Combustible Celluloid
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With: Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Robert Loggia, Randy Quaid, Margaret Colin, Vivica A. Fox, James Rebhorn, Harvey Fierstein, Adam Baldwin, Brent Spiner, James Duval, Lisa Jakub, Harry Connick Jr.
Written by: Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi destruction and violence
Running Time: 145
Date: 06/25/1996

Independence Day (1996)

1 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Alien Abrasion

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The afternoon killer Independence Day is co-written and directed by Roland Emmerich, who made Stargate (1994). The thing about Stargate was that it wasn't a big summer release, and had less pressure on it to entertain, and it had at least a tiny speck of a neat idea. When I came out of Stargate, I was laughing and counting the other movies that Emerich pirated and pillaged. Independence Day has a lot more riding on it, and it's much worse.

It's not so much trying to figure out which movies Emmerich stole his ideas, but rather keeping track of how many. Here's a partial list: all three Star Wars movies, Star Trek (the movies and the TV show), Dr. Strangelove, 2001, Alien and Aliens, War of the Worlds, Invaders from Mars, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Day the Earth Stood Still, all 1970's disaster movies, such as Earthquake, The Towering Inferno and Meteor, and, to some extent, "The X-Files." It even rips a song from Pulp Fiction.

Even worse, Independence Day rips off all these movies without the slightest sense of irony or tribute or enthusiasm; it does it as if it's simply a birthright. At the same time, the movie doesn't have one single original idea of its own. The dialogue, especially, is among the worst I've heard since The Rock. I think Randy Quaid, playing a drunken crop duster who believes he was abducted by aliens ten years before, has the worst lines, but it's a close call.

The huge cast of actors and actresses, some talented, some not so much, all play one-note clich├ęs. None really get a chance to show his or her chops. The list reads a lot like the aforementioned disaster movies: Bill Pullman as the President, Mary McDonnell as the first lady, Will Smith as a fighter pilot, Jeff Goldblum as a computer geek who saves the world, Elizabeth Perkins as his ex-wife who works with the President, Judd Hirsch as Goldblum's stereotypical Jewish father, Harvey Fierstein as Goldblum's computer geek pal, Harry Connick Jr, as Smith's fighter pilot pal, Brent Spiner as a scientist in charge of the Roswell, New Mexico UFO project, and Quaid. Goldblum manages to get a little bit of his quirky style in there and Smith steals one or two scenes.

At the time of this writing, Independence Day is well on its way to breaking all time box-office records. I keep wondering what the draw is. (But then six years ago, I spent months trying to figure out the draw of Home Alone.) In the 1950s, movies with this same formula played on the Red Scare. Now the world is vastly different, a cold, unfeeling, cynical world. Maybe it plays upon the feeling of uniting together as a planet for a common goal. Maybe it's that an alien invasion would be a welcome relief to all the sickness and hunger that goes on in day to day life. Or maybe it's just that we get to see the White House blow up.

I think that anyone who sees this movie knows exactly what they are getting for their money, nothing more and nothing less. I, on the other hand, like a movie that gives more than what I expect. No one who wants to see this movie needs me to recommend it to them, but if anyone wants to know, I say stay home and rent one of those other movies on video.

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