Independence Day

All movie guide rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A group of intrepid humans attempts to save the Earth from vicious extraterrestrials in this extremely popular science-fiction adventure. Borrowing liberally from War of the Worlds, Aliens, and every sci-fi invasion film inbetween, director Roland Emmerich and producer and co-writer Dean Devlin present a visually slick, fast-paced adventure filled with expensive special effects and large-scale action sequences. The story begins with the approach of a series of massive spaceships, which many on Earth greet with open arms, looking forward to the first contact with alien life. Unfortunately, these extraterrestrials have not come in peace, and they unleash powerful weapons that destroy most of the world's major cities. Thrown into chaos, the survivors struggle to band together and put up a last-ditch resistance in order to save the human race. As this is a Hollywood film, this effort is led by a group of scrappy Americans, including a computer genius who had foreseen the alien's evil intent (Jeff Goldblum), a hot-shot jet pilot (Will Smith), and the President of the United States (Bill Pullman). While some critics objected to the film's lack of originality and lapses in logic, the combination of grand visual spectacle and crowd-pleasing storytelling proved irresistable to audiences, resulting in an international smash hit. -- Judd Blaise, All Movie Guide

In Independence Day, a scientist played by Jeff Goldblum once actually had a fistfight with a man (Bill Pullman) who is now president of the United States. That same president, late in the film, personally flies a jet fighter to deliver a payload of missiles against an attack by extraterrestrials. Independence Day is the kind of movie so giddy with its own outrageousness that one doesn't even blink at such howlers in the plot. Directed by Roland Emmerich, Independence Day is a pastiche of conventions from flying-saucer movies from the 1940s and 1950s, replete with icky monsters and bizarre coincidences that create convenient shortcuts in the story. (Such as the way the girlfriend of one of the film's heroes--played by Will Smith--just happens to run across the president's injured wife, who are then both rescued by Smith's character who somehow runs across them in alien-ravaged Los Angeles County.) The movie is just sheer fun, aided by a cast that knows how to balance the retro requirements of the genre with a more contemporary feel. --Tom Keogh

Independence Day does not have an original idea in its head. It's a compendium of concepts from every Irwin Allen disaster flick of the 1970s (The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure) with a huge nod to War of the Worlds. But you can call it an homage because writer/director Roland Emmerich (Stargate, The Patriot) mounts the film with so much enthusiasm and pop savvy that the biggest hype of 1996 became a true movie event (unlike Emmerich's awful Godzilla two years later). The movie comes at you in three distinct acts. The first act is all anticipation: We wait for the aliens to hit. This might be the movie's most effective section. The suspense mounts steadily as we're introduced to such characters as Air Force Captain Steven Hiller, played by Will Smith (Men in Black, Bad Boys), and President Thomas J. Whitmore, played by Bill Pullman (While You Were Sleeping, The End of Violence).

Then huge spaceships draw shadows over crowds around the world. This section is topped with the movie's famous, almost shocking destruction of the White House, robbed from Ray Harryhausen's Earth vs Flying Saucers (where the Capitol building and the Washington Monument were taken out) but never done with such explosive impact.

In the second act the film drops off. As the movie's heroes meander around trying to figure out what to do next, you get the feeling the screenwriters are doing the same thing. Luckily, the third act rallies, with a vengeance. Here is where Emmerich strikes back, with the best flying sequences since the original Star Wars, and with lots of good humor provided by prince of the summer, Will Smith, and the knave of the special effects extravaganza, Jeff Goldblum (The Fly, Jurassic Park).

It doesn't hurt that the movie has all sorts of things happening on the primal level. It has a strong chest-thumping patriotic streak, which might strain the patience of some, but lends the film plenty of emotional thrust. And it plays on lots of male anxiety, killing any less than manly men, and a Hillary clone. In this, and every other way, Independence Day is the definition of a summer movie.

The lavish two-DVD package for Independence Day includes almost every conceivable kind of extra. The first disc contains both the original film and a special edition with eight extra minutes. It also features a play-by-play director's commentary that's very informative and unpretentious. The highlights of the second disc are the original ending and a special effects documentary (in which you learn what it takes to blow up a model). Also included: an alien mockumentary, an old HBO special, a DVD-ROM game, the trailers, and storyboards. The transitions from extra to extra are also handled imaginatively. -- Larry Frascella

My rating: 4 Stars