Fireworks but No Sparklers
By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 02, 1996
"Independence Day," the eagerly anticipated alien
juggernaut, is fueled not by cosmic imagination,
but by plain, old-fashioned ballyhoo. An
overgrown hybrid of disaster epic, can-do
combat adventure and '50s sci-fi movie, this craft
has visited our world many times before. And
while she's a beaut, the sticker on her titanium
bumper reads: "Been There, Done That, Beam
Me Up, Scotty."
While there's been much hoopla over the movie's
stupefying effects, "Independence Day" makes no
perceptible leap forward in computer-generated
bedazzlements. Nothing here outshines "Star
Wars," another obvious influence on this
cautionary tale from director Roland Emmerich
and producer-writer Dean Devlin that explores
the cataclysmic consequences of putting out the
cosmic welcome mat when we don't know who
might be calling.
Though interwoven with government conspiracy
theories and UFO abduction fantasies, the plot
principally dates back to the 1953 film adaptation
of H.G. Wells's "The War of the Worlds." In this
humorous variation, the planet is beset by 36
saucers the size of Cleveland. The dish du jour
contains millions and millions of extraterrestrial
crustaceans in no mood for a close encounter.
Their mission: Fry earthlings, grab the planet,
snork up the resources, move on to the next juicy
Launched from the mother ship in lunar orbit, the
saucers are well on their way to Earth by the time
SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence)
picks up their signal. Glee turns to alarm when
scientists realize the aliens are not communicating
with us, but using Earth's technology to
coordinate an assault on major metropolitan
areas around the globe.
As the saucers oh-sooo-slowly move into
position over Washington, New York and Los
Angeles, frightened earthlings run about like
extras in a Godzilla movie while President
Thomas J. Whitmore (can-do Bill Pullman), a
former combat pilot, and his staff attempt to
come up with a plan. Meanwhile in Manhattan,
computer whiz David Levinson (affably geeky
Jeff Goldblum) discovers the aliens are going to
attack in about seven hours. So he talks his
kvetching father (onerous Judd Hirsch) into
driving him to D.C. to warn the White House,
where his estranged wife (Margaret Colin) is a
top presidential spin doctor. Despite doomsday
traffic jams up and down the Jersey Turnpike, he
arrives in, oh, about an hour and a half.
"Independence Day" is not for skeptics.
Unfortunately, there is a vast expanse of dead
time in which to ponder this sieve of a plot. Fully
45 minutes elapse while the vast cast is
introduced, which makes for a long wait between
the mother ship's arrival and the unsheathing of its
mighty death ray. The White House, which goes
kaboom along with the Empire State Building, is
tinder for a firestorm grander than many of
Washington's crater-size potholes.
And while the devastation is nearly universal, the
president escapes to a top-secret base in
Nevada, where he and his military advisers
launch a counterattack. Protected by invisible
shields, the enemy's vessels sustain no losses, but
the U.S. casualties are enormous. Ace Steve
Hiller (cocky Will Smith in a starmaking turn) is
among the few combat pilots who return to join a
desperate last attempt to stave off Armageddon.
"Independence Day" is primarily a $70 million
kid's toy, a star-spangled excess of Roman
candles and commando games designed to draw
repeat business from 9- to 12-year-old boys.
Little girls won't find any role models among the
barnstormers, though a plucky exotic dancer is
featured among the heroines. Even with the end
of the world in sight, she shakes her booty. It's
for her kid. No, really.
Maybe the moviemakers' mission was to boldly
go where everyone in Hollywood has gone
before: the bank.
Independence Day is rated
PG-13 for violence.
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