ID4 - Independence Day (1996) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Jari Kovalainen (8th April 2008).
The Film

When the film costs $75 million to make and eventually earns over $800 million worldwide (over $300 million in the U.S. alone), it´s a huge hit. Sci-fi/action/disaster hybrid “Independence Day” was still more than just a “hit”, it was a phenomenon that swept through the 1996 cinematic world like a tidal wave. I was in the movie theatre too back then - probably in the opening weekend, full of anticipation and excitement. After all, it was one of my favorite subjects brought to the screen in a big, epic way. Perhaps this modern take (I´ve always loved the vintage genre-films from the 1950’s) on the concept would open the whole new chapter in the sci-fi genre. Well, so I thought. The reality was somewhat different.

The plot in “Independence Day” is a relatively simple one, even when it introduces numerous speaking parts and locations within the hefty 145-minute running time. A huge alien mothership appears at Earth's orbit, ready to invade the planet. Several battleships now take the position over major cities all over the world and the countdown to destruction is soon under way. The world is facing the threat of complete annihilation. These events are being portrayed through the eyes of several characters, who eventually unite one way or the other before the film is through (some have already established ties); President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman - e.g. “Lost Highway (1997)”) is now a leader with a true meaning, working e.g. with his trusted advisor General William Grey (Robert Loggia - e.g. Oscar nomination for “Jagged Edge (1985)”) and his White House Communications Director, Constance Spano (Margaret Colin - e.g. “The Devil's Own (1997)”). Spano on her own right is the ex-wife of David Levinson Jeff Goldblum (e.g. “The Fly (1986)”), a cable television technician who first discovers the true plan of the aliens and is also trying to save the President in the process. David is accompanied by his father Julius Levinson (Judd Hirsch - e.g. Oscar nomination for “Ordinary People (1980)”). For the added measure, David and the President know each other from the past, and their relationship is now rather cold. First Lady Marilyn Whitmore (Mary McDonnell - e.g. two Oscar nominations for “Dances with Wolves (1990)” and “Passion Fish (1992)”) is now in Los Angeles, while her husband is in Washington, D.C. Both cities are soon under attack.

Add the young, cocky fighter pilot Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith - e.g. two Oscar-nominations for “Ali (2001)” and “The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)”), with his girlfriend Jasmine Dubrow (Vivica A. Fox - e.g. “Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)”), and alcoholic Vietnam War-veteran pilot Russell Casse (Randy Quaid - e.g. Oscar nomination for “The Last Detail (1973)”), and the main group for “saving the world” is assembled. Plenty of destruction, explosions, attacks, counterattacks, dogfights - even a nuclear strike will follow, and eventually we also see the “truth” behind “Area 51”. Aliens don’t take any prisoners and the future of mankind… You know the rest.

“Independence Day” can be an entertaining way to spend a few hours, but it isn´t the film that I ultimately expected, nor even wanted, it´s a calculated “PG-13” action-film, with very safe, predictable and an overly simplistic storyline. “Humorous scenes” arrive orchestrated like clockwork, special effects are the real stars of the day, heroes emerge from every corner and nothing can be taken very seriously. Real drama is hard to find, let alone some “darker tones”. Emotionally, I didn´t find much to invest in and even though the actors are all professional, they´re eventually quite stereotyped. You´ve got the President and his staff, army, the smart scientist, a few funnier supporting characters and of course, the younger hero (Will Smith, who´s just being “Will Smith”, smacking the aliens in the face and giving out one-liners). For me, “Independence Day” is just another blockbuster that we´ve actually seeing many times before, just with different packaging. This time the aliens from outer space have replaced the “bad guys” and are the excuse to “blow things up”. Everything is “big”, but eventually too big for me. I was disappointed, since I thought that the great idea was turned into half-action, half-comedy. Everything is just silly and over-the-top. I´ll admit that e.g. the “father and son” chemistry between the actors Judd Hirsch and Jeff Goldblum works very well, saving many scenes and I can´t really say that the castings has failed. But still, it wasn´t until “Signs (2002)” and “War of the Worlds (2005)” (both “PG-13”, I might add) came along, that I could completely erase the disappointment of “Independence Day”. After those films, I had faith again that the Hollywood machine can create more serious films of the subject. It just doesn´t work with the “Emmerich/Devlin” duo being on-board (co-writer/producer/second unit director Dean Devlin is the producing partner of Emmerich).

