movie film review | chris tookey

Independence Day

20th Century Fox - all rights reserved
  Independence Day Review
Tookey's Rating
9 /10
Average Rating
7.25 /10
Captain Steven Hiller ...... Will Smith , The President .............. Bill Pullman , David ...................... Jeff Goldblum
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Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Written by: Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin

Released: 1996
Origin: US
Length: 140

Aliens invade Earth. Humans - under American leadership - band together to defeat them.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Director Roland Emmerich applies Nineties technology - super 35mm film, computer graphics and state-of-the-art model work - to a classic, mythic storyline (people meet aliens, aliens destroy people, people destroy aliens). The result is spectacle, sensation and entertainment on an epic scale - the greatest of great fun. No wonder it broke American box office records: it is one of the best action-adventures of all time.

The screenplay, by Emmerich and Dean Devlin, is as funny as it exciting, and expertly interweaves a multitude of characters. It proves - even more than Emmerich's two previous successes, Stargate and Universal Soldier - that if you're going to steal from other film-makers, you may as well do so on a massive scale.

The movie will appeal to every age group because it plunders films from so many eras: Forties war movies where everyone learns to pull together for the common good, those Fifties B-movies which encoded fear of foreigners and their sinister beliefs into a terror of monsters from outer space, and Seventies disaster movies which first created a gallery of stereotypical characters and then gleefully set about slaughtering them. Most of all, though, it's an affectionate hommage and cynical counterblast to the childlike optimism of Spielberg's Close Encounters and E.T.

All this shameless pilfering is done with such wit and panache (there's even a tongue-in-cheek parody of Henry V's speech to his troops before Agincourt) that you can only admire the film-makers' cheek. The plot may beg any number of logical questions, but it moves so fast that it becomes a duty and a pleasure to suspend your disbelief.

The special effects are astonishing, and include the wholesale destruction of Los Angeles, Washington and New York. Independence Day must have the highest bodycount of any film in the history of cinema, so it's a tribute to its makers that the film doesn't trivialise death and suffering. Every so often, we are brought up short by the real terror and pain which such events would create.

That we become involved emotionally - and, even in the sedate circumstances of a press screening, whoop as characters and even dogs are delivered from Armageddon - is a tribute to the actors who, as is inevitable in the action-adventure genre, have to construct living characters out of skeletal dialogue.

There's somebody for everyone to identify with. I empathised most with the peace-loving family-man who also happens to be the US President (Bill Pullman), but others will go for the cocky but charming black fighter-pilot (Will Smith), the apparently clapped-out Vietnam veteran (Randy Quaid), the Jewish computer genius (Jeff Goldblum) or their various womenfolk.

Even though the characters are unashamedly flippant variations on familiar stereotypes, Independence Day does touch emotions deep within our psyche. It taps, very entertainingly, into our suspicion of government secrecy and into the fear (or hope) that there is something "out there", which are bound to be encouraged by those recent discoveries about Mars. In some ways, it resembles a wildly ambitious episode of The X-Files.

Like Apollo 13 and Forrest Gump, it appeals to Americans to unite in spite of their differences. The device of an alien aggressor is, of course, a transparent ploy to avoid antagonizing interest groups, but it works.

It won't win friends on the Left. The view of international politics is as "gung ho" as in any classic British war movie, and the film invents an uncomplicated world where other countries are eager for America to give a moral and military lead against terrorism (no bickering here over investment in Cuba, Libya or Iran).

Nostalgic references are made to the Gulf War, and there's a determination that this time round, the aggressor won't live to fight another day.

The film puts forward highly conservative images of masculinity and femininity which may not appeal to the chattering classes, but will to the vast majority of moviegoers. The young black man (Will Smith, pictured) has to learn the value of commitment and marry his girl-friend (Vivica Fox) before he can fly off to confront the enemy.

The Jewish "save the world" eco-freak (Jeff Goldblum) who was not ambitious enough for his career-woman ex-wife (Margaret Colin) learns to become supremely ambitious - convinced that only his brainwave can save the world.

The President (Bill Pullman) who, like so many western leaders, has acquired a reputation as a wimp, steels himself to order a nuclear attack on the aliens, then goes up there himself - he's a retired fighter-pilot - to finish the job.

The apparently worthless drunk (Randy Quaid) redeems himself by wreaking explosive revenge on aliens who, he claims (though no one believed him until they started blowing up the White House), sexually abused him when they kidnapped him ten years earlier.

In short, all four leading men in the movie learn the value of commitment, ambition, aggressive leadership and hatred of deviants.

Symptomatic of the film's politics are the facts that the one homosexual in the film (Harvey Fierstein) is used for light relief and dispatched early; that the one woman who disobeys her man (a Hillary Clintonesque First Lady, played by Mary McDonnell) pays dearly; and the dippy hippies who welcome the aliens by dancing with welcome signs on a skyscraper are among the first to be torched.

Independence Day is a film you must see in the cinema. It's easily the most enjoyable piece of sci-fi escapism since Star Wars, but also fascinating on a deeper level, as one of the most outrageously and entertainingly conservative works of modern cinema - Leftist wishful thinking is blown to smithereens in a series of apocalyptic explosions. The anti-terrorism message is clear: give war a chance.

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