Independence Day: Resurgence 3D
Fox // PG-13 // $49.99 // October 18, 2016
Review by Tyler Foster | posted November 12, 2016
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
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R E V I E W S
Graphical Version
2016 was a bad year at the summer box office, and one of the first high-profile examples of poor returns was Independence Day: Resurgence, a sequel picking up 20 years after the original in both story and real time. It had a major strike against it from the get-go, having lured back most of its ensemble cast except breakout star Will Smith, who was both skeptical about a sequel and ultimately tied up filming Suicide Squad. In the end, trailers limply promised updated effects of cities being destroyed by an even larger alien mothership, and a glimpse of a fairly bland set of newer, younger characters, led by Liam Hemsworth. At a glance, the film's $389m worldwide total sounds like big money, but it's both more than $100m short of the "3x production budget" rule of thumb for a profitable film, and a stunning $428m less than the original managed to gross even before calculating two decades of inflation. Not exactly the kind of performance one hopes for a movie intended as the first chapter of a two-part story that would turn the series into a trilogy.

However -- and let me preface the following statement by saying there are quite a few caveats involved -- Independence Day: Resurgence is actually quite a bit more fun and even unexpectedly inventive than the critics or the film's public reception suggest. While the movie does suffer from various problems, including some repetition of beats from the original, and a really rushed feeling that suggests character beats ended up on the cutting room floor, there are some twists not even hinted at in the movie's advertising campaign that feel like the entire reason the movie was made, and which add up to an interesting expansion of whatever "universe" director Roland Emmerich and his writing partner Dean Devlin created back in 1996. It's far from a great film, one that might prove to have limited replay value, and which hardcore fans of the original might find plenty to take issue with, but when one realistically considers the qualities (and shortcomings) of the original movie and the odds this new movie is up against, this seems like an "above average" result by any measure.

That original film, which for many is a nostalgic experience, certainly has its moments: President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) making his iconic speech, the shot of the White House being blown to bits by one of the alien craft, Russell Case (Randy Quaid) flying a biplane into one of the ship's weapon ports, and Will Smith's Steven Hiller punching an alien in the face. That said, it's a little puzzling what makes Independence Day that much different from any of Emmerich's subsequent big-budget disaster movies, including The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, which are generally regarded as bad. It doesn't particularly matter that these movies are bad, as they're B-popcorn fare designed to dazzle rather than deeply engage, but they feature the same blend of expensive special effects and overwrought character drama, manipulating the audience into similar beats of everyday heroes overcoming (literally) impossible sequences of last-second escapes. For most people, they're fun to watch, but from a filmmaking standpoint, there's plenty to take issue with.

With that standard in mind, Independence Day: Resurgence generally feels like an improvement on some of Emmerich's other work, especially the indulgence of 2012. Clocking in at a comparatively slim 2 hours (2012 runs 2h 38m), the movie manages to avoid some of the overcooked interpersonal drama that Emmerich is familiar with in lieu of alien antics that are actually pretty innovative and make for a worthwhile concept for a sequel. As the film opens, David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) has arrived in Africa, where he has been granted his first opportunity since the events of the original to investigate one of the stranded and de-activated motherships, thanks to warlord Dikembe Umbutu (Deobia Oparei), whose late father would not allow anyone onto his land. He is joined by Catherine Marceaux (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a former flame who is already on site working with Umbutu on a series of psychic visions he's been having. In the 20 years that have passed since the original, Levinson became deputy director of Earth Space Defense, a branch of the government that has helped develop and design security systems based on the aliens' technology. This includes a moon base, where former pilot Jake Morrison (Hemsworth) has a grunt job he's been demoted to after nearly killing Dylan Hiller (Jessie Usher), son of Smith's Steven Hiller, in a training exercise. He's also dating Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe), daughter of President Whitmore, who (unbeknownst to everyone) is being tormented by the same psychic visions as Umbutu. Inside the ship, David discovers a console beaming a distress signal into deep space -- almost exactly as the call is being answered.

