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Independence Day (1996)

A review by Damian Cannon.
Copyright © Movie Reviews UK 1997

A mish-mash of elements from a wide variety of alien invasion movies and gung-ho American jingoism, Independence Day crushes all before it. Out in space, the lunar surface is quiet and brightly lit by the harsh, unfiltered sunlight. The Apollo mission astronauts' footprints lie undisturbed, before fading into shadow. Alarmingly this isn't the natural encroachment of night but the passing of an almighty spaceship. Its immense mass gliding towards the Earth, glistening weirdly, understandably sets off a few warning lights. With the existence of alien life so vividly confirmed the only remaining question, or hope, is - are they friendly?

Unseen to the eyes of the military and associated scientists, smaller vessels are peeling from the mother-ship like blisters popping. Fuzzy radar pictures seem to indicate that these 30 mile wide behemoths are falling towards the planet's major cities. However, this clinical view is far removed from the pervasive panic infecting people the world over. When huge fiery thunder-clouds plough their way across the heavens, the bland statements issued by President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman) are somewhat overshadowed. In amongst the burgeoning chaos one man, satellite systems operator David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), has noticed a strange quirk. The visitors are broadcasting a signal to each other, using our hardware, and it seems to be counting down!

Since no one else has picked up on this inbuilt warning, David frantically tries to get to Washington with his itinerant father Julius (Judd Hirsch). Blind to the approaching apocalypse, the President and his advisors are keeping an open mind towards the menacing entities hanging motionless above so many important metropolises. Although all efforts at communication have failed, that doesn't necessarily imply that an interstellar conflict is imminent, at least not till David spills the news. Then it's kind of lucky that airmen such as Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith) are around.

When the countdown reaches zero, enigmatic ships spanning the globe split open to reveal huge, pulsating devices. The terrifyingly destructive beams which rain down from these weapons, moments later, are a fair indication that war has been declared.

On the receiving end of a summer's worth of hype, Independence Day could hardly be expected to live up to its previews. The surprising thing is just how well it manages with a massively recycled plot (all of the best bits from other flicks) and average special effects. The numbing fear which rises as those inhumanly large ships hover, implacable, is well managed (as are the "shock" scenes). However, the aliens are barely more than a mass of quivering tentacles (when glimpsed) and their inherent contradictions are laughable. On the one hand their civilisation can move from planet to planet, sucking them all dry with ease, while on the other they can be side-swiped by a maverick genius. Still, the aliens have much more convincing roles than their Earth-bound equivalents. A racially sensitive mix of stock (American) characters saves the day while foreign stereotypes wait apathetically for instructions. It's so over the top in its conceit that Independence Day would be a top-class farce if it didn't take itself so seriously.

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