Welcome to Earth… or just America
1953’s War of the Worlds relied on religious optimism. Earth was saved from Martian invaders by microscopic bacteria. A creation of a higher power saved us all. Independence Day has little thematic interest in religion – its aliens will be defeated because of blistering patriotism, man-made technology, and American heroes.
Although unattached officially, Independence Day is a proud, contemporary update of George Pal’s ’53 War of the Worlds. Back then, the army was helpless to deflect the attack of Martian war machines. Independence Day doesn’t give up. It keeps firing missiles out of national pride (and partly for spectacle, yes). War of the Worlds followed near World War II. The film presented a somber vulnerability; Independence Day is a movie without fears of actual war. It’s a sure and steady allegory for the country’s place as a worldwide equalizer, completely unattached from political cynicism.
While Independence Day depicts worldwide catastrophe, the images are purely Americana. Opening moments hover over the moon landing site. A mothership sends shockwaves through the flag. Aliens knock over the Statue of Liberty. They blow up monuments to Wall Street capitalism.
The invader’s crime isn’t flattening skyscrapers, signing off on human extinction, or plundering resources – it’s attacking on a national holiday and eliminating our right to barbecue tasty animals over coal.
A few worldly images are dire. Germany is depicted with a perfunctory view of a darkened castle. It’s lit only by lightning, as if the country is forever locked in a 1930s horror film. Iraqis live in desert tents and Africans are all wandering tribesman. Egyptians circle their pyramids in celebration when it’s over.
… it’s hard to overcome the joy of its fireballs and laser beams.
… it’s hard to overcome the joy of its fireballs and laser beams.
In the end, America’s might is so grand, space invaders centuries beyond our technology are defeated by a drunken crop duster, a Jewish Mac user, and black pilot. The USA’s diverse melting pot stands as the greatest equalizer. In the interim, cigar-munching military men send in the planes and when they fail, in come the nukes. When one missile proves insufficient, send in a second. The strategy appears invincible.
For the jingoistic, nationalistic arrogance powering Independence Day, it’s hard to overcome the joy of its fireballs and laser beams. Hokey and guilty, Independence Day suffers from a dehydration of logic, but does hold a fragment of reality in its core. The authenticity of government reaction – Bill Pullman’s fighter pilot president aside – and ludicrous media reactions are gold.
Led by Will Smith’s charisma and Jeff Goldblum’s calm tech head, the film occupies a special place in blockbuster cinema. This rotation of personalities and character arcs are better than they should be. Independence Day could swallow these actors with its awesome marriage of practical and digital special effects. Yet, this cast’s brightness and emotions perk up an overlong popcorn chewing spectacular.
Director Roland Emmerich would spend the next decade trying to either one-up or better this dumbfounding masterpiece. He never could. Independence Day is too genuine, organic, and convinced it is the best – shared ideals which allows the country who allowed this movie to exist.
Fox produced a key home theater showcase with Independence Day. While a consistent audio powerhouse between formats, the visual side has always drooped. That’s finally been corrected. Remastered with what is clearly a higher resolution source, this 20th Anniversary Edition features splendid sharpness and fidelity.
Immediately noticeable is a fine, clean grain structure. Prior, Independence Day was soured by dismal mastering, softening images to a point where film stock was imperceptible. It’s here, and properly resolved by the encode. Bitrates reach high and maintain their strength. For once on home video, Independence Day feels authentic.
As a result, detail emerges. Close-ups pull facial definition unseen since the theatrical run. Texture work breathes life into visual effects, Independence Day one of the dying breed to rely partially on miniatures. That work is now properly preserved. While digital matte lines stand-out, it’s appreciated. No revisionist cinema here.
Flesh tones hold to their natural hues. A slight bump in warmth could be noted in comparisons, subtle enough to go unnoticed unless side-by-side. Even still, any alternation avoids feeling digital.
The same goes for contrast, left as-is without tinkering. Independence Day’s explosions are still brilliant and black level density keeps up with modern films of its ilk. If anything, the film-based source from 1996 is better than some current offerings.
Note some shots are especially soft at the source. Marching to their jets, Will Smith and Harry Connick Jr. are blocked by a focal error, the worst of the instances. Why that wasn’t reshot remains a mystery. A handful of similar instances can be found. They form less than a minute of screen time. The rest remains gorgeous, from near the negative if a guess were to be offered.