The streamlining of the character beats is hit-and-miss. The introduction of Jake as a hotshot who won't obey orders in order to be heroic feels pretty on the nose, and I'd definitely have preferred more development of the relationship between Jasmine Hiller (a returning Vivica A. Fox) and Dylan than so much of Travis Tope's Charlie, Jake's "comic relief" best friend. Still, ditching most of this material allows the movie to progress at a faster clip, practically speeding toward the big destruction sequence of the alien ship arriving, which is so large it creates a gravity field that lifts entire cities off the ground, before settling and causing all of those suspended buildings to drop on a second city the ship has settled over. (There's always been something slightly morbid about the death toll in these movies, and Resurgence is no different, so if that bothers you, be aware that Emmerich hasn't altered his approach.) Regardless of outliers like Charlie, the movie generally finds a decent balance of developing new characters like Umbutu vs. old ones, including obscure characters like Dr. Milton Isaacs (John Storey), who turns out to not only be more significant as Dr. Brackish Okun's (Brent Spiner) work partner at Area 51, but his romantic partner as well.

However, the movie's real joys lie in its development of a larger story that exists outside of the events of the original movie. (Minor spoilers ahead.) Before the familiar bad guys return, Earth receives a second visitor, a giant golden ball which appears through a portal on the moon and is shot out of the sky, against David's advice. David and Jake go up to check out the wreckage, and find a container that they manage to grab before being pulled back to Earth in the gravity field of the alien mothership. After returning to Area 51 and discovering Dr. Okun has popped awake again after being in a coma since the events of the original, they discover that the container contains a living AI, the digital consciousness of a final survivor from another planet that also fought the same bad guys. Not only does the AI have knowledge on how to defeat the aliens, it also has the coordinates to a far-off defense planet where they hope to make a final stand against the killer creatures once and for all. Many viewers have drawn parallels between Earth's adoption of alien technology in the film and the video game X-COM, and others have suggested this second alien "race" (if computer orb counts as a race) positions the movie as sort of a prequel to Destiny. Regardless of where its influence come from, it's an idea that could not have existed in the original movie, and is more than exciting enough to get why Emmerich and Devlin wanted to return to the story.

Between that inventiveness and some fun extended-finale sequences involving David driving a school bus full of Little League players with his dad (Judd Hirsch) at his side, some fun side bits with a treasure-hunting crew in the middle of the ocean, plus Spiner's gleeful return as Okun and the always-reliable William Fichtner as Joshua T. Adams, a U.S. General who receives a serious, unexpected promotion, there's more than enough gas to make Resurgence acceptable summer nonsense. Admittedly, it's easy to understand the point of view of anyone who complains that Resurgence only exists to set up a third chapter in the series (which, at this point, probably won't get made), but as far as 21st century blockbuster problems go, that feels like a pretty common one. Those with a deep love for the original film may feel less forgiving of this lark of a sequel, but without any expectations, it's a movie that performs about as well as humanity does in the film: better than expected.

The Blu-ray
Independence Day: Resurgence arrives with little fanfare following its middling US box office performance, in a single-width eco-friendly Amaray, no slipcover or anything. The art distinguishes itself as the 3D version with a blue box around the artwork, depicting the arrival of the massive alien ship (fun fact: the country that appears beneath it varies on where that copy is being released). The two-disc set also includes a Digital HD copy that will redeem on either iTunes or UltraViolet.

