Date: 96-07-01 08:34:15 EDT

Independence Day (Sci-fi, Color, PG-13, 2:25)
By Todd McCarthy

          HOLLYWOOD (Variety) - ``Independence Day'' is the biggest B
movie ever made, the mother of all doomsday dramas. A
spectacularly scaled mix of '50s-style alien invader science
fiction, '70s disaster epics and all-season gung-ho military
actioners, this airborne leviathan features a bunch of agreeably
cardboard characters saving the human race from mass
extermination in a way that proves as unavoidably entertaining
as it is hopelessly cornball.

          A definitive popcorn picture, it arrives on the wings of a
stupendous marketing campaign and promises to cast as huge a
shadow commercially, both domestically and around the world, as
do the monster ships that fill the skies onscreen.

          Working in a vein that is unabashedly hokey, contrived and
ultra-patriotic, the ``Stargate'' team of director Roland
Emmerich and co-writer/producer Dean Devlin clearly had great
fun combining sure-fire elements from a bunch of mainstream
genres in a way that is frankly intended to be overwhelming.

          For the most part it is, at least in the sense that the
sheer volume and variety of mass destruction, casualties,
moments of dire jeopardy, opportunities for heroism and, above
all, special effects, are almost certainly without precedent.

          This is, in effect, the anti-``Close Encounters,'' a
throwback to ominous, paranoid thrillers such as ``The War of
the Worlds,'' ``The Day the Earth Stood Still,'' ``When Worlds
Collide,'' ``Invaders From Mars'' and television's ``V,'' a
story in which the visitors from space have absolutely no
interest in making nice with the earthlings and, in fact, have
every intention of wiping them out so they can have Earth's
resources to themselves. Lay on top of that an Irwin Allen
aesthetic sense and 10,000 special effects and you have a
definition of high-concept.

          The magnitude of the global threat is awesomely established
in the teaser opening, which shows the black mother ship, itself
a quarter the size of the moon, sailing through the lunar orbit
on its way to its rendezvous with Earth. Shortly let loose are
some 15-mile-wide saucers, which descend to hover directly over
New York City, Washington and Los Angeles, along with various
world capitals, causing no end of wonderment and panic.

          In vintage disaster-pic fashion, a host of characters from
all walks of life is sketched in. For starters, there is David
(Jeff Goldblum), a New York computer genius whose ability to
analyze the aliens' communications code with his laptop could
help expose their Achilles heel; Capt. Steven Hiller (Will
Smith), a hot-dog fighter pilot from L.A. with an unfulfilled
dream to be an astronaut; and U.S. President Thomas J. Whitmore
(Bill Pullman), a rather green national leader widely regarded
as a wimp despite his background as a combat pilot during the
Gulf War.

          Since David's ex-wife, Constance (Margaret Colin), works for
the president, David, along with his kvetchy father, Julius
(Judd Hirsch), gains entree to the White House to announce his
theory that a catastrophic countdown is under way. When some
``Welcome Wagon'' helicopters flashing ``Close
Encounters''-style lights are summarily blasted out of the sky
by the aliens, it becomes clear that the visitors have come not
for a picnic, but for a barbecue.

          Although scenes of the lumbering warships parking themselves
over the cities are eyefuls in themselves, the first real
fireworks come 45 minutes in, as the spacecrafts open up their
hulls to expose giant electromagnetic ray guns that
simultaneously zap the soaring Library Tower in Los Angeles
(where a bunch of SoCal nitwits are celebrating in welcome of
the aliens), the Empire State Building and the White House. As
Air Force One spectacularly manages to take off just inches
ahead of onrushing flames, uncontrollable firestorms result in
the destruction of all three cities and millions of casualties.

          And that's just act one. Air attacks on the alien ships
reveal that they are surrounded by protective shields that ward
off all weapons, but when hundreds of crustacean-like alien
fighter ships zip out to engage the American planes, Hiller
manages to make one crash and returns the gruesome-looking pilot
to Area 51, a top-secret Nevada base where the president has
taken refuge. There, 24 floors underground, the resident loony
genius (Brent Spiner) reveals the existence of an alien
spaceship captured long ago that just may be in working order,
opening the door on a long-shot counterattack that plays out on
the third day of the story, July 4.

          Without giving the game away, it's fair to say that
everybody gets into the heroic final act: the president dons his
flight suit once again, Hiller and David fly into outer space to
take on the mother ship, and even an alcoholic Vietnam vet
(Randy Quaid) has his chance to go down in history.

          This is hardly a movie for viewers interested in
plausibility or intelligence in storytelling, but Emmerich
throws spectacularly pulpy events at the audience at such a pace
that carping about logic is moot. It's more a matter of
carefully selected elements having been stirred together with
the obvious but effective touch Cecil B. DeMille learned how to
apply not long after the dawn of cinema: cataclysm, elemental
human ties, individual jeopardy, the boldest possible opposition
of good and evil, life-and-death struggle, a little religion,
brotherhood of the underdogs, ultimate triumph through ingenuity
and heroism. It's all been done before, just not on this global

          The never-ending special effects, while massively
spectacular, are not always that special, ranging from terrific
computer-generated airborne battles to frankly
old-fashioned-looking matte shots and model work.

          The cutting-edge perfection of effects in Cameron and
Spielberg films is replaced here by work that looks more
homemade, particularly toward the end in some faintly cheesy
composite shots. It's the difference between a $100 million-plus
picture and a $71 million effort, which is what this one
reportedly is, and it shouldn't make a whole lot of difference
at the box office.

          Similarly, the cast is just a cut under all-star, but that
shouldn't matter either. Playing the main action hero, Smith
pushes the cocky arrogance to Mach 3, and audiences will eat it
up. Goldblum does a riff on his offbeat scientist bit from
``Jurassic Park'' and is perfectly winning, but Pullman, who
seems to be barely suppressing a smirk at times, will have
people asking if he isn't just a bit young to be president.

          Rather more credible is Mary McDonnell