A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 126 – Independence Day

Independence Day – July 4th, 2010

Of course we’re watching this today. How could we not, right? We’ll think of something else next year (we have more than enough movies on our to-buy list to push us back over the 365 mark). Anyhow, let’s have some aliens and explosions and mass destruction today, right? Right!

This is not a complicated movie. Aliens come to Earth to destroy us. They manage to obliterate a whole bunch of cities all over the world first, then move to other locations before a plucky group of humans who survived the first attack work together to destroy the alien mothership. And we meet those plucky humans in a series of scenes at the beginning. We’ve got President Whitman, established as a young and idealistic family man. We’ve got his staff. We’ve got David Levinson, a tech guy at a cable network in New York, established as brilliant but scatterbrained and still fixated on his ex-wife. We’ve got his father, a stereotypical older Jewish man. We’ve got Russell Casse, a crop duster with a drinking problem who claims to have been kidnapped by aliens years ago after being a crack pilot in Vietnam, and we have his family too. And then finally we get Captain Steven Hiller, a military pilot who’s been trying to get into the space program and is home on leave for the holiday. Because it’s July 4th weekend. Of course. While we meet them, the aliens are all getting in position.

It’s actually well put together to establish what’s going on while we meet everyone. Each introduction gives us a little bit more about what’s going on. The president’s staff tells him about where the alien ships are going while David figures out that there’s a countdown embedded in the signal the ships are using to communicate. Steven gets called back to the base while Russell recognizes the ship and starts ranting about how the aliens are coming to kill them all. And soon we’ve got a few of our characters grouped together right as the aliens attack for the first time while the rest are trying desperately to get out of the danger zones.

People die. I mean, this movie’s got some humor to it, mostly in Randy Quaid’s performance as Russell and in some of the dialogue Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum get as Steven and David, respectively. But this is a disaster movie! Cities blow up! We’re being invaded by hostile aliens bent on destroying us! Of course bad shit happens. Part of the whole point of the movie is how people work together in the middle of a disaster with impossible odds. One of the most kick-ass characters in the movie is Steven Hiller’s girlfriend, Jasmine, who commandeers a highway maintenance truck to pick up survivors and make her way to safety. Eventually everyone important ends up at Area 51, because this is a science fiction movie about an alien invasion and how could they not, right? And then there’s the big climactic battle where David, Steven and Russell all get to be heroes and the aliens are defeated using a Mac.

There’s all sorts of relationship stuff going on too. Steven’s thinking about asking Jasmine to marry him, David’s ex-wife is the President’s chief of staff and they’ve got this whole thing. The Casse family is a mess and one of the kids is sick. It’s supposed to make us have sympathy for them and all that crap. And fine, sure, great. Let’s make the characters feel like people and all. It does work fairly well. I mean, if the point (aside from the big booms and action scenes) is to show humanity working together – led by the good ole’ USA with a montage of international stereotypes all thrilled for our leadership of course – then it’s nice to actually care about some specific examples of humanity. Because it’s a hell of a movie to cheer for when humanity fights back.

Now, I’m not saying the plot is hole-less. I’m not saying there aren’t bits that are so wildly ridiculous that it causes me to scream “It’s so implausible!” The computer virus being the most hilarious example. The president taking to the air in a fighter jet for the climax being a very close second. Yeah, let’s face it, there is some silly stuff going on. But it ends up not mattering. Go ahead and mock the parts that deserve it, but enjoy the rest. Have fun with the great special effects and the big explosions and the Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum team and seeing Adam Baldwin looking all young and Brent Spiner looking all disheveled and the whole bombastic nature of it all.

Happy Fourth of July to all celebrating it today. I hope you had a good day and maybe watched some stuff explode (safely) and weren’t attacked by aliens.

July 4, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Independence Day

July 4, 2010

Independence Day

This was the pinnacle of the summer event movie. After the gaudy overdone spectacle of this movie no other could reach the same lofty heights. Not that others haven’t tried. There have been plenty of other big budget disaster movies from Emmerich’s own Godzilla and 2012 to Armageddon and The Core. Everybody loves an end-of-the-world story with a lot of explosions and big name stars. Indeed these days they’re running out of recognizable international landmarks to destroy. But all of them are pale immitations of the success of this one movie. The hype, the scale, and the sheer audacity of this movie has never been matched.

I’m not trying to say that it is a good movie. However enjoyable it may be it is more full of stupid plot holes than an Ed Wood movie. Some examples: why does the dust on the moon blow in a light breeze? Why do the attacking aliens use human satellites to coordinate their strike rather than just synchronizing their watches ahead of time? Why does one alien ship hover over the Empire State Building – when all the others are over centers of government (or the one over Los Angeles for that matter.) Most of all – why is the alien computer network susceptible to a mac virus?????

So don’t try to make sense of it. Just enjoy it for the summer popcorn flick that it is. The formula of disaster movies is well established – going back to the flicks of the seventies like Earthquake, The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno. You have a few core survivors of some form of cataclysm who must band together to overcome adversity and save each other. You usually have a couple with marital strife who rediscover their love for one another, a government official of some sort (almost always corrupt who either gets their comeuppance or redeems themselves through a noble sacrifice,) some kind of comic relief, and a doomsaying scientist or something who knows what’s going to happen but to whom nobody will listen. Most of those people are in our collection here. Our cast are: Jeff Goldblum as the doomsaying scientist, Judd Hirsch as his nebbish father the comic relief, Bill Pullman as President Lonestar, Will Smith as the cocky fighter pilot, Vivicia A. Fox as his tough-as-nails stripper girlfriend who organises a rag-tag band of survivors in the ruins of L.A., Randy Quaid as the insane coot who really WAS abducted by aliens, Brent Spiner as the long-haired scientist who has been in charge of studying alien artifacts at Area 51, plus their various families and hangers on.

Will Smith gets all the best lines of course, and is pretty much the de-facto star of the movie. Brent Spiner steals the show for those few moments that he’s on screen. Jeff Goldblum plays pretty much exactly the same character he played in Jurassic Park. I will say that I never for an instant bought Pullman as the president. He just doesn’t have a presidential air. As his wife though we have Mary McDonnell as the first lady, and SHE does have a presidential feel to her. As we well know.

What sets this aside from the disaster movies of the past are three factors – first the disaster at the start of the movie is just the initial attack of the invading aliens, so there’s a bigger save-the-whole-world feeling. The second factor is the sheer scale of the visual spectacle on display. Roland Emmerich, building on the effects of Stargate, has mastered the big-explosion apocalypse. Better explosions of miniature models have never been filmed. Finally, this movie had a marketing push more effective and targeted than any before or since. Right down to the title of the movie and its July 4th release date. (I’m sure you remember the whole ID4 thing if you were around at the time.)

I can lambaste this movie all night for the pathetic holes in its laughable plot, but the truth is that it’s a really fun movie. I’d rather just enjoy all the pretty explosions. After all, isn’t watching pretty explosions what July 4th is all about? (Well, okay, I guess there’s something in there too about a British colony that rebelled back in the seventeen hundreds.)

July 4, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment