Before Roland Emmerich showed us The Day After Tomorrow, he showed us a new meaning for Independence Day.
Roland Emmerich is the king of summer popcorn fare. His movies have always been summer spectacles, awesome in sight and sound, but often lacking in plot or character development – the kind of movie that is perfect to enjoy over a bucket of popcorn and then not have to think about ever again. Independence Day is the pinnacle of Emmerich’s achievement.
Opening with the mysterious approach of UFOs - first in orbit of the Earth, and then appearing above the major cities of the world, we center on several main characters as they react to the events. Among them are United States President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman), cable repairman, and convenient MIT graduate David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), Marine Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith) and drunken redneck pilot Russell Casse (Randy Quaid). Eventually the aliens show they are here to attack and invade, and we watch the individual character’s storylines wind together as they help defend the world from the alien invasion.
The performances are pretty good. This was one of the first "big" films for Will Smith and helped turn him into the star he is today… well, maybe the star he was before Wild Wild West. What’s better though are many of the supporting actors in the film. Most of the supporting cast is made up of "character actors"; you know - the actors you tend to recognize always playing similar roles, but don’t know their names? Among others, you have the old gruff military guy (Robert Loggia), young stiff military guy (Adam Baldwin), ambiguously gay froggy voiced guy (Harvey Fierstein), and wacky scientist guy (Brent Spiner). Beyond question though, the best performance belongs to Judd Hirsch, formerly from taxi. He takes the role of the old jewish father and really gives it some chutzpah.
Of course, the one thing everyone remembers about Independence Day are the special effects, especially the scenes of destruction as the alien ships destroy the cities of New York, Washington, and Los Angeles. It’s good to say the special effects still hold up ten years later. The destruction and chaos is still impressive to watch and feels very real. It’s unfortunate to say the story hasn’t held up as well. Ten years later many things about the story I used to find humorous are now simply annoying. There are stretches of logic that are just too much to forgive, such as hacking an alien computer and delivering a computer virus, or accepting the military would trust a drunk man to fly their planes, no matter how desperate they were. Luckily this movie is not one to be thought about. Ignore the fact that palm trees survive the walls of fire from the enemy weapons and just enjoy Will Smith spouting out silly one-liners. If you want depth then go watch Signs.
This is the third release of Independence Day on DVD, and the releases aren’t getting any prettier. First you had a pretty good 2 disk special edition with a decent amount of extras – commentary tracks, a special edition of the film adding 9 minutes of footage, documentaries, storyboards, artwork, trailers, basically "the works" of what we expect from DVD releases. A little later they released a general DVD release of the "special edition" and the commentary tracks (basically just disk one from the two-disk set). Now they’ve released that again just tacking on an extended commercial for Emmerich’s newest film The Day After Tomorrow. That doesn’t make the release any better though. This is more depressing then a "double dip" for the DVD. It’s just re-releasing the same old thing in a different package.
Looking at the newest release a little more in detail, it contains the theatrical version of the movie or the extended edition with an extra 9 minutes of film. Unfortunately, the extra 9 minutes really doesn’t add anything to the film. You get some more exposition here and there, and as you get deeper into the movie the extra footage gets less interesting, which is okay as it also gets less frequently inserted. The new footage is gone by the time three-fourths of the film has passed. A couple of years ago (when the first DVD release happened) this would have been acceptable, but in the days after the Lord of the Rings Extended Editions, this just doesn’t cut it as a Special Edition.
Two commentary tracks are also included. One with director Roland Emmerich and producer/co-writer Dean Devlin, and a second one with special effects supervisors Volker Engel and Doug Smith. Both commentaries are rather dry, but are tolerable. The special effect supervisors probably have the more informative of the two tracks, but neither commentary is something I would recommend as a "must hear".
Finally with the latest release you get the aforementioned extended commercial for The Day After Tomorrow. While it’s cool to get an advanced look at Emmerich’s next popcorn flick, you can pretty much be assured between HBO First Looks and other television specials there won’t be enough on the disk to justify buying it just for the commercial.
Bottom Line: If you haven’t bought the DVD by now, there’s no new reason to rush out and get it now. If you do pick it up though, just enjoy it for its popcorn goodness and try not to put much thought into it.