The Video and Audio
When I saw Independence Day: Resurgence in theaters, I saw it in 2D, as large format has become the go-to theatrical luxury benefit of choice. I've also gotten used to the fact that 3D is often of minimal benefit to the film. Color me surprised to find that I really enjoyed the 2.39:1 MVC 1080p presentation on this disc. Most of what the 3D adds to Resurgence is scale and depth, reinforcing the distance between objects in a way that makes the backdrops seem grander, the scope of the destruction seem larger. The film is wall-to-wall digital effects, and when viewing in 2D, there's a uniform appearance to most digitally-graded, digitally extended visuals that slowly turns into white noise. The additional dimension is a nice little cue that reminds one how big the White House is supposed to be, or the minuscule size of the American fighter ships as they approach the massive mothership. Depth is also pretty good in non-effects sequences as well: the former President's bedroom, the interior of a station wagon, etc., not to mention some of the movie's more embarrassing out-of-focus composite backgrounds look fine in 3D -- it's too bad more work wasn't put into making them look good in both formats. Although some have cited the 3D as overly dark, I had no issue with it, although I watched the movie on a bright day. Detail is very strong and I noticed no significant "crosstalk", although there were times (and I swear I checked my TV's settings repeatedly), some of the movement during the 3D version has the "TruMotion" look to it. Sound is a rousing DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track (although I can still only decode 5.1) with some impressive bass, extreme detail when it comes to little sounds of glass and distant people screaming, as well as a really vibrant rendition of the movie's score. It's also nicely balanced, keeping the dialogue clean and clear amid all kinds of hysteria. The packaging lists English Descriptive Audio, Spanish, and French Dolby 5.1, English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing, and English and Spanish subtitles, but there are also Portuguese, Ukranian, Turkish 5.1, and Russian DTS 5.1 tracks, and Arabic, Danish, Estonian, Finnish, Hebrew, Icelandic, Korean, Latvian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian, Swedish, Turkish, and Ukrainian subtitles. The commentary is also available subtitled in several languages.

The Extras
All of the supplemental content is on the 2D Blu-ray of the 2-disc set.

First, under the audio menu or near the bottom of the special features menu, one can find an audio commentary by director/producer/co-writer Roland Emmerich. Unfortunately, Emmerich spends most of his time narrating the action already on screen or explaining plot details that the viewer will understand if they've watched the movie, and there are more than a handful of pauses. Although he does weave in a few bits of information about the development or shooting, it's not worth sitting through the rest of the track to get to those bits.

Next, the rest of the extras are video-based and cab be found on the Extras menu. A short reel of deleted scenes (8:24) is far from the wealth of excised material (as much as a half hour) rumored to be cut from the film shortly before release. The most interesting include an alternate sequence where the White House is destroyed again, and multiple scenes revealing the fate of Sela Ward's President Lanford. "War of 1996" (5:10) appears to be an extended version of an online featurette, a faux news documentary about the the 20 years that have passed between the first and second movies. The online version one can find on YouTube runs 4:28, and that includes a few seconds of a bumper with links to further videos. "It's Early ABQ!" (3:07) is a similar deal, a fake Albuquerque morning program with Julius Levinson on as a guest (hosted by Goldblum's "Portlandia" cohort Fred Armisen as "Terry Dudley"), but this one doesn't appear to be extended.

The meat of the extras is "Another Day: The Making of Independence Day: Resurgence" (55:25), a four-part making-of documentary that dives into the development, production, and post-production of the movie, with interviews from almost everyone on the cast and crew. Although this is the best of the extras on the disc, it's also a bit hit-and-miss. The B-roll and most of the interviews are fun, but the documentary does ultimately function like a really lengthy EPK, with the cast asked to explain their character's part in the story, and details we already know about the function of elements in the film being rehashed for the camera.

The disc rounds out with a gag reel (6:14) which really illustrates Jeff Goldblum's various coping mechanisms for working on bluescreen, as well as quite a bit of Joey King chasing a dog, and five concept art galleries.

Trailers for Digital HD, Assassin's Creed, Deadpool, X-Men: Apocalypse, and "Independence Day: Resurgence Battle Heroes" play before the main menu. Two theatrical trailers and a TV spot for Independence Day: Resurgence are also included.

Conclusion
The real risk when sitting down for Independence Day: Resurgence is overestimating what qualities the original had, and overstating what kind of expectations one could have for this sequel. It's a dumb movie, for sure, and many of its flaws are apparent at first glance, but then, the same thing is true of most of Emmerich's movies, and there's no real reason the original Independence Day should be held up as a great movie while this one is looked down on. Fox's 3D Blu-ray also offers a pretty spectacular presentation of the movie, which adds to the scope and scale of the feature. Recommended.



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