INDEPENDENCE DAY 20th ANNIVERSARY EDITION sports top-shelf audio, video, and supplements.
The Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc featuring 4k is that of real 4k. Everything was filmed, rendered, edited, and mastered in 4k. This is a beautiful transfer with high clarity uncompromised. The blacks are much darker now and their is a great benefit to the rich colors that grace this film throughout.
Review by Matt Cummings
For the 20 years, I’ve suffered among cinephiles convinced that INDEPENDENCE DAY is a classic Science-Fiction film. First and foremost, ID is Sci-Fi (there is a difference): think substance over style, character development over big slow-mo battle scenes (Michael Day, I know you’re reading this!). Think OBLIVION or BLADE RUNNER vs STARSHIP TROOPERS. So while the 20th Anniversary edition of INDEPENDENCE DAY has arrived with a cleaned up picture and all of its supplements finally intact, it’s still big, loud, cheesy, and misses a golden chance to elevate the genre.
Life on earth in 1996 is interrupted when tangible proof of aliens finally arrives: a gigantic spacecraft with dozens of city-sized ships surround our planet and descend over every major city, affecting Americans in various ways. For President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman), the news focuses his embattled administration into action, unaware that a signal is being broadcast between the vessels. For scientist David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), the signal reveals an invasion that will devastate the planet. When that moment arrives, pilots like Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith) are rushed into action without any remedy to defeat their space-bound enemy. As the world descends into darkness, our heroes will rally together to devise a desperate plan, while declaring their independence on that most sacred of days.
A cheesy, overstuffed, and sometimes horrible pile, INDEPENDENCE DAY suffers through 45 minutes of set up when 20 was all it needed. We might have forgiven Director Roland Emmerich and Writer Dean Devlin for all that epic wanna-be storytelling, if that setup had been effective. Sometimes it is: take the striptease scene in which everyone is glued to the TV rather than Vivica Fox. Instead, we get rambling discourse, multiple phone hangups from Levinson’s ex (Margaret Colin) and White House staffer, and more cheese than anyone deserved or needed. None of it is engaging – certainly not as I remember – as these three stories lumber their way into focus, just in time for the Armageddon party train to arrive. I despise that supposed-cinephiles continue to lump praise upon ID, even when admitting to the litany of plot holes and awful acting. ID fails partly because of Pullman, whose emotes less than a carrot; he mumbles, tries to be inspirational, but comes off dull. Harrison Ford had left the project to play in 1997’s AIR FORCE ONE, and the loss is palpable. Pullman is pure black hole every time he’s in scene, reminding us that he was born to play comedic roles (SPACEBALLS, anyone?) and hard drama. Time has unfortunately proven this correct.
But is it possible that not even Ford’s appearance could have saved this? Devlin is well-known (infamous) for injecting his characters with every bit of clichéd dialogue imaginable, while never getting to what trulem motivates them. Both he and Emmerich made the term “popcorn flick” a very real one, giving every director making a summer movie free license to replace character development for big, noisy action scenes. Even the performance of Randy Quaid as whacko pilot Russell Casse – whose character became a sort of cultural icon for his “I’m BAAAACK!!” utterance – now feels utterly shoehorned in. There’s obvious use of foreshadowing in R.E.M.’s It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine) and the ‘comedy’ of Harry Connick Jr is simply pithy. And it’s all mistakes that could have been corrected. ID could have been the next STARGATE or THE BLACK HOLE, had Devlin and Emmerich simply paid the same attention to characters that they did the still-incredible special effects. The extended version – which contains an interesting religious ‘apocalypse’ scene that was scrapped due to its potential controversy – does darken the mood somewhat, but I’m sure that’s more of a happy accident than cinematic brilliance.
But like the effects, INDEPENDENCE DAY does entertain to a certain degree. Goldblum was off his stellar JURASSIC PARK performance, and the practical sets/models, along with Composer David Arnold’s authoritative score, mixes well with the choreographed attack sequences. With 9/11 just five years away, it’s way too tongue-and-cheek and just doesn’t hold up, regardless of what standards you apply or scenes you add. Those who seem to justify it as a “sc-fi/action extravaganza” or “a total popcorn flick” are missing its enormous potential.
