“Hello boys…I’m baaaaaack!”
You probably know that Independence Day — the spectacular, shameless sci-fi smash that introduced the world to “Will Smith, Global Superstar” — has a sequel coming out next month. What you may not know is that the original film has been granted a 20th Anniversary Blu-ray release. I was 13 when ID4 came out in the summer of 1996, which means the movie’s deluxe destruction and alien shoot-em-up antics were right in my wheelhouse. So I was curious as to how an older and wiser, um, taller version of me would feel watching it with a critical eye.
“Look, I really don’t think they flew 90 billion light years to come down here and start a fight.”
I’m assuming you know the plot, so I won’t spend too much time on it. A couple of days before the titular holiday, a massive extraterrestrial mothership settles over Earth and deploys a bunch of “smaller” spacecraft — that are each about 15 miles wide — over major cities and other strategic locations. The U.S. is led by young, charismatic (possibly under-prepared) President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman), who tries to manage the situation with help from military and political advisers (Robert Loggia as a gruff general and the late James Rebhorn as a slimy Secretary of Defense) along with his staff, including Margaret Colin’s communications director Constance Spano. Connie’s ex-husband David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) is a brilliant, overqualified satellite technician who basically becomes the first person on the planet that can prove the aliens didn’t just drop by to say hello.
Of course, David’s warning comes too late and the aliens unleash a catastrophic attack. Earth’s remaining heroes include brash pilot Steven Hiller (Will Smith) and alcoholic crop duster Russell Casse (Randy Quaid). Those two and a bunch of other survivors eventually join the president and his inner circle to unleash a desperate counterattack on the 4th of July, which doubles as humanity’s last stand.
As undeniably hokey as the writing in this film is — Independence Day was written by director Roland Emmerich and his longtime filmmaking partner Dean Devlin — President Whitmore’s speech before the final attack is still chill-inducing. (The “canceling the apocalypse” speech from Pacific Rim is basically a poor man’s version.) Even though a lot of the tropes in Emmerich/Devlin productions — abusing world landmarks, estranged spouses reuniting in the face of a world calamity — have become cliches by now, they were never fresher or more impactful than they were in Independence Day. Part of that is because we hadn’t yet experienced blockbuster overload. (Captain America: Civil War commented on the fact that basically every Marvel movie ends with calamitous destruction.)
– “There you go, thinking you’re all that. But you are not as charming as you think you are, sir.”
– “Yes I am.”
The other part is that Independence Day boasts an uncommonly charismatic cast, led by Smith’s starmaking performance. Goldblum’s brainy quirkiness also gives the movie the sort of personality these sort of blockbusters tend to lack. The supporting cast is rounded out by scene-stealers like Judd Hirsch (perfect as David’s kvetching dad) and Brent Spiner (as an inappropriately enthusiastic scientist). The story is thoroughly silly and the climax — involving an alien computer virus — is laughably absurd. But the likable performers and the movie’s groundbreaking, awe-inspiring visual effects still have the power to convince you to go along for this rollicking ride.
This 20th Anniversary Edition includes the 145-minute theatrical cut along with a 154-minute extended edition. (You can flip back and forth between both versions using the Set Up function in the main menu.) Fox was also kind enough to label the Extended or Additional Scenes in their scene selection menu. The most notable additions include more screen time and character development for Quaid’s Russell and his disapproving kids. There is also an additional scene where Vivica A. Fox’s Jasmine encounters a street preacher talking about the end of the world while she’s driving through the wreckage of downtown Los Angeles. (The scene’s somber tone and dreamlike quality made it feel out of place with the rest of the movie.)
We’ll get to the rest of the goodies on this two-disc release in a little bit, but first…
Independence Day: 20th Anniversary Edition is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average of 24 mbps. The wide aspect ratio is perfect for the now-famous early scenes of massive spaceships slowly hovering and settling over major cities. But that’s just one of the many splendid things about this top-notch restoration. (The movie was previously released on Blu-ray in 2008.)
First off, the image is warmer and more saturated than I expected. Colors and fine detail pop nicely against the desert landscape and the darker scenes of destruction. Speaking of the movie’s bleaker moments, the inky black levels offer fantastic separation and shadow detail. But the best part is that the movie’s filmic 35 mm elements are still readily apparent; there’s a pleasing grain to the presentation that balances out the high-tech wizardry. Honestly, the only visual hint that this movie is 20 years old comes from some of the dated ‘90s fashion choices.
