I'll always remember the time I saw "Independence Day" in a local theater that was playing the film 24 hours a day during the first week. I expected to be the only person in the 7am showing, but was greeted with a sold-out crowd who was completely engergized for the film. And I think that "ID4" really is one of those films that delivers solid entertainment. It's not perfect, but I think the combination of sympathetic characters and really solid effects work makes the film really one of the best "event" pictures of the last few years.
The film's plot is relatively simple, but director Roland Emmerich and writer/producer Dean Devlin are able to give a wider scope than simply, "aliens have arrived". The writing itself in terms of characters could have been a little bit better in some instances to boost them beyond stereotypical roles, but the film does manage to do a fine job of keeping such a large cast together. In case you are one of the few who has not seen this picture at this point (I'd be suprised if there are any...), "Independence Day" revolves around a band of nasty alien creatures who arrive in major ships that proceed to hover over many of the major cities across the world.
The non-alien element revolves around a band of lead characters, played by captain Steven Hiller(Will Smith), a wacko crop duster(Randy Quaid), the president(Bill Pullman) and a nerdy genius played by Jeff Goldbum. There are also a legion of supporting characters, although they are hardly developed.
Once the film gets going though, it's hard not to be engaged at the more intense sequences, which involve mass destruction of cities and some spectacular airborne fight sequences. As I've said before, the characters are not terribly well developed, but they're likable and entertaining. To put it simply, they're a group we can root for. Smith is very good as usual, and he carries much of the movie with ease.
"Independence Day" is a fun movie, and it knows that it isn't anything more than what it is; I think it has a good sense of humor and although there are some slow moments during the middle section, the majority of the film moves along with a rapid clip. I really liked the film now and although I still see little problems, I still think it's a lot of fun. I still like it more than "Armageddon".
VIDEO: This is probably one of the best transfers that I've seen from 20th Century Fox; they present "Independence Day" in a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer and the results are only one or two small steps away from being perfect. Sharpness is remarkable and clarity is wonderful; there's one or two sequences that look the slightest bit soft, but they really don't distract. Detail is excellent, and colors are wonderful, too. Colors are bright and very vibrant, looking really stunning at times, and well-saturated. Flesh tones are accurate and black level is solid, as well. This picture takes on a wonderfully clean and almost "three-dimensional" feel that really is beautiful to watch.
I really didn't notice any problems with the image quality; there's no shimmering and no pixelation - the print used is also in perfect condition with maybe a couple of "blink-and-you'll-miss-them" marks. There is a very slight amount of grain on a couple of occasions, but again, definitely not a distraction. This is really outstanding: work from Fox, and one of the best transfers I've seen this year. Another great effort after their fantastic work with "Fight Club" and "The Abyss".
SOUND: 1996 offered two films that still are considered to be among the best when it comes to audio - "Twister" and "Independence Day". When it comes to sound, "Independence Day" offers a awesome, outstanding experience - this is an extremely fierce, intense soundtrack that will really shake a room with some very considerable force. Once the film really gets going, there is extremely agressive surround use, and battles envelop the viewer remarkably. There are some sequences that really offer some unbelievable bass - if you have neighbors, this is not a soundtrack that they will appreciate you playing.
There are a few sequences of distruction in the film that really almost shocked me as to how impressive an experience that the sound was able to create. The score also has a rich, strong presence and comes through clearly. Dialogue is clear and is never overpowered by the chaos going on. Although this film is now 4 years old, I still think in terms of sound that it's one of the most incredible films I've ever heard. After finishing watching the film on this DVD edition, I'm almost more impressed with the sound on this film than I was with "Twister". This takes sound to the next level - more than just audio, it's an "experience".
MENUS:: Although Fox made some nice menus for their "Fight Club" special edition, they were nothing like the interactive wonder that they came up with for "The Abyss". "Independence Day"'s menus go back to grand, "Abyss" style, with remarkable animation taking us into the menu, and also, animation takes us to sub-menus. The menus for "The Abyss" and this film really illustrate the what DVD menus are capable of. Great work, and the menus for the 2nd disc are just as impressive.
Note: A few years back, a special edition laserdisc for "Independence Day" was released, and offered a lot of extras, but for $100, it wasn't really enough for the price. What Fox has done for this DVD edition is take those extras and add some new material for the price tag of $34.98. The DVD format really does wonders in letting Fox make a disc that takes this material and makes it wonderfully interactive.