20th Century Fox has finally risen to the challenge of bringing ID into the 21st Century, gifting us with what looks like a master-print transfer that sports more detail than I’ve seen from previous versions. There’s been some alien slavishness done to previous DVD discs, but that’s not the case here. It’s hands down the best version of this film to hit the home market. The print itself is radically cleaned up while adding good color balancing that’s perhaps a bit too oversaturated. The white sands of the desert contrast quite well with darker features of skin texture, without sacrificing one for the other. The special effects look refreshed (tell me the B2 bombers don’t look CGI-ed this time), allowing them to shine even more. Flesh tones – a real problem o some versions – look real and not pasty, while fine layers of film grain are retained throughout. Dresses, uniforms, and street clothes are bright and highly detailed, while individual strands of hair on Pullman’s head can be easily seen. Area 51’s base has the feel of a real research lab, while the practical sets (pre-WEST WING) look outstanding. I’ve heard that black levels suffer, but my Plasma set up didn’t reveal them. I only have the quite dirty DVD transfer from years ago, and suspect that putting that bad boy in might even raise the score here, if it wasn’t for some off aliasing that occurs when a pan shot is introduced. I don’t see it during action sequences, and even the issue doesn’t happen every time; but it’s enough to make me lower my score for what’s otherwise a top-shelf restoration.
The 4k Disc on the other hand even further improves on everything done right above and boasts a thrill ride of realism to what you would expect from Ultra HD Blu-ray.
Fox’s Blu-ray release of INDEPENDENCE DAY suffers from nothing less than a bait-and-switch. While the cover (and various marketing materials) claim that we’re about to be treated to newly-created 7.1 soundtrack, all we get here is your standard DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless environment. That is actually all my system can produce, but it’s still listed as 5.1 when you scroll through the audio options on your player. Still, it’s loud, layered, and quite excellent. Arnold’s marching music wraps us in the four channels, while crisp dialogue pushes through the center. I only received dialogue in my channel, but I’ve read that others get music and sound effects dialed way down. Battle scenes shine with perfect phasing between front and rears, with the forwards displaying that mix of sound effects and music. The LFE delivers something quite different, prodding us almost from the start with enough thumping to lend serious heft to those aforementioned battle pieces. The rears also enjoy a strong amount of White House employee chatter, street noise, and other environmentals. In reading about this release’s journey, it appears we’re getting the exact same audio that came with the previous BD, and if that’s so then I understand people’s frustrations. But I’ve also heard that it’s an improvement over the 2008 version. While I’m willing to accept that, it does not factor into my score. For those of you who are waiting for the DTS-X or even the 7.1 upgrade, you should only commit if your system will allow it, as this version is great at many, many points.
INDEPENDENCE DAY contains a universe of content across two 50GB BD’s. It appears that we finally have everything carried over from the DVD copy, which I understand is the first time a high-def version of ID has offered it. Commentaries are retained along with the inventive trivia track, while Disc Two contains a new look-back with all of the previous DVD supplements finally reunited. Disc One has sports the original 144-minute theatrical and an extended 153-minute version, which makes up my review. There’s a mix of SD and HD content here, so be prepared for those pesky (but original) bars on the side. Due to the length of the content, we’re only listing the items below. However, there’s plenty here to keep you watching this thing for several evenings.
- Audio Commentary by Director Roland Emmerich and Producer Dean Devlin
- Audio Commentary by VFX Supervisors Volker Engel and Doug Smith
- ID4 Datastream Trivia Track (Theatrical Version Only)
- INDEPENDENCE DAY: Resurgence Theatrical Trailer (2:07)
- INDEPENDENCE DAY: A Legacy Surging Forward (HD, 30:40): Here’s that retrospective we mentioned.
- Original Theatrical Ending (SD, 4:16)
- Gag Reel (SD, 2:05)
- Creating Reality (SD, 29:19)
- ID4 Invasion (SD, 21:57)
- The Making of ID4 (SD, 28:29)
- Combat Review (Random Destruction Clips) (HD)
- Monitor Earth Broadcasts (Video Playback Newscasts) (SD)
- Gallery (HD)
- Teaser Trailers (SD)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:30)
- TV Spots (SD)
I wish INDEPENDENCE DAY would have aged better than it has. Filled with the promise of a gritty Science-Fiction epic, it fails prey early to weak dialogue, too much setup, and a lead casting that kills the film’s impact in critical scenes. Pullman nearly disappeared after this, and his return in the sequel doesn’t fill me with hope. It’s time audiences accept that Emmerich’s now-infamous movements towards the cheese don’t make him good, but merely a punching bag for a job not quite well done. The Blu-ray is mis-packaged but still sounds and looks quite good, and its supplements are incredibly deep. If you can stand three or more viewings of this ‘popcorn entertainment’ (Marvel, your films are cinematic mastery compared to this one), then perhaps this one is right for you. It’s a blockbuster for sure, helping to usher in today’s big summer events, but that doesn’t mean it’s any better for doing so.
INDEPENDENCE DAY is rated PG-13 for sci-fi destruction and violence and has a runtime of 144 minutes.
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