Plot: What’s it about?
If you were watching Super Bowl XXX (which featured the legendary matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys) then you might remember a movie trailer that, for lack of a better word, blew you away. The trailer? Independence Day. Nothing too fancy, just a picture of an alien spaceship over the White House and the accompanying shot that blew it to hell. Suffice it to say that the commercial was a resounding success and so too was the film when it premiered that July. The movie was made for pure entertainment (most are, but some think they’re a bit more than that) and it resonated with audiences to the tune of over $300 million at the domestic box office. That’s something even by today’s standards. And it was also a launching pad for Will Smith who would go onto make Men in Black the next year with nearly as impressive results. More so than the impressive box office was the impact (pardon the pun) that the movie had on the future. This paved the way for the resurgence of the destruction film. Director Roland Emmerich would go onto make more of these with Godzilla (1997), The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 – though none of those really equaled what this one did. Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride…
A large number of alien spaceships have appeared at large cities all around the world. They’re not doing anything, but it’s got the world on its toes, for sure. A scientist, David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), thinks he has the answers, but no sooner does he try to convey that message than, well, they strike. Various landmarks across the globe are demolished and the fight for survival is of paramount importance. A ragtag group of survivors led by Capt. Steven Hiller (Will Smith) make their way to Area 51 where it’s believed that the United States Government has some intelligence that might help win the war against the invaders. Of course it’s easier said than done and countless obstacles must be overcome, but under the leadership of the President of the United States (Bill Pullman), the survivors might be able to launch an attack that will send the aliens home and allow the world to rebuild. But will it work?
Admittedly, it’s a bit hard to summarize a movie when it’s pretty obvious what it’s all about. Aliens attack, humans must fight aliens and win. The end. Still, the allure in Independence Day lies in the sheer corniness and delight of seeing things, well, blow up. Bear in mind that this was in a pre 9/11 world, so the thought of seeing the White House, the Golden Gate Bridge and, yes, the city of New York all being leveled didn’t have the same impact in 1996 as it does now. That said, the movie did deliver everything that it was supposed to. Two and a half hours of entertainment, Academy Award winning special effects and sound that made every speaker in your system earn its keep. And it made Will Smith into a mega star. Looking back, the film feels a bit dated, though the technical specifications have held up. This movie has long been one of my reference discs in my home theater setup, so every time I watch it – I catch a little something I’ve missed.
Video: How’s it look?
I’ve owned this movie on VHS, LaserDisc, DVD and Blu-ray and each incarnation gets a bit better. The 2008 version of this movie looked good, but it was in the fledgling days of the Blu-ray format. Nearly a decade has passed and Fox has re-mastered the picture for this Blu-ray release (there will also be a UHD version). As we might expect, the 2.39:1 AVC HD image looks nothing short of spectacular. Detail has been slightly improved, contrast and black levels are spot on though I did notice a bit of difference in the color temperature, which appears a bit different than its predecessor. There’s a fine amount of grain prevalent throughout, but it feels consistent with the style and tone of the film. It’s easy to take for granted the modern movies shot digitally which are nearly impossible to find errors in. Both versions look the best they ever have, so anyone who was curious as to how this stacked up against the previous Blu-ray won’t be disappointed.
Audio: How’s it sound?
If you’re going to blow up New York or the White House, it’d better sound good. And it does. The very robust DTS HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack has never really had this much depth and reach. Vocals are pure and rich. Aside from the destruction sequence, the audio really doesn’t have a chance to spread its wings until the third act when the attack begins. It’s then that everything comes to life and it really makes for one of cinema’s grandest experiences. The surrounds are constantly active, the LFE churn out the bass like you wouldn’t believe and the fronts balance the action. Like the disaster movies that followed, this really is one for the books and it’s still a delight to watch even twenty years later.
Supplements: What are the extras?
There was a very robust Five Star Collection DVD that Fox came out with in 2000 and most, if not all (I’ll have to dig around and see if I still have my old copy) seemed to have made the leap to this new Blu-ray edition. Some of the easter eggs are now full-fledged menu items if that matters to anyone. A new 30 minute segment has been added as well, so it’s not just the same old features that have been rehashed. Most of it, yes, but not all. Let’s take a look.
- Theatrical and Extended Versions of the Film
- Audio Commentary – The first of two audio commentaries, both of which are recycled from the original DVD release. Roland Emmerich and Producer Dean Devlin discuss some of the technical merits of the film, though this track has long been criticized as “dull and lifeless” as there are several spots in which nothing is said. Granted, the movie is nearly two and a half hours long, but while some interesting tidbits exist – this is recommended for only the most hard core fans (though I’m sure the hard core fans listened to it 15 years ago when it was first released).
- Audio Commentary – VFX Supervisors Volker Engel and Doug Smith, not surprisingly, focus on the technical aspects of the film and all of the CGI that went into the movie. I found this a bit more interesting and am still amazed at how much work even one shot takes (took).
- ID4 Datastream: Trivia Track (Theatrical Version Only) – Leftover from the original Blu-ray is this Trivia Track, cleverly titled a “datasteam.” We’ve seen these before and while interesting, some of the “facts” contained within are now grossly out of date.
- Theatrical Trailer – Independence Day: Resurgence – Oh come on, you didn’t think they’d miss an opportunity to promote this, did you?
- Independence Day: A Legacy Surging Forward – The lone new supplement for this disc is fairly by the book. We get some archived footage with the actors as well as those who are obviously on the set of the new film (we see Bill Pullman aged twenty years). It’s nice to see some of the cast and crew reflecting on the film, though nothing really new is learned (especially after watching/listening to all of these supplements). It’s a nice touch, but I’d have liked to see more new material.
- Original Theatrical Ending – Again, this is ported over from the DVD called the “Biplane Ending” with Randy Quaid’s character. It was wisely omitted as the original ending.
- Gag Reel – Shenanigans on the set – twenty years ago!
- Creating Reality – This is more of a costume design feature as we see some of the more practical effects used on the film. This runs about thirty minutes and seems a bit dated, though unlike the visual effects for the film, things like this rarely go out of style.
- ID4 Invasion – A number of actual news reporters were used to make the fake broadcasts seen in the film. This segues into the feature as we are led to believe the invasion is really happening. But they break from convention and what we end up with is really a bunch of sound bites from the actors and their comments on the film.
- The Making of ID4 – In this segment we find Jeff Goldblum as he attempts to break into the secured area to get some information about the film. We then get the usual onslaught of soundbites from the cast and crew along with an interview with…wait for it…Jeff Goldblum. Odd.
- Combat Review: (Random Destruction Clips) – These are essentially a variety of destruction clips as the title states.
- Monitor Earth: (Video Playback Newscasts) – Looping back to what I said about the “fake” broadcasts, these are the full versions of what appeared in the movie. Oddly, I’d totally forgotten about the show Hard Copy. Ah, the 90’s…
- Gallery – A very robust gallery of stills from the film.
- Teaser Trailers/Theatrical Trailer/TV Spots – The official theatrical trailer, the Super Bowl ad and the teasers can all be seen here.
The Bottom Line
It’s no coincidence that this movie is being released for its 20th Anniversary. This is merely Fox’s marketing department getting us ready for the long-awaited sequel to the film and what better way to do that than to sell us a disc that most of us have already owned for years! To be fair, the addition of a new featurette is welcome and this does contain both the theatrical and extended cut of the movie. The movie looks and sounds as good as it ever has, so if you don’t already own this disc then this is certainly the one to add to your collection.