Independence Day marks the glorious realization of what, for me, has been a nearly 25 year wait. Countless prayers have gone unanswered, but on this day, I have finally witnessed on screen what I have only dreamt of all my life, for this film features the complete and total destruction of the city of Houston through the use of nuclear weapons, by the U.S. government’s own hand!
But watching my home town be blown away is only one of the charms of ID4 (the film’s hip moniker). First there’s the War of the Worlds meets Star Wars meets The Right Stuff story, about a superior, marauding alien force threatening to annihilate the human race (and almost succeeding). And an all-star cast of freedom fighters (more on them later). Director Roland Emmerich, who redeems himself for the idiocy of Stargate, and who isn’t afraid to kill off the good guys. Some dazzling visuals. Loud sound effects. Plus every Star Trek and X-Files fan in town in the audience. What more do you want?
Character-wise, we are peppered with a litany of names and faces, all of whom are surprisingly easy to keep straight, thanks to Emmerich’s jumping around in the setting. Will Smith does his Bad Boys “2001” character. Bill Pullman recalls Michael Douglas’s American President. Jeff Goldblum: see Jurassic Park. Randy Quaid, Harvey Fierstein, Robert Loggia… we pretty much know what to expect from these folks. And while they may seem a bit hackneyed at times, especially with their clich≥-ridden dialogue, there’s enough life left over to make everyone interesting. (But why does everyone seem to have a romance sub-plot going on?)
And yes, maybe the plot/theme about how a few Americans banding together can stop a vastly superior invading force, end racial discord, and ensure world peace and harmony is a bit much, but so what? If you can suspend disbelief enough to accept that an alien ship 1/4 the size of the moon is attacking earth, you can accept the Give Peace a Chance bit. Think: the director is a German!
Okay… some of the effects are a bit cheesy, too, which doesn’t mix well with the really good ones. (The residue of people laughing at (not with) the final scene on July 2 really hurts the power of the opening scene on July 3 — New York City in ruins, the Statue of Liberty laying half-submerged on its side.) Just let these crummy effects go. Understand that much better ones are on the way.
Nitpicking? Who, me? Yes, but this time I had a lot of fun on the ride. The whole film is tasty, even the unintentional cheese. Be warned, the movie is 2 hours & 20 minutes long, so pack a picnic basket. But I promise it’ll be an excellent trip.
And remember: in space, no one can hear a frying Houstonian scream.
Review by Christopher Null © 2002 filmcritic.com