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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 6/9/00
updated: 6/10/00




Independence Day
Five Star Collection - 1996 (2000) - Centropolis/Fox (Fox)

review by Bill Hunt of The Digital Bits

THX-certifiedEnhanced for 16x9 TVs

Independence Day: Special Edition Film Ratings (Theatrical/Special Edition): C+/B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/A/B+

Specs and Features

Disc One: The Films
144 mins (theatrical version)/153mins (special edition), PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, THX-certified, 2 dual-layered discs, dual-disc Amaray keep case packaging, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (theatrical version layer switch at 1:03:15, at the start of chapter 32 - special edition layer switch at 1:08:19, at the start of chapter 34), 2 audio commentary tracks (one with writer/director Roland Emmerich and writer/producer Dean Devlin, and one with SFX supervisors Volker Engel and Doug Smith), animated film-themed menu screens with sound and music, scene access (theatrical version has 54 chapters, special edition has 56 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0 Surround) and French (DD 2.0 Surround), subtitles: English & Spanish, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Special Edition Content
Single-sided, dual-layered, The Making of ID4 behind-the-scenes documentary (33 mins), Creating Reality behind-the-scenes documentary (30 mins), The ID4 Invasion "mocumentary" produced for use in film (22 mins), original bi-plane ending (with commentary), theatrical trailer and 3 teaser trailers, 1 15-second TV spot, 5 30-second TV spots, Super Bowl TV spot, Apple Computer TV Spot, ID4 Online game preview trailer, gallery of production photographs and conceptual artwork (alien beings, alien ships, sets & props), 3 storyboard sequences (Welcome Wagon, Destruction and Bi-plane Ending), DVD-ROM features (including Get Off My Planet interactive game and weblinks to ID4 Online game (with 30 days free), special live event & official website),Easter Egg bonus features (see end of review for access instructions)


President Whitmore: "What do you want us to do?"

Captured Alien: "Die..."

So what happens when a race of war-mongering aliens drops by unannounced for some of your famous barbecue ribs one Fourth of July weekend? They lay waste to your planet's biggest cities without so much as a, "thank you very much, but we're taking over, Earthlings." That's the plot of Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich's Independence Day, forever after known in this review as ID4.

ID4 is one of THOSE movies. You know... the big summer explosion epics. In fact, at the time it came out in the summer of 1996, there had been few that even approached its sheer scale and audacity. The story of the movie is as simple as can be - a bunch of aliens show up in a mothership 1/4 the size of the moon, and then launch dozens of little (so to speak - they're 13 miles wide each) flying-saucer ships that float above the biggest cities in the world and blast them into plasma. Humans get their tails thoroughly whipped, but they ain't down for the count - no, sir. After taking stock of who's left alive, they decide to fight back, lead by a yuppie President of the United States (Bill Pullman), a scrappy fighter pilot and his stripper girlfriend (Will Smith and Vivica Fox) and an over-educated and underachieving cable TV technician and his dear old dad (Jeff Goldblum and Judd Hirsch). I don't want to spoil the finish for all two of you out there who haven't seen this flick, but come on - the final battle takes place on Independence Day. You think Hollywood's gonna let the Prez get his butt kicked on July 4? Duh.

The story goes that Devlin and Emmerich, fresh off their successful run with Stargate, came up with the idea for this movie during a press junket, and wrote the script over a week in Cabo or some such place. The film definitely plays like something that was written in a week too, with such dialogue gems as, "I'm just a little anxious to get up there and whup E.T.'s ass." There are so many plot holes here that... well, I've run out of witty comments. But if a spaceship 1/4 the size of the moon suddenly pulled into Earth orbit, do you have ANY idea what kind of havoc it would wreak on the planet just from its gravity alone? And if said ship later exploded in Earth orbit, the chunks of falling debris would rival the size and damage potential of the asteroid in Armageddon! Ah, well. The beauty of this film is that it knows exactly what it is, and doesn't try to be anything else - a massive, testosterone-pumped, B-movie hype-fest. And while you can find plenty of faults with this flick, after a while you'll simply stop counting them. You'll be too busy being dazzled by all those cool special effects. This film is almost like Fight Club, in that it just walks right up to you and smacks you square in the face... but it's a good sort of pain. Plus, Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum are damn funny in this. So my advice is to just sit back and enjoy what is undeniably the perfect movie for DVD.

Fox's 5" disc version of ID4 was a LONG time in coming. The film has been very high on the Most Wanted on DVD list since the format launched in early '97. Well you can rest easy, 'cause it was worth the wait. For your troubles, Fox has given you not just one but 2 discs worth of alien-zappin' fun, all wrapped up in a spiffy, shinny silver "five star" package.

