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Independence Day

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Independence Day

Starring: Will Smith, Bill Pullman
Director: Roland Emmerich
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 142 Minutes
Release Date: July 1996
Genres: Action, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

*Also starring: Jeff Goldblum, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Margaret Colin, Randy Quaid, Robert Loggia, Harvey Fierstein, Adam Baldwin, Brent Spiner

Review by Andrew Hicks
4 stars out of 4

Nothing has been more hyped this summer than the release of Independence Day. The trailer has been playing non-stop for months, long enough for me to be able to recite Will Smith's soundbite of "I'm just a little anxious to get up there and kick E.T.'s ass, that's all," in my sleep. And the movie theater I went to was so crowded there were actually cops directing traffic out of the parking lot. It was playing on three screens with a line around the corner and the first showing sold out. With the only other opening-day competition being the John Travolta melodrama PHENOMENON (which looks pretty Tra-volting to me), I knew they were all there for INDEPENDENCE DAY, probably the movie event of the decade so far.

But is it worthy to be hailed as an event? In two words -- yes. It may not have the artistic merit of a SCHINDLER'S LIST, but this is the common man's classic, mainstream entertainment that draws average audiences together and envelops them completely. INDEPENDENCE DAY is a huge-scale epic worthy of the hype, one which shamelessly exploits those last lingering shreds of patriotism we all still have. It's STAR WARS plus ALIEN plus TOP GUN with hints of 70's ensemble disaster movies like THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE and AIRPORT (but I'm not holding the last two against them).

There are no huge stars in INDEPENDENCE DAY -- no Arnold protecting Vanessa Williams or Sean Connery breaking into Alcatraz, not even any names above the title. Instead we get second-string stars like Will Smith as an overly brave fighter pilot, Jeff Goldblum as the earth-friendly genius (pretty much the same character he played in POWDER), Bill Pullman as the President, Randy Quaid as the eccentric crop duster who claims a previous alien encounter and Judd Hirsch of "Taxi" as Goldblum's stereotypical Jewish father.

Then there are the brief screen-time casualties like Harvey Fierstein, who vamps his way through the first reel, Harry Connick Jr. as a fellow fighter pilot and Brent "Data" Spiner, a government scientist who gets attacked by an alien who must have heard his "Old Yellow Eyes" loungeact album on K-Tel records. (Hell, _I'd_ travel the galaxy to kill Spiner after listening to that.) Countless others die, of course, when the giant hovering spacecrafts show up over New York, Washington, L.A. and the other key Earth cities.

The first third of INDEPENDENCE DAY, the most chilling and compelling part of the movie, is devoted to the arrival of the spacecrafts over Earth. Scenes of mass panic and destruction on a huge scale abound, with strategic shots of skyscrapers crumbling, giant fireballs engrossing the masses and even the White House exploding ("Hillary! Chelsea!"). Goldblum, a cable technician, is the first to figure out that the aliens haven't come in peace, and intervenes accordingly. But that's just the beginning.

The second day of our three day epic brings the first human retaliation attempts, centering around Bad Boy Will Smith's bloated-ego action hero techniques, which is when you remember you're still only watching a movie. As authentic as the INDEPENDENCE DAY visuals are, the biggest implausibilities are in the mostly one-note characters and how lightly they seem to take the news of impending global destruction, as if they'd already read the script and know things will be okay in the end.

It's not a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination but is such an incredible experience that you can easily overlook the rampant implausibility and dialogue which would in other circumstances seem laughable. In forty years, as the special effects become dated, the flaws will seem more obvious and INDEPENDENCE DAY may well join the Bad Movie Hall of Fame, but right now it's the best entertainment of the year. What it lacks in big-name draws or intelligence of plot it more than makes up for in visual effects and the collective anxiety it invokes over the fate of the characters, not to mention the planet.

Copyright 1996 Andrew Hicks

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