Twenty years? Twenty years. TWENTY YEARS! That’s right, this year marks the 20th anniversary of Roland Emmerich’s science fiction masterpiece. A staple of 1990s cinema, Independence Day featured a star studded cast, state of the art effects, quick pacing, and an ability to weave in some heavier, darker themes in an overall light and fun tone. Critics lauded the film’s effects and how fun it was, but there was some criticism of the script. Regardless, it was strong enough to overcome any criticisms and went on to gross more than any other film in 1996, as well as breaking multiple opening weekend records previously set by Jurassic Park. Twenty years later, the film’s legacy remains as strong as ever and in less than a month the long awaited sequel hits theaters worldwide.
The plot of Independence Day is etched in the minds of most Americans young and old, playing annually on multiple cable and network television stations…
One day, seemingly out of nowhere (though we find out that there were some warning signs), gargantuan alien spacecrafts show up hovering in the skies over several major world cities. After a failed attempt to make peace, the aliens attack and mass devastation ensues. US Marine Corps Captain Steven Hillard (then burgeoning action star, Will Smith), President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman), nerdy computer genius David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), a host of allies from around the world must hatch a plan to save the planet from certain annihilation. And… SPOILER ALERT… they save the day.
If you’re the type of film watcher that I am, you have rewatched this film on multiple formats on at least a yearly basis for the past 20 years. As one of my top 10-15 sci-fi action films of all-time, I have owned 2 different VHS editions, a DVD copy, and digital copies of both the theatrical and extended cuts of Independence Day prior to this brand new 2-Disc 20th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray copy. Yet, with this new release I felt like I was watching the film in a whole new way. It looks and sounds spectacular.
The classic moments popped bigger, brighter, funnier, and more spectacular than ever. The newly restored theatrical and extended cuts both look great. Every detail looks sharp and defined. The practical effects and digital effects alike look great. These versions of the film really let the groundbreaking effects come through. If you want to just watch one scene to see how great this film looks, you can skip to the White House explosion scene. The detail of the White House itself is perfect, not looking like a reproduction but rather identical to the actual home of the President. As the laser hits the White House and the explosion begins, it’s impossible to not be in awe of how good every bit of the entire frame looks.
The remastered soundtrack is equally impressive. The music and sound effects are stunning (do yourself a favor and use a surround sound system or quality soundbar when watching). And this added depth to the sound creates deeper emotional connections to the characters, whether laughing at their wit or crying for their loss. For example, Captain Hillard’s first “close encounter” with an alien still delivers the laughs and catharsis it always has, but the accents of the sound effects really make the scene sizzle.
This film holds up to the big budget action films of today. It holds up as an science fiction film. It holds up as a disaster film. It just holds up, period. When compared to other such films of its time, it overshadows them both in content and filmmaking. The effects, the acting, the look and feel of the film, it’s all much stronger than so many of the 20 year old films that have disappeared with time.
Perhaps the most important reason that the film has never faded is its message. This big, exciting, and fun film is ultimately about humanity overcoming its differences when faced with the end of the world, both at a small and large scale. A divorced couple is forced to work together, nations that would normally never ally themselves with each other work together to coordinate an attack, and together people of all walks of life defeat the common enemy.
The film is also about bravery and sacrifice. When Randy Quaid’s Russell Casse throws aside his bottle of his liquid crutch and joins in the battle to “whoop ET’s ass” (Captain Hillard’s words, to be exact), he’s doing it for his children. The same can be said for Hillard, Levinson, and even the President himself, as they all suit up and head into battle with a deadly and unpredictable foe.
And, I must admit, that speech (you know the one I’m talking about) still sparks a tear or three. “This is our Independence Day!” and I well up with pride towards my fellow man.
It seems that I’ve been singing praises throughout this entire review, which I have, but that’s not going to stop just yet. For as strong as the film is presented, the extra features are equally as impressive. The package comes with two different versions of the film, deleted scenes, outtakes, a few short documentary pieces, 2 great commentary tracks, and a mockumentary. The commentary tracks are both interesting and informative; one features writer/director Roland Emmerich and writer/producer Dean Devlin and the other features the special effects supervisors, Volker Engel and Doug Smith. The latter is extremely satisfying in how they break down many of the shots, while the former really exemplifies how much the filmmakers love their film. The ID4 Invasion mockumentary is also a standout feature, it’s truly a lot of fun and really makes this Blu-ray release that much better.
While the theatrical and extended cuts of the film are not new to this release, both have been restored (and look incredible, as noted above). The director/producer commentary track discusses some of the choices made in creating the theatrical version, so make sure to check that out. Overall, it’s a really solid purchase and it’s quite affordable at less than $10 at Amazon or Walmart.
For the true collector, there is an “Ultimate Attacker Edition” that features a model of the alien spacecraft and a collector’s booklet, in addition to everything in the 20th Anniversary Edit. There’s also a Ultra HD Blu-ray on the way, if you’d rather wait for the 4K experience. So, while the choice of which edition to buy is yours, you should grab your copy of the neo-classic Sci-Fi gem today.