into special effects, while whatever paltry sum is left should go toward getting b-grade actors and the script. Better yet, just let the director write it himself since it's the least important part of the movie, and then recycle formulas from classic movies in the genre and you can't miss. Only make sure not to complicate anything with details or any semblance of intelligence because you want everyone, from three year olds to the so-old-they're drooling crowd to understand what's going on at all times. Considering how much money Independence Day raked in, I'd say they're onto something. Too bad the "something" is not "something new".

In this no-brain flick we find Earth under siege by giant spaceships which take to destroying every major city one by one. We weak Earthlings try valiantly to strike back but the ships are seemingly impermeable and the creatures inside formidable. The quest for freedom takes the U.S. President (Pullman, While You Were Sleeping) and staff into Area 51, where it is discovered we've had visitors before, and with the help of a cable tech (Goldblum, The Great White Hype) who has cracked their transmission codes, they set out on the impossible task of saving life as we know it.

Toss Star Wars, War of the Worlds -- hell even "Battlestar Galactica" -- into a blender and the mess you wind up with is Independence Day. However you only get the essence of what these other ideas were because everything presides on the level of comic book camp. Lots of idiocy, moments of sheer disbelief, and a group of actors that should never be given starring roles in major movies muck up what could have been a film much better than it was. Even so, the film does work on certain levels stemming from awesome displays of destruction of monuments we hold dear, as well as a watchability factor that has is grinning at all the action even during scenes overly schmaltzy or patriotic.

This is the quintessential 1990s popcorn movie, an all-filler thriller for the masses. Think of it as junk food; It may not be the tastiest or even good for us, but it does the job without all the hassles. Independence Day is certainly dumb, poorly written dreck, but somehow despite everything going against it, it's still fun to watch all the same.

 Qwipster's rating:

1999 Vince Leo