Commentary One: Originally recorded for the laserdisc special edition, this commentary by director Roland Emmerich and producer/writer Dean Devlin is not an outstanding commentary track, but it certainly is more enjoyable than their commentary for "Stargate". They both go back and forth in a relaxed discussion of each scene, either chatting about the technical aspects of putting some of the action sequences together, or what it was like to work with the actors. Occasionally, they also have a fairly fun story to tell about what happened during filming.
Yet, their commentary has a few spaces where they just point out who the actors are, or what's going on on-screen, which tends to get a little dull when they get into this discussion style. There are some pauses of silence as well, including one where Emmerich admits he was "just listening to his own movie." It's one of those commentaries that has its highs and lows, and is probably worth a listen, although I'm not sure that many will come back to it for more than one listen.
Commentary Two: This is a newly recorded commentary with visual effects supervisors Volker Engel and Doug Smith. Although the first commentary provides a good general overview of the movie, this commentary ends up being more interesting because the two supervisors are able to not only go into pretty unbelievable detail about even how the smallest visual effect was able to be accomplished, but also occasionally provide their viewpoint on the film in general.
This track is only available on the special edition cut, and it's really a very good commentary track. I've really enjoyed listening to the visual effects teams on DVDs like this and recently, "Cliffhanger". They really point out how each visual effect was accomplished and point out some effects that I'd previously not even noticed. It really is a good way to take viewers behind-the-scenes of effects work. There are a few small pauses in this track, but they aren't distracting.
Special Edition/Theatrical Cut: From the opening menu on the first disc, viewers are able to choose whether to watch the "theatrical cut"(144 min) or the "special edition"(153 minutes). 9 minutes of additional footage make up the difference between the two, and actually, they really don't add much of anything to the film. It's just very nice to have the option. As stated before, the 2nd commentary is only available on the special edition cut.
Disc 2: The following additional materials are available on the second DVD.
Trailers/TV Ads: 3 teaser trailers, the theatrical trailer, a 15 second TV spot and 5 30 second TV ads. Also included is the Super Bowl teaser and an Apple Computer promotional spot.
"The Making Of ID4": A silly promotional featurette with Jeff Goldblum hosting, and taking us through the making of the movie. It's pretty promotional in nature, and offers interviews with the cast and crew, who chat about what it was like to play their characters. The jokes from Goldblum start off as pretty funny, but get a bit much after a while. This documentary lasts over 20 minutes and although it's moderately entertaining, it's not that informative.
"The ID4 Invasion": Now this is actually pretty funny. A mock-newscast, this takes the "promotional featurette" and actually takes some creative steps with it. It begins to really include more promotional interviews as it goes further, but still, I liked the idea of making a bit of a "mock-documentary" and found this addition to be pretty entertaining.
Creating Reality: Although this documentary starts off as looking like another "promotional" featurette, it takes a turn and becomes the most informative of the group that are offered on this disc. Both Emmerich and Devlin talk about their viewpoints on how to do special effects, from the biggest effect, to the most subtle work. The effects crew also chats about what kind of effects technology allowed them to create certain shots.
This is really the documentary I enjoyed most; it allowed the speakers to share a little bit of their viewpoint of the style of the effects and the look they were going for, it allowed the viewer to take a behind-the-scenes look, and it also really is very informative about all of the layers and jobs that people have to do on a production like this one. This is definitely the documentary I recommend most on the DVD.
Original Biplane Ending: Although the audio is still able to be heard, this "alternate" ending is narrated by Dean Devlin, who chats about why this clip, which shows Randy Quaid in his broken-down plane instead of an F-18, was cut. It was thankfully cut, because the scene is just a little too goofy.
Still Gallery: This is a pretty massive gallery of production photos, concept art and more that is organized into production stills, storyboards and concept art.
Also: DVD-Rom weblink.
Final Thoughts: Although not quite as remarkable as their outstanding "Fight Club" 2 DVD set, Fox really has again done a wonderful job at making a set that not only boasts phenomenal picture and sound (especially sound!) quality, but a wealth of informative extras.
As a studio, they really have suddenly become a fantastic supporter of the format and their 2 DVD sets have taken the idea of "special editions" to new heights. This is certainly not the last, as there are rumored to be more of these 2 DVD sets from the studio in the works. I certainly can't wait to see what they come up with next.