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Blu-ray Review: #Independence Day 20th Anniversary Edition

The so-so Independence Day 20th Anniversary Edition isn't so with top-shelf audio and video.

Review by Matt Cummings

For the 20 years, I've suffered among cinephiles convinced that Independence Day is a classic Science-Fiction film. First and foremost, ID is Sci-Fi (there is a difference): think substance over style, character development over big loud epic battles. Think Oblivion or Blade Runner vs Starship Troopers. So while the 20th Anniversary edition of Independence Day has arrived with a cleaned up picture and all of its supplements finally intact, it's still big, loud, cheap, and cheesy.

The Movie - 3/5
The lives of people around the world circa 1996 are interrupted when proof of aliens finally arrives to Earth: a massive spacecraft with dozens of city-sized ships surround the planet and descend to every major city, affecting Americans in various ways. For embattled President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman), the news focuses his troubled administration into action, unaware that a signal is being broadcast between the vessel. For scientist David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), the signals spell disaster, an invasion beyond every country's worst nightmares. When that moment arrives, soldiers like Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith) are rushed into action, without any idea of how to defeat them. With the world's very survival in the balance, our heroes will gather out of necessity to learn about their enemy and devise one final plan to declare their independence on that most sacred of days.

An overstuffed, cheesy, and sometimes horrible mess, Independence Day suffers through 45 minutes of set up when 20 was all it needed. But that's the MO behind Writer Dean Devlin and Director Roland Emmerich's madness: why create something tightly written and completely effective, when rambling discourse, multiple phone hangups from Levinson's ex (Margaret Colin) and White House staffer is just more fun? The problem is none of it is fun, certainly not as I remember, as these three stories lumber their way into focus, just in time for Armageddon to arrive. I despise the idea that supposed cinephiles continue to lump praise upon it, even when admitting to the litany of plot holes, cheesy acting, and terrible casting. ID fails partly because of Pullman, whose serious acting has all the personality of carrots; he mumbles, tries to look authoritarian, but comes off droll and completely uninspiring. Harrison Ford departed the role to play in 1997's Air Force One, and the loss is palpable. Pullman is a black hole every time he's in scene, reminding us that he was born to play comedic roles (Spaceballs, anyone?).

Still, it's inconceivable that even Ford's appearance could have saved this, as Devlin is well-known (infamous, perhaps) for injecting his characters with every bit of cliched dialogue imaginable. He made the term "popcorn flick" a very real one, sacrificing every moment for spectacle over dialogue. Even the performance of Randy Quaid as whacko pilot Russell Casse - whose character became a sort of cultural icon for his "I'm BAAAACK!!" utterance - now feels utterly shoehorned in. There's the ridiculous use of R.E.M.'s It's the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine) as on-the-nose foreshadowing while the comedy of Harry Connick Jr appears trite and pithy. It's these sorts of mistakes - and those who seem to justify them because they're a "sc-fi/action extravaganza" or "a total popcorn flick" - that make my film blood boil. ID could have been the next Stargate or The Black Hole, had Devlin and Emmerich simply paid the same attention to characters that they did the still-incredible special effects. The extended version - which contains an interesting religious 'apocalypse' scene that was scrapped due to its potential controversy - does darken the mood somewhat, but I'm sure that's more of a happy accident than cinematic brilliance.

But like the effects, Independence Day does entertain to a certain degree. Goldblum was off his stellar Jurassic Park performance, and the practical sets/models, along with Composer David Arnold's authoritative score, and the attack sequences are still thrilling. With 9/11 just five years away, it's way too tongue-and-cheek and just doesn't hold up, regardless of what standards you apply or scenes you ad.

The Video - 4.5/5
20th Century Fox has risen to the challenge of bringing ID into the 21st Century, sporting what looks like a master-print transfer with more detail than I've seen before. There's been some downright ugly care taken on previous DVD discs, but at least this version is hands down the best version of this film to hit the home market. Color is balanced - if just a bit too oversaturated - but it never looks cheap along the way. The white sands of the desert contrast quite well with that color palette, allowing what looks like refreshed special effects to shine even more. Flesh tones look real and not pasty, while fine layers of film grain are retained throughout. Uniforms, dresses, and street clothes are bright and highly detailed, while human elements such as individual strands of hair on Pullman's head can be easily seen. Area 51's base has the feel of a real research lab, while the practical sets (pre-West Wing) look outstanding. I've heard that black levels suffer, but my Plasma set up didn't reveal them. I only have the quite dirty DVD transfer from years ago, and suspect that putting that bad boy in might even raise the score here, if it wasn't for some off aliasing that occurs when a pan shot is introduced. I don't see during action sequences, and even the aliasing issue doesn't happen every time; but it's enough to make me lower my score.

