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Michael Dequina

October 7, 1996

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Michael Dequina is 20 years old and has been a critic for five years, starting as the resident critic for his high school newspaper. During his stint as critic, he was named Best High School Critic in California by the Southern California Journalism Educators Association (SCJEA) in 1993 and 1994. After graduation and upon entering UCLA, he took a sabbatical from reviewing until April 1995, when he launched The Movie Report, his weekly e-mail movie publication. Mr. Brown's Movie Site, the WWW companion to the MR, was created in November 1995.

He hopes to someday work in film as a writer, director, or even as an actor. However, his film career is on hold as far as school is concerned, for he has just been denied admittance into UCLA film school.

Now here's Michael's review:

Independence Day (1996)

Everyone knows the story--"July 2... they arrive. July 3... they attack. July 4 is... Independence Day--the day we fight back." The question remains, does the hype monster ID4 live up to its massive buildup? In a word, no. Despite some awesome effects, the just OK Independence Day is done in by too many uninteresting subplots and not nearly enough action.

The major players in this '90s-era disaster tale of alien invasion (told in three labeled sections: "July 2," "July 3," and "July 4") are: Air Force fighter pilot Steven Hiller (Will Smith, cool as ever); his stripper girlfriend Jasmine (Vivica Fox); scientist David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum, doing another variation of his roles in Jurassic Park and Powder); his father (Judd Hirsch in an embarrassing Jewish stereotype); alcoholic cropduster pilot Russell Case (an excrutiatingly hammy Randy Quaid); United States President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman, back in boring mode); his wife (Mary McDonnell); and the White House communications director (Margaret Colin). As in the tradition of '70s disaster flicks, these and other characters lead their own dissimilar lives until a larger-than-life disaster (in this case, a hostile worldwide alien invasion) unites them.

And there lies ID4's ruinous problem--director/co-writer Roland Emmerich and producer/co-writer Dean Devlin (the people who perpetrated StarGate) spend too much time (and, in the process, bloat the running time to nearly two and a half hours) establishing these frankly, with the exception of Smith's engaging wisecracker, boring characters and even more boring problems. I like a good soap as much as the next person, but ID4's "human element" is not a good soap--uninvolving and devoid of any interest, not to mention credibility straining and, at times, unnecessary: was it really necessary to have Goldblum and Colin's characters be ex-spouses? If Devlin and Emmerich were smart, they would have just let Goldblum be just a scientist and Colin just a presidential adviser, in the process shaving off 15 minutes of interminable screen time devoted to their relationship problems. The same can be said of Quaid's drunk pilot and completely colorless trailer park family, all of whom appear to have wandered in from another film. Their "bittersweet" storyline, along with the "tearjerking" one of the President and the First Lady, are supposed to add some human "emotion" to the proceedings, but the melodramatic moments feel forced and are not the slightest bit involving.

Devlin said recently at a Los Angeles comic book/science fiction convention that special effects don't matter if you don't care about the characters. However, the spectacular visual effects and production design mattered much more to me than the cardboard space fillers passed off as characters. ID4 only comes to life during the elaborate effects sequences, which do deliver. The explosive annihilation of New York and Los Angeles truly must be seen on the big screen to be believed (I shudder to think how all the spectacular effects would look on the small screen, panned-and-scanned, no less), as do the gigantic, cavernous interior of the mothership, and the two aerial battle sequences, which brings me to another problem with the picture: lack of action. Those two battle scenes, one in the middle and one at the end, are pretty much all ID4 have to offer in terms of action. That would be acceptable if (1) the film weren't so aggressively hyped as a big action extravaganza and (2) there were something interesting going during the down time; alas, all we get are a few good lines from Smith, by far the breakout star of the film, and the excrutiating "human dimension." For the slam bang action connoisseur, ID4 is a bust.

The script also gives the aliens the short end of the stick. With the exception of one violent lab scene reminiscent of Alien, the audience and the earthlings never experience any up-close terror with the aliens; virtually all of their damage is done via their massive spacecrafts, and, as a result, they aren't nearly as terrifying and menacing as they should be. What is missing is more direct contact with the invaders. In the end, it is more a question of whether or not the humans can defeat the alien technology than defeat the aliens themselves.

My lukewarm reaction to the film appears to be in the minority, for ID4 has already grossed a truly astounding $95 million in its first 5 1/2 days, and general audience opinion has been ecstatic. But, as with all insanely popular films, some sort of backlash is bound to happen sooner or later. Here's hoping it's sooner, for the mega-hyped ID4, while not especially bad, is far from anything great.

My Rating = Two Stars

Michael can be reached directly at mrbrown@ucla.edu.
To see more of Michael's work, visit Mr. Brown's Movie Site
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