The Blu-ray packaging claims that the film comes with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track. But after scouring Disc 1 — both the Theatrical and Special Edition — the best I could find was a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track for both. The bad(dish) news is that Fox is likely holding back a 7.1/DTS:X track until the film’s 4K release next month. The exceedingly good news is that this five-channel presentation absolutely rocks on its own merit.
It doesn’t take long for the track to make an impression: the exploding opening credits give both the subs and the rear speakers a workout. And that’s only the first bit of directionality; sound bounces dynamically from one speaker to the next during the aerial dog fights and as the alien explosions consume the planet’s cities. Believe it or not, all of this activity never drowns out the dialogue or well-placed quips in the film. The result is a spectacular, totally immersive experience that offers you a front row seat to an alien invasion.
The new featurette — “Independence Day: A Legacy Surging Forward” — and “Combat Review (Random Destruction Clips)” are presented in HD. Everything else is presented in standard definition. Except for “A Legacy Surging Forward”, the rest of these special features have been ported over from previous home video releases.
(Features available on Disc 1)
Commentary by writer/producer/director Roland Emmerich and writer/producer Dean Devlin: These guys don’t take a world-ending alien invasion very seriously. (In fact, Emmerich says early on he doesn’t believe in aliens, but still finds the subject fascinating.) This is a lighthearted, informative track in which the filmmakers talk about being influenced by the Clinton White House and how test audiences were more worried about the safety of one dog than any of the thousands (or millions!) of humans who perished on screen. Available for both the Theatrical and Special Edition.
Commentary by visual effects supervisors Volker Engel and Doug Smith: Engel and Smith were part of the movie’s Oscar-winning visual effects team, so naturally this track has more of a technical bent than the one with Emmerich and Devlin. (The amount of miniatures/models used here is refreshing, given that everything seems to be CGI these days.) This makes for a strong complement to the jokier commentary with the filmmakers. Available for both the Theatrical and Special Edition.
ID4 Datastream Trivia Track: Pop Up Video-style facts appear occasionally while the movie plays. Looks outdated compared to more interactive second screen experiences like Maximum Movie Mode, so I’d skip this one if I were you. Available only for the Theatrical Cut.
Independence Day: Resurgence Trailer
(Features available on Disc 2)
Independence Day — A Legacy Surging Forward: (30:40) The only new special feature is a solid, unspectacular retrospective featuring Emmerich and Devlin, who still seem a bit surprised by the smash success of the first film. (There is special attention paid to the iconic image of the exploding White House and how that captured audience’s imagination.) There are also appearances by cast members Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, and Vivica A. Fox, who each reprise their roles in the upcoming sequel. Speaking of the sequel, there’s a bit of Resurgence talk and footage at the very end.
Original Theatrical Ending: (4:16) ***20-YEAR OLD SPOILER ALERT***Instead of getting a clean shave and saving the world in a fighter jet, Randy Quaid’s Russell Casse was originally supposed to sacrifice himself by flying a biplane with a missile strapped to it. That original ending is shown here via crude visual effects.
Gag Reel: (2:05) A surprisingly funny gag reel since it features the actors goofing off just after delivering some ponderous bit of dialogue.
Creating Reality: (29:19) This featurette largely focuses on the making of the film’s spaceships, aliens and miniature landmarks.
ID4 Invasion: (21:57) This mockumentary — which presents the alien invasion as a real-life event — was ahead of its time in terms of viral marketing and finding creative ways to sell a film.
The Making of ID4: (28:29) Goldblum hosts a cheeky, Area 51-themed look at the movie’s creation.
Combat Review (Random Destruction Clips): (9:04) If scenes of people talking to each other put you to sleep, this handy feature cobbles together all of the movie’s biggest booms along with some aerial dogfighting action. Features a Play All option.
Monitor Earth Broadcasts (51:08) A comprehensive look at all the faux-news material created to help sell the fake alien invasion. The final cut only features snippets of the fake newsmakers, scientists, and others who contributed their talents. (It’s a mixture of actors and real-life news anchors.) Concludes with the alien’s destruction of the Welcome Wagon. Features a Play All option.
Gallery: A collection of storyboards and production stills
Teasers/Theatrical Trailer/TV Spots
“I have *got* to get me one of these!”
You’ve probably guessed this by now, but I absolutely enjoyed revisiting Independence Day. I also recommend you pick up this 20th Anniversary Edition, even if you already own it on Blu-ray. It’s a bummer that only one of the special features is new, but the previous Blu-ray release didn’t include a lot of the bonus material that can be found here. On top of that, the A/V upgrade is wonderful and worth the price of admission on its own.
Independence Day is a rousing, winning mixture of alien invasion story and disaster flick. Here’s hoping the sequel can recapture some of that magic.