Opens: July 2, 1996 | Rated: PG-13
Every major man-made landmark on Earth has a cameo in "Independence Day," with a city-sized space ship hovering over it.
The Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower, every monument in Washington D.C., the White House, the Great Pyramids, the Sydney Opera House and the First Interstate Building (the tallest in Los Angeles) all get star billing. The Statue of Liberty makes her appearance face down in the drink after an alien attack.
"Independence Day" is Hollywood's poster child for the design-by-committee blockbuster. When this movie was pitched, 20th Century Fox execs tossed in their script ideas, and since no one had veto power everything stayed.
"Don't forget the pyramids," one said. "Oh, and the Eiffel Tower," offered another -- and while this computer enhanced extravaganza may represent a quantum leap in visual effects, at 137 minutes its smattering of agreed-on one-liners and ironic topical references ("The Day the Earth Stood Still" on television, REM's "The End of the World As We Know It" on the radio) aren't enough to keep an audience charmed between downtown-leveling laser blasts.
It's is a high-tech nod to its 1950s predecessors and a shameless rip-off of H.G. Wells' "The War of the Worlds" -- eerie sci-fi fun, but really nothing more than big-budget Saturday matinee fodder.
"ID4," as the marketing is calling it, had too many cooks. They all had their hands in the dialogue, and that came out like a dime store novel. They all had their hands in the casting, and all minor characters got story threads of their own (one less character could have saved 20 minutes).
And they had their hands in all over the plot, leaving enormous gaps in logic.
However, Industrial Light and Magic locked them out of the special effects factory and the seamless shots the Earth's landmarks being blown to bits, and subsequent F-14s-versus-aliens dogfights, save the movie from being committeed into the ground.
At the center of "ID4" is supremely simple story: Aliens arrive in 15-mile wide spaceships to take over the planet and wipe out mankind. Then the committee came along and soon all but a few scenes were unceremoniously scavenged from famous sci-fi movies.
"Alien" lends its autopsy scene and "Buckaroo Banzai" its human hero piloting a saucer. Apocalyptic cityscapes were borrowed from "The Day After."
Another 40 minutes is lifted from the "Star Wars" films, including almost verbatim dogfight dialogue and the scene from "Return of the Jedi" in which fighters fly into the center of the Death Star (in this case, the mother ship).
The committee definitely had its mitts all over poor Bill Pullman's role as the U.S. president. In a scenery-chewing, career-killing performance he is asked to put on the airs of Winston Churchill ("We will fight to the end..."), captain of the Starship Enterprise ("Can there be peace between us?") and Arnold Schwarzenegger ("Nuke 'em," he orders when all else fails).
As the hero, Will Smith ("Bad Boys") plays a cigar-chomping, chest-pounding fighter pilot with NASA ambitions, which if nothing else is good casting.
Jeff Goldblum was hired to repeat his quirky scientist role from "Jurassic Park," but he's a dedicated enough actor to know better and does something a little different.
In the end two ingenious strokes of casting provide the only amusing moments not laced with explosions: Judd Hirsch ("Taxi") hams through his every scene as Goldblum's stereotypical Jewish father from Brooklyn and Brent Spiner (Commander Data on "Star Trek: The Next Generation") is like a hyperactive dog loose from his leash as an ex-hippie scientist who runs Area 51, the secret base in the Southwest where the government has been hiding crashed alien spacecraft.
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