If we still forget the more traditional aspects of filmmaking and judge “ID4” purely based on the visual values, the special effects of the film are undoubtedly a very high level (although some of the effects can be a bit dated now). Considering, that the film still uses plenty of miniature model work and digital composing (now those type of effects are done solely with computers), many of the action sequences are the real highlights of the film and it won an Oscar for “Best Visual Effects” (and was nominated for the other - “Best Sound”). Also the aliens itself by the “alien creature effects supervisor” (and co-production designer) Patrick Tatopoulos are pretty effective and from the horror-buff point of view, it´s a bit shame that they weren´t used more. The scene in “Area 51” (“Dieeeeee…”) was definitely my favorite scene and the rare, creepy moment in the whole film. One interesting tidbit is, that assistant props maker Len Wiseman went on to direct “Underworld (2003)” and “Underworld: Evolution (2006)”, while Tatopoulos is now directing the upcoming “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009)”.

Director/co-writer/executive producer Roland Emmerich has a mixed reputation among film buffs. He might be “the man” when it comes to Hollywood blockbusters, but sadly, his creative mind doesn´t always guarantee artistic success. His hardest critics feel that Emmerich has sold his soul for the Hollywood high life and his creative input has a big “$” sign in front of everything. While these comments are probably a bit too harsh, it´s true that in his films the special effects usually overcome the other areas of the story (more so now in the CGI-era) and the plot lines can often be very thin. Emmerich never was much of a storyteller. “Eye candy” is more important than the “characters” and “popcorn” always dominates over “drama,” whatever it takes to make the action and effects going. Unlike e.g. Steven Spielberg, Emmerich rarely explores any new areas and too often the American flag is waving. While the German born director has done a few solid films like “The Patriot (2000)” (which along with “Universal Soldier (1992)”, is his only “R-rated”-film), he has also managed to pretty much ruin the legacy of “Godzilla (1998)”, which is something that many G-fans won´t forget in any time soon. Emmerich´s philosophy is to make big movies for the big audience. With this approach, you usually win some and lose some.

For me, “Independence Day” is in the same league with Emmerich´s later disaster-film “The Day After Tomorrow (2004)”. This means, that it´s solely there to entertain, not to challenge its audience, nor to create any moving characters or drama. The goal is to make the biggest and the most state-of-the-art special effects and the rest is mainly filler. There´s obviously nothing wrong with this approach every once in a while (since those mindless popcorn-movies are also what we need), but with the current, steady flow of mediocre movies originating from Hollywood, Emmerich is just one the many directors playing essentially in the same sandbox; bringing style over substance with a huge budgets. For these directors, the box office success seems to be the most important thing. I sincerely hope that Emmerich will prove me wrong with some of his future films, but from what I´ve heard about his latest $105 million vehicle “10,000 B.C. (2008)“, this seems unlikely.

Video

“ID4” is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen (1080p 24fps) and uses AVC MPEG-4 compression. Anticipation towards this release has been rather high, since many feel that this type of huge film should also look “hugely” good in 1080p. Well, it does look good, with vivid colors, strong black levels, and I didn’t really spot any edge enhancement or compression issues (“BD-50” Dual layer-disc is used). The transfer is still lacking in a few departments (compared to the best of them), so it´s not always as sharp as I would´ve expected and some of the darker scenes can look grainy, “murky” even. It´s safe to say that the transfer is not always that consistent, which especially shows when comparing the daylight and night scenes. I have to assume, that these issues probably just originate from the source materials and slight grain is present throughout the transfer. The daylight scenes can look quite excellent (especially the scenes in the desert) and the transfer is very clean, so I´m sure that this 1080p-presentation is quite faithful to the original look of the film. And make no mistake about it; Blu-ray blows the old SD DVD-releases out of the water.

The Blu-ray-release is using the original “Theatrical Version” of the film (roughly 8 minutes longer “Special Edition” is NOT included), which runs 144:48 minutes. Disc is confirmed to be "Region A" only and there are 54 chapters.