The Audio - 4.5/5
Fox's Blu-ray release of Independence Day suffers from nothing less than a bait-and-switch. While the cover (and various marketing materials) claim that we're about to be treated to newly-created 7.1 soundtrack, all we get here is your standard DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless environment. That is actually all my system can produce, but it's still listed as 5.1 when you scroll through the audio options on your player. Still, it's quite excellent. Arnold's music wraps us in all four channels, while crisp dialogue pushes through the center. Battle scenes shine with perfect movement between front and rears, with the forwards displaying a mix of music, sound effects, and other routine sounds. The subwoofer delivers something quite different, pounding and prodding us with enough thumping to lend serious heft to those aforementioned battle pieces. The rears also enjoy a insertion of office chatter, street noise, and other environmentals. In reading about this release's journey, it appears we're getting the exact same audio that came with the previous BD, and if that's so then I understand people's frustrations. But I've also heard that it's an improvement over the 2008 version. While I'm willing to accept that, it does not factor into my score. For those of you who are waiting for the DTS-X or even the 7.1 upgrade, you should only commit if your system will allow it, as this version is good and even sometimes great.

The Supplements - 4/5
Independence Day contains a bevy of content across two 50GB BD's. It appears everything carries over from my DVD copy, apparently the first time a high-def version has done so. Commentaries are retained along with the inventive trivia track, while Disc Two contains a new look-back with all of the previous DVD supplements finally reunited. Disc One has sports the original 144-minute theatrical and an extended 153-minute version, which makes up my review. There's a mix of SD and HD content here, so be prepared for those pesky (but original) bars on the side. Due to the length of the content, we're only listing the items below. However, there's plenty here to keep you watching this thing for several evenings.

Disc One:
  • Audio Commentary: Director Roland Emmerich and Producer Dean Devlin
  • Audio Commentary: VFX Supervisors Volker Engel and Doug Smith
  • ID4 Datastream Trivia Track (Theatrical Version Only)
  • Independence Day: Resurgence Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:07)

  • Disc Two
  • Independence Day: A Legacy Surging Forward (HD, 30:40): Here's that retrospective we mentioned.
  • Original Theatrical Ending (SD, 4:16)
  • Gag Reel (SD, 2:05)
  • Creating Reality (SD, 29:19)
  • ID4 Invasion (SD, 21:57)
  • The Making of ID4 (SD, 28:29)
  • Combat Review (Random Destruction Clips) (HD)
  • Monitor Earth Broadcasts (Video Playback Newscasts) (SD)
  • Gallery (HD)
  • Teaser Trailers (SD)
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:30)
  • TV Spots (SD)

  • Our evaluation copy arrived with two 50GB Blu-ray discs, a UV digital copy, an iTunes digital copy, and a Google Play digital copy. The slipcase is attractive , but there is no interior artwork. There's a fabulous special edition available, complete with a model of one of the alien attack vessels. However, there doesn't appear to be a steelbook or other special packaging at this time.

    The Bottom Line: 4.5/5
    I wish Independence Day would have aged better than it has. Filled with enough promise of a gritty Sci-Fi epic, it fails prey early to weak dialogue, too much setup, and a lead casting that kills the film's impact in critical scenes. I don't think Pullman did much of worth after this, and his return in the sequel doesn't fill me with hope. It's time audiences accept that Emmerich's now-famous movements towards the cheese don't make him good, but merely a punching bag for a job not quite well done. The Blu-ray is mis-packaged but still sounds and looks quite good, and its supplements are incredibly deep. If you can stand three or more viewings of this 'popcorn entertainment' (Marvel, your films are cinematic mastery compared to this one), then perhaps this one is right for you. True, it's a blockbuster, and true it helped to usher in today's big summer events, but that doesn't mean it's any better for doing so.

    Independence Day is rated PG-13 for sci-fi destruction and violence and has a runtime of 144 minutes.

    Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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