Disc One contains two different versions of the film, thanks to the wonders of seamless branching on DVD. You get the original theatrical version, as well as a 9-minute longer special edition. Both are in very good looking anamorphic widescreen video, transferred from high quality film elements. The color and contrast exhibited here are outstanding, with very solid blacks and rich, vibrant (and accurate) tones. There's very little artifacting, even in the kinds of images that often give MPEG-2 compression trouble, like exploding fireballs (and there are plenty here). There's also very little dust on the print, even in the newly-added footage. Just FYI, I liked the special edition much better - it restores several scene trims and at least two entire scenes, which do help the believability of the film's ending somewhat. My only complaint with the video is that while it generally looks terrific, there are times when it appears alternately a little too soft or a little too edgy. And my player had some trouble with the layer switch when I tried scanning back across it in reverse. Minor quibbles.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound on the disc is very good, although not quite as good as the best mixes (on say, Titanic or Saving Private Ryan). The sound field is very wide, with tons of directional effects and panning and extremely active rear channels. You'll hear plenty of F-18s and alien attackers screaming by over your head and away in the distance behind you. And the low frequency is ever-present and often thunderous. It isn't particularly natural or ambient, but this mix will definitely give your sound system a workout. Let me put it to you this way - this is a rare 5.1 mix that freaked my cats out. No complaints here (although the cats would beg to differ if they could, I suppose).

Also included on Disc One are a pair of full length commentary tracks, one with writer/director Roland Emmerich and writer/producer Dean Devlin, and one with SFX supervisors Volker Engel and Doug Smith. The Devlin and Emmerich commentary was done for a previous laserdisc release of the film, and is only okay. They often talk about "this laserdisc," and their comments as they watch the film are very production specific - "this shot was..." or, "and here we have..." You get the idea. At one point, after a long period of silence, Emmerich even says, "We're sitting here watching our own movie. Maybe we should say something..." That's not to say the commentary is bad - there are some good stories here and plenty of funny little anecdotes. But given that these two were also the writers, I would have enjoyed more discussion of the concepts and ideas behind the film (I mean, what little there are). The effects commentary is even more production specific, as one would expect. It's also not great, but is worth a listen.

Moving on to Disc Two, we get plenty of goodies, although not nearly as much as on the Abyss: SE. To start with, you've got the film's original ending, which featured Russell (Randy Quaid) flying in a bi-plane rather than an F-18. The sequence includes non-optional commentary, in which we learn that the ending was changed because it was thought that having the bi-plane (rather than a fighter jet) would stretch believability. That's funny. I actually liked the bi-plane ending more, especially given that believability is already stretched well past the legal limit in this flick. There's a pair of 30-minute documentaries on the making of the film, Creating Reality and The Making of ID4 (the latter was hosted by Goldblum for HBO). My favorite, however, is The ID4 Invasion, which is a 22-minute "mocumentary" that was produced for actual use in the film. You'll see bits of it throughout the film, as the characters watch news reports on the invasion on TV. It's very well done (those are all real TV news people) and is actually extremely clever ("The LAPD is asking Los Angeles residents NOT to shoot their guns at the alien spacecraft. You could start an interstellar war...").

Also included on Disc Two are a whole mess of trailers and TV spots, including the Apple Computer and Superbowl commercials. There's also a gallery of hundreds of production photographs, storyboards (from three sequences in the film) and cool conceptual artwork (although I'd swear that some of these sketches went by more than once). Finally, you get DVD-ROM features, which I thought were particularly lame. When I installed them on my computer, the ID4 stuff failed to appear. I had to search though the disc in Windows Explorer to figure out how to access the material, which is basically a whole lot of weblinks. There's supposed to be a live event at some point in the future, but just try clicking to the address listed on the back of the packaging: www.independenceday.com. Notice anything funny? You also get a link to an online space combat game called ID4 Online (you can install it from the disc and play for 30 days free). And there's supposedly a Get Off My Planet interactive trivia game, which I couldn't find at all. But whatever... I don't much care anyway. What I wanted from this disc, in terms of ROM extras, are things like a printable version of the script or something. What you get is pretty lame.

That minor issue aside, this is another fine DVD special edition from Fox. It doesn't push the boundaries or anything, but it serves the film very well. If you're a fan, you'll really be pretty happy I think. As for me, it's hard to sit through this film more than once a year at best. But when I do, I can't say that I don't enjoy it, because I do. Hey - I like big summer explosion fests as much as the next guy. You can't really call 'em films and you can pick them apart all you want. But I'd rather just sit and watch the explosions, 'cause stuff blowing up is cool... especially if there's aliens involved.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com


Easter Egg access instructions

Disc Two of this set contains some nifty hidden features. We aren't going to spoil them here, but we'll tell you how to find them. From the Main Menu of Disc Two, access the Data Desk area. When you get there, highlight the "Main Menu" selection and then select to the right to highlight the computer's power light. Press enter, and the computer will come to life with a code sequence (based on one of the important dates in the film). When the animation is done, the "Main Menu" selection will come alive again. Press enter and you'll be delivered back out to the Main Menu... except you'll notice that the Alien Attacker is now powered up and floating. Enter the code sequence you were given on the computer screen (using your remote), and after a cool animation, you'll suddenly be able to access three fun hidden features and the disc's production credits. But that's not all - ID4 has Easter Eggs within Easter Eggs! Once you're inside the spaceship, try entering a couple of the other important dates seen in the film (using your remote) and see what happens. Enjoy!




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