Note, that technically this is the second HD-based release of the film on “home video”, since the first one was under the “D-Theater” brand (D-VHS-cassette) in 2002 (the resolution on that one was 1080i).

Review equipment: Sony Bravia KDL-40W2000 LCD (1080p) + Playstation 3, via HDMI cable.

Audio

The disc includes three audio tracks, English DTS-HD Master 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1 (448 Kbps) and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 surround (224 Kbps). Optional English HoH, Spanish, Cantonese Chinese, and Korean subtitles are included. Although some new Blu-ray-player models will arrive in this year, not many players at the moment fully support DTS-HD Master-track (you´ll also probably need a proper HDMI 1.3 receiver, since majority of those models use “bitstream*” for DTS-HD). This means that like the majority of the current players now, Playstation 3 supports the 1.5 Mbps “core” from the DTS-HD Master-track (full track would use variable bitrates up to 24.5 Mbps on Blu-ray). 1.5 Mbps is equal to “full bit rate” DTS from the selected standard DVD’s.

As most of the fans probably hoped, the DTS-HD Master 5.1-track really delivers the goods (even in “only” 1.5 Mbps). In the action-scenes (several of those in this film), the surround-channels are almost in constant action, transforming the whole room into one massive battle-zone. Explosions, destructions, crashes, screams, dogfights, lasers and various other things are keeping the audio track dynamic and lively. The bass? It´s truly rumbling in this film, bombastic music is also one aspect that keeps the audio LOUD. There are scenes were some of the directional sounds are coming perhaps slightly too distinctively e.g. in the rear channels, but in audio wise “ID4” can be one hell of a ride during the action-scenes. The quieter scenes doesn´t impress that much, and a bit like in the transfer, there are some inconsistencies between the normal scenes vs. the action. Some nice ambience is still coming from the rears in the calmer scenes also. “ID4” is a film almost screaming “lossless audio”, and that´s exactly what this disc is offering.

*Bitstream: Receiver decodes the audio. The Blu-ray-player will simply pass through the original soundtrack format untouched. For the receiver to fully decode e.g. “DTS-HD Master”-audio, it needs to have HDMI 1.3 (e.g. 1.2 is not enough).

Extras

Some bad news in the extras-department, if you compare this Blu-ray to the older SD DVD-releases. Just like with some other Blu-ray-releases, Fox has decided to drop basically all the extras that were previously included on “Disc 2” with the R1 2-disc “Five Star Collection” (2000, now OOP) and re-release 2-disc “Collector's Edition” (2006). There was also 1-disc “Limited Edition” (2004, now OOP) and some “Lenticular”-cover releases, but those didn´t add anything new to the table for “ID4”.

So the long story short; in addition to the alternate, longer “Special Edition” version of the film, Blu-ray-release is missing some featurettes, photo/storyboard galleries and DVD-ROM-features. Also the “Easter eggs” are missing and even some TV-spots. Blu-ray includes a few “HD exclusives”, but I would still say that they´re not enough to fill the “missing extras”-gap this time. Extras don’t have any subtitles.

-Audio commentary by director/co-writer/executive producer Roland Emmerich and co-writer/producer/second unit director Dean Devlin (“Filmmakers´ Commentary”) left me with some mixed feelings. I personally waited a bit more analytic approach and perhaps even some “feedback” to the critics of the film (that would be me also), but that happened only momentarily. Instead, the directing/writing/producing duo is mainly concentrating to point out the various effects from the screen, telling when certain actors are improvising or just explaining some rather obvious issues from the screen. Many times they start to watch the film themselves, so there are some caps of silence. Fortunately Devlin is quite easy to listen (Emmerich is not as vocal in the commentary) and the more patience ones will find some information from the commentary (especially, if you turn the “trivia track” on like I did). Addition to the special effects (models, miniatures, digital composing) and actors (which all seems to be “wonderful”), you´ll hear some info about the locations, sets, and the story. They also point out some of the scenes, where the crew re-used some sets from the different productions. Interesting tidbit is that the U.S. military withdrew their support, when the filmmakers refused to remove the “Area 51”-section from the film. They also explain, that “ID4” was patterned like the disaster movies from the 1970s (people “coming together”) more like “alien invasion” movies in the 1950s. That of course partly explains why some people had different expectations of the movie when they entered to the movie theatre. Devlin also tries to point out the “character moments” from the movie (vs. “action”), just like saying that this is not all crash-boom-bang. He also explains, that the goal was to balance the serious nature of the movie, but still keep it fun going. Generally the commentary is a bit in the “boring side” and you might want consider choosing the “trivia track” instead.