Not quite the showcase, the move into 4K and HDR offers limited improvement. In spots, this transfer looks like a downgrade, with unfortunate macroblocking (especially pervasive in skylines) and overall poor grain reproduction. While the slight boost in fine detail shows infrequently, the overall aesthetic is one of a new format choking on its own capability.
HDR adds bite to explosions and lasers while drowning the film in a rather ugly yellow hue. Flesh tones and backgrounds suffer the most. Contrast stays high, although some areas of white feel pinched by the tint. It gives Independence Day an aged look on UHD unseen on the Blu-ray.
However, the jump still produces some positive results. Added resolution pokes out once in a while, with the clarity harming those early digital effects. A matte painting of Air Force One as Pullman enters Area 51 is incredibly obvious too, compared to before. Black levels and shadows display better depth and definition, helping greatly to convey the darkness of areas swarmed by ships. Those unforgettable New York shots keep giving in every jump to a new home video format.
Tech specs on the box list 7.1, indicating an update. This is incorrect. Independence Day stays in its native 5.1 via DTS-HD. While appreciated for accuracy, age has lessened the aural pop this film once carried. Sound mixing has evolved.
For clarification, there is plenty to take in. Even if dated, the first dog fight has superb motion. Jets and alien ships pan between channels as their offensive firepower can be heard in any speaker. Action sways between stereos and surrounds effortlessly. A few explosions cap the sequence, the “low bridge” moment sending fireballs front-to-back successfully.
Powerful dynamic range means landmarks explode convincingly. Substantial is the White House pop, generating significant low-end force. Independence Day’s climactic nuke sends the mix home on a tremendous rumble.
For all of this mixing joy, there exists an audible hesitation to this track. Rear speakers are only utilized when absolutely required. Dialog scenes, even in crowded rooms with government officials panicking, stay localized near the center. Sometimes, they fail to move from outward at all. A subtle dip in fidelity can be detected by those serious enough about their home audio. While lavish attention was paid to the video, sound has been given little to no attention.
Independence Day finally regains its home theater throne – the DTS:X track is an audio marvel and one of, if not the best, then damn close to it. Dynamics stretch the soundfield into a spectacular array of buzzing spaceships, fired missiles, well placed explosions, and wonderful subwoofer might. In 20 years of home formats, Independence Day never sounded like this, as fresh as the remastered Jurassic Park 3D Blu-ray.
It’s those sounds missing prior. Little touches, from doors closing to off-screen conversations lost in previous mixes. In action, the sweeping pans keep track of an astonishing number of objects, panning and moving in flawless sync with the visuals. Debris fields, at their peak, throw cars overhead and flames trail close behind. Expect more lasers and more vehicles. They’re everywhere, cutting away to frantic meeting rooms where phones ring and computers whir.
Importantly, the boost to DTS:X keeps Independence Day constantly busy. There’s not a scene without audible work in the positionals. Activity levels stay high making even passive dialog scenes stand out for their accuracy. The difference is startling, and when the explosions start, the LFE support is dazzling.
Split across two discs and preserving (also adding to) the DVD bonuses, this package can be deemed complete. Two commentaries sit on disc one, director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin on the first. Visual effect supervisors Volker Engel and Doug Smith occupy the second. A trailer for the upcoming sequel has prominence on this first disc too, with a trivia track becoming a kind of throwback bonus. They’re not often seen anymore.
The second disc presents the new bonus, a 30-minute retrospective, almost comical in its reverence for this movie. This piece, A Legacy Surging Forward, is worth a watch though. While short on depth, most of the key players return for interviews.
Everything else comes from the DVD editions. Making of ID4 stars Jeff Goldblum as host, hilariously ’90s in its presentation. A bevy of faux news reports occupy two different sections, Monitor Earth Broadcasts and ID4 Invasion. Although too long (90 minutes combined) their authenticity makes them fun to watch for a bit. Creating Reality details the effects process, a time capsule of sorts to a time when CG was still exciting and paired with practical means.
The dopey original ending (only with commentary) is back, along with a stunted gag reel. A collection of action highlights remains pointless given the Dolby Digital stereo audio track which accompanies them. A gallery and trailers finish the disc.
Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process. Note Fox’s DRM does introduce additional artifacts when the film is ripped. I have tried to avoid them. However, a stray pixel or line may show in some shots. These are not part of the disc when played normally.