Monday, October 17, 2011

Independence Day (1996)

1996's Helluva Summer Blockbuster!

Last night, I watched (probably for the 10nth time or so) 1996’s biggest summer hit – Independence Day. Apparently, it’s the 31st highest grosser of all time in Hollywood history with total mammoth box-office figures in the tune of $816969000 or more. So this movie was destined to end up among the most lucrative films of all time, in company with the likes of Spielberg's E.T. and Jurassic Park.

I remember rushing to see this in theaters in the first week of its release, and as someone who grew up on a staple of science-fiction and horror flicks as a kid, I found it to be good, old-fashioned fun (in spite of its shortcomings). Besides, there's something charming and pre-Watergate in the mentality of a film that portrays a U.S. president as an inspiring strong leader that the country could rally behind in a grave crisis.

One especially satisfying aspect of this film was the brilliant casting: A great lead in Will Smith and trustworthy supporting actors in the vein of Bill Pullman, Robert Loggia, Vivica Fox and Jeff Goldblum who provide the right support.

I'm guessing the producers wanted to put as much of the budget as possible into the special effects and let the spectacle be the film's big draw, so they chose not to divert $30 million or so just to get Bruce Willis or Tom Cruise above the title. In those days when star salaries spiraled out of control (they still do) and stars gained way too much power, it was great to see someone relatively new like Roland Emmerich to buck the system and score a big hit using nothing but a good idea and a script, the way Spielberg did with E.T.

Independence Day is a real crowd pleaser. And there-in lies my only serious reservation. It was carefully contrived to be a crowd pleaser, full of stock characters, clich├ęd scenarios, cheap comic relief (think of Randy Quaid's boozy crop-duster), despicable ‘out of this planet’ villains and jingoistic speeches.

As I watched, I couldn't help but imagine what a tougher filmmaker like James Cameron would have brought to it. Avatar was a colossal disappointment for me but in his best work, Cameron goes to great lengths to establish characters with some depth and a realistic milieu for them – think Abyss; as a consequence, when they suffer, you really feel for them. When I saw Independence Day in the theater, my deepest concern during the film's second half was not whether Will Smith and Co would save the world from the marauding alien invasion but whether I should blow more money on a refill of my popcorn and coke.

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  1. Great write up. It's a film that does exactly what it aims to, delivers massive spectacle and a lot of fun.

  2. This movie is a part of my all time fav list.One of the best movies in terms of action and effects.


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