-Second Audio commentary is with visual effects supervisors Volker Engel and Douglas Smith (“Visual Effects Commentary”). They both shared the Oscar for the “Best Visual Effects” with Clay Pinney and Joe Viskocil (the latter two gentleman doesn´t participate in the commentary). By sampling the track, it´s quite obvious that you need to ask a few questions for yourself before listening this track:
a) You like to see great special effects on the screen and respect the people behind them, but not really care how they´re actually made. Technical stuff is just boring.
b) You are into special effects and want to know as much about them as possible. Keep those tidbits coming; I have popcorn and a note pad. Tell me about the various effects techniques, how those effects were created, how they´ve added to the screen and how the CGI-effects have taken over even since “ID4”.
So make your pick.

-High Definition Exclusive Bonus feature: “ID4 Datastream” -trivia track runs within the subtitle-stream, giving pop-up factoids and notes. It´s actually pretty informative and good option for both of the Audio commentaries. You´ll get variety of trivia about the film, story, production, actors, special effects, spin-off novels, and different scenes, sometimes in a humorous way. The track also widens the film experience, since it gives some literary references and finds some connections to the UFO/sci-fi mythology (“Area 51”, “Roswell incident”, etc). Not bad.

-High Definition Exclusive Bonus feature: “Alien Scavenger Hunt” BD-Java Interactive Game happens during the film when activated. You´ve a list of 12 random items at the bottom of the screen, ranging from objects to symbols to written text. You have to locate them throughout the film by using the arrow keys on your remote (to move the cursor on the screen) and using “enter” to choose one from the list (when you find it, that´s). If you´re able to find all 12 items, you will unlock “exclusive” Video Clip. I personally didn´t have time try myself, but if you can unlock this “video clip”, let´s know and I´ll update the review.

-“ID4 Trailers”-section includes the following;
*Thearical teaser (1:11 min)
*Thearical trailer A (1:33 min)
*Thearical trailer B (2:28 min)
*Thearical trailer C (2:32 min)

Bonus trailers include:
*”AVP: Alien Vs. Predator (2004)” (2:17 min)
*”The Fly (1986)” (2:06 min)
*”i, robot (2004)” (2:28 min)
*”Planet Of The Apes (2001)” (0:55 sec, probably Teaser)
*”Predator (1987)” (2:13 min)
*”X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)” (2:29 min)

While not really considered as “extras”, the disc has minor additional options for you to play with;

-D-Box Motion Code: You can watch the movie using your “D-Box” integrated motion system. For more info, visit their homepage HERE.

-Keyword Search: Locate your favorite scenes and characters in the movie via “keyword search” (there are countless keywords).

-Bookmarks: Set and jump to your own custom markers in the movie. Related to this, I also noticed that when you once choose e.g. language and audio (or use “bookmarks”) and remove the disc, it´ll ask “do you wish to load the previously saved settings” when you put the disc in the player next time.

The disc is packaged in a standard Blu-ray case.

Overall

I´m the first to admit, that I probably missed the point with “Independence Day”. The film supposed to be just mindless fun and entertainment from the get-go and now reviewers like me are disappointed that it didn´t have any “deeper values” or enough “drama”. Fair enough. I can respect the eye candy-values that it offers and certainly find some fun from it, but for me this type of films just have to have real drama, characters that I can relate to and considerably darker tones to make them fully work. Otherwise, it´s probably best to make a cleaver action-comedy-parody in the style of “Mars Attacks! (1996)” (not that it was a homerun on its own right) and “Men in Black (1997)”. Now “ID4” tries to incorporate too many genres into one film. The “Blu-ray”-presentation is very good and DTS-HD Master-track is just thunderous. This release is dropping the longer “Special Edition” version of the film, along with some extras from the SD DVD-releases, so in that sense it´s not a perfect one. But for the fans looking for the best presentation of the film, no need to look any further.


For more info, please visit the homepage of Fox Blu-ray.

The Film: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:

 


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