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Independence Day is a guilty pleasure of mine. It would be really hard to defend this summer blockbuster from 1996. The music is overproduced, there are plenty of plot holes and amazing coincidences that advance the plot, none of the characters are really developed and the story is overshadowed by the special effects. In spite of all that, I really enjoy watching this film, even though I know I shouldn't. That's why I was excited when the Blu-ray disc of this film was announced; another excuse to watch this fun, silly film. It looks better than it ever has on this disc, with a beautiful picture and an amazing audio track. Fans, like me, who've been waiting for this disc will be pleased with the presentation although the bonus items are lacking.
On July 2nd a gigantic alien space ship (it has ¼ the mass of the Moon) enters Earth orbit and releases a series of huge discs, 15 miles in diameter each, that take position above various large cities around the globe. They sit there, silently, for hours, until at the appointed moment they each open a portal at the bottom and release a death ray that totally destroys the city that they are stationed above. They then move on to their secondary target, slowly but methodically annihilating the cities of Earth.
On July 3rd, the nations of the Earth counter attack, launching their jets and missiles against the invaders. It's a futile effort. A force field around the ships prevents the bombs from even touching, and they explode impotently still far from their targets.
Then, on July 4th, Independence Day, a crazy plan is hatched that just may tilt the advantage to the human side.
This is a typical disaster movie, with a large cast of characters that the audience is supposed to identify with. There's Marine pilot Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith) who is dating a stripper with a young kid, President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman) who everyone turns to as the world is being destroyed, and David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) a brilliant underperforming genius who happens to be the ex-husband of the President's Press Secretary and has decoded a signal that the aliens are using to time their attack. As the devastation mounts, the various characters and their loved ones become endangered. Who will live, and who will die?
With some splashy special effects that still look fine today and a good cast this movie is really enjoyable in spite of the poor script. Will Smith is delightful as the cocky pilot who shoots down a alien fighter, and Pullman does a good job as the President. His rousing speech at the end illustrates that he has the charisma to become elected, but in private he seems like a genuinely nice guy. Just what we all want for a president but never get. Jeff Goldblum is at his nerdy best too. Judd Hirsch steals every scene he's in as Levinson's father who acts as comic relief without ever getting stupid or idiotic.
Unfortunately the same can't be said of the rest of the film. If you think about it, this movie has all of the worst aspects of big budget Hollywood films all wrapped up into one. The music swells every time something good or bad happens, telling the audience how to feel, and against all odds the disparate stars of the film miraculously end up all together by the end. That pales in comparison to the ending of the film which has the most idiotic and nonsensical plot element of any movie ever. In spite of all of these flaws, Independence Day is a great popcorn flick that's really enjoyable to watch.
The Blu-ray Disc:
This Blu-ray disc contains the original 145-minute theatrical version of the film. The longer "Special Edition" cut (153-minutes) which has been released previously on DVD is not included.
This disc comes with an AVC (@27MBPS) encoded 2.35:1 image on a 50 GB Blu-ray disc and it looks really good. I was very impressed with the first scenes of Armstrong's footprints on the moon. The motes of dust were clear and the alien ship passed overhead and vibrated the ground causing the impressions to alter. Likewise the contours and fine lines on both the mother shop and the smaller city destroyers were solid and clear. The special effects stood up well too. When the smaller ships entered the atmosphere, the billowing clouds that were being pushed ahead of them were nicely rendered and didn't look plastic or fake the way some vintage CGI effects do.
The colors were good, and the black levels were nice too. Some of the scenes were a little too dark and details were lost. At one point an American flag is shown at night, and while the 13 stripes are clear, the stars on the blue background aren't visible and it looks more like a solid field of color. There was a bit of grain in some scenes, which was fine, but there was a small bit of digital noise in some areas that was disappointing to see. It was mostly noticeable in large patches of sky. It was a very low level, nothing like some of the first BR discs, but it was there. These defects were very minor however and the things this disc has going in its favor more than make up for it.
This movie has always had impressive audio, but the DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio that this disc boasts really raises the bar. From the first shots to the closing credits, all your speakers will get a good workout. The film gives viewers a taste of what they are in for in the opening scenes where the alien ship is accompanied by some deep bass tones that will rattle your windows. The battle scenes and mass destruction parts will really get your sub going. The whole soundstage is filled with sound during these action scenes. It's enough to make Phil Spector envious. The great thing about this track is that the movie doesn't collapse into basically a stereo mix after the battles are over. The rear speakers are used to good effect throughout the film. In the underground bunker beneath Area 51, there are muted warning sirens and the sounds of scientists working coming from the rear that gives viewers the impression that they're in the middle the scene themselves. There were a lot of nice touches like that which made this a great sounding film.
This is the only area that really disappointed. The Five Star Collection release of this movie came with three featurettes, an alternate ending, story boards, original artwork, production stills, a DVD-ROM game "Get Off My Planet" and the Special Edition cut with nine minutes of deleted scenes added back in (in addition to the theatrical release.) None of that is included on this Blu-ray disc. Even the deleted scenes which were used to make the Special Edition aren't to be found. That's a big strike against this disc. Remember Fox, Blu may have won the format war with HD DVD, but it still has to compete with SD DVDs. Right or wrong, many consumers will feel that getting bonus content (even if some of it is lame) lessens the value of the HD product and will opt not to upgrade.
What do we have? The two commentary tracks, the first by Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin and the second by Special Effects Supervisors Volker Engel and Doug Smith are still here. The first is very informative and fun to listen to, and the second is educational though a bit on the dry side.
There are some new extras but none of them are very exciting. The first is a pop-up trivia track that's a bit of a snoozer. The info, mainly on the special effects, wasn't all that exciting and didn't add to my enjoyment of the film. There's also an idiotic game: Alien Scavenger Hunt. While the movie runs, players look for various items on the screen and collect them with crosshairs that are overlaid on the screen. There's only a dozen items to get over the course of the film, and it quickly became boring. I can't see anyone playing this the whole way through as a game. Maybe if they wanted to watch the movie, but not as a game.
There's also a keyword index, the ability to bookmark your favorite scenes, and the film is D-Box enhanced. This last feature means that if you are one of the very few people who have a costume made theater seat with a D-Box rumbler attacked, your chair will shake along with the movie.
A fun and enjoyable popcorn flick, Independence Day took in over $300 million during its theatrical release in the US alone. It certainly deserves a high grade release. This disc almost does it right. The audio and video quality is superb, but the extras are really lacking. The fact that they don't even include the deleted scenes or alternate ending that were included on earlier released is just plain wrong. That drops my rating some what. Still, it's the film that is the most important thing, and this disc comes through in that respect. A strong Recommendation.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.