Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Independence Day: Resurgence

We moved from Vermont to Colorado in 1995. I was 13; I had just finished 8th grade. In Vermont, cable wasn't even available on our road, so we spent much of the time watching fuzzy television or the occasional VHS. When we got to Colorado, the pastor at our church had hooked up a projector to show movies on a seven foot wall. We take this sort of thing for granted now, but it was pretty revolutionary at the time. He also had four subwoofers and two floor-to-ceiling racks of speakers - full on 168 piece surround sound system, rivaling anything you'd get in a movie theater. This period 1995-1996, also happened to fall in the brief time when Laserdiscs were king. DVDs weren't available in the US until 1997 - so seeing these movies on this set up, with digital quality, was pretty earth-shattering.

There were pretty much only three movies on rotation when we spent time there - Jurassic Park (because your water would ripple, the same way as the water on screen, when the T-Rex was nearby), Twister (because the surround sound made it ridiculously real), and Independence Day. I still have overly emotional connections to all three movies, but Independence Day ended up ruling the roost. I bought it (albeit, still on VHS) and we watched it all the time. Will Smith was at the top of his game and I was a huge Jeff Goldblum fan (thanks to near constant showings of The Fly on cable, which I now devoured incessantly). Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner, Harry Connick, Jr., Randy Quaid, Vivica A Fox(!), even Harvey Fierstein had pitch-perfect supporting roles, for the tone of the movie.

However, Bill Pullman steals the show. At this point, I had only seen him in Spaceballs, so that, combined with this - I had no idea he wasn't an A-list movie star on par with Tom Cruise. To me, he's clearly the star of the show. Whether it's the stilted delivery that makes you wonder if he's constipated, emotionally torn, or just trying really hard to remember his lines, or his rousing ability to imbue a scene with gravitas simply by being present, the guy nailed this role. It's not a traditional Presidential role, but you can totally buy him as a hero fighter pilot who rode the wave of early 90's fame to the White House (there might even be a functional alcoholic angle in there that got cut for time). He's the perfect serious, non-serious President (shoot, his Presidential abilities made that terrible Josh Gad sitcom remotely palatable for all 13 of its episodes).

You also have the Roland Emmerich effect. Say what you will about his standards, the guy knows how to shoot for tension. He's an emotional manipulator of the highest order; granted, he does it using shortcut camera tricks and takes advantage of the fact that his core audience is mostly 13 year old boys - but I was right in that wheelhouse, so who cares? Independence Day also represented some seriously advanced effects for its day. Blowing up the White House without it clearly looking like a model was revolutionary. Who doesn't like watching things blow up?

Although it's no longer my favorite movie, I think, if pressed to watch one that provides me with the most pure, unadulterated joy, I think I still might pick Independence Day.

So... when they announced a sequel, I was on board. I still do not understand those people who panned this idea and refused to be unbelievably excited. When Will Smith decided the script wasn't good enough for him, it almost made things better for me. I felt his contribution was more about driving box office than adding to the film itself. This was only going to mean more screen time for Jeff Goldblum (because, face it, that guy doesn't turn down anything) and, even better, the great Bill Pullman.

Then the reviews were terrible. What's more, some people didn't even seem to need to see the movie to pan it; just the idea of its existence was enough for an uncommon percentage of the viewing public to simply discard Independence Day: Resurgence out of hand. I never lost faith. I tried to watch a pirated version online (since I do usually avoid wasting real money on bad movies), but five second into the opening title sequence I realized the only redeeming part of this movie was likely to be the effects. Luckily my local cinema was still showing it and I caught an afternoon show for $5.50.

The plot and character difficulties of the sequel have been discussed ad nauseum - especially here, on cinemasins, with a brutality that doesn't even touch insulting; it just hurts. It's not that anything they say is untrue. Surely the cause of film has been set back thirty years simply by this movie existing, even if no one had seen it. It's truly terrible - and the worst kind of terrible: it completely rehashes the original without adding anything new. The science is even less believable, the characters are ten times more hollow, most of the plot makes no sense at all, plus the writing and acting are so phoned in you can see bars of service over top of everyone's head.

Not Goldblum, of course, he only really ever plays the same guy and I think they've had him convinced for twenty years that these movies are documentary in nature and he's really being called upon to save the world - using an alias, you know, for security reasons. The guy always scores and he scores again in this movie. It's a Jeff Goldblum production, featuring Bill Pullman. That's all the original was (maybe with a shoutout to Harry Connick Jr) and that's all the sequel is.

If you loved the first movie, like I did, I don't understand how you could dislike this one. Maybe you were older than I was in 1996 and thus not as emotionally captured by the humor, explosions, and patriotism - the last one wasn't as present in the sequel, but I didn't miss it.

I knew it was a total farce from the beginning. It's laughably bad in some places and the plot holes are big enough to drive an Atlantic Ocean sized spaceship through*. But it has the same spirit as the original. It's similarly fun-loving with its cavalier snubbing of seriousness. People die and are mourned, but not in any way that will ruin our viewing experience. Buildings are destroyed, but with a wink at the camera (Judd Hirsch even mentions at one point that the aliens like to take out the landmarks).

It's feel good entertainment of the highest order. The effects are still great (although not groundbreaking, of course) and darn it if I didn't tear up when crazy old Bill Pullman shaved his beard and hopped back into the pilot's seat to once again save the world. The guy can deliver a spine-tingling presidential speech and, because it's a poorly made sequel, he gets to do it two or three times in this one. We've even found the perfect venue for Liam Hemmsworth, where the entire movie matches both his woodenness and physical beauty.

They added an African warlord, who takes down aliens with swords, futuristic new vehicles and weapons, and whatever character was necessary to make every scene individually spectacular, no matter what detrimental effect the existence of said character has on the movie as a whole. Plus, just when you think they've climaxed prematurely (surely a result of the reduced budget) there's ANOTHER "final" fight scene. They pull that glorious bait and switch like four times!

There are no oscars here - in fact it could sweep the Razzies easily - but if you're on a cinematic high horse about the original, you might need to re-examine your life choices. Did you really expect them to be working with gold here, people? Although they did find a way to alchemy the crap they had into serviceable iron pyrite.

Fool's Gold.** That's the best that can be said about Independence Day: Resurgence, but I will go down with this ship. And as the waters of a giant Mid-Atlantic sink hole finally pull me under, I'll use my last breath to proclaim: "I am that fool," and I'll do it proudly.

*Although, originally, it seemed like a mile wide hole, reaching 4,000 miles down into the center of the earth in the middle of the Atlantic, would literally drain the oceans, but I did the math and it's only about than 1/1000th of 1% of the total volume, so literally a drop in the bucket (shoot, it might even help mitigate some of the effects of climate change). Anyway, lesson: oceans are big!

**And, as bad as it is, Independence Day:Resurgence is better than Fool's Gold, starring Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson, which I also saw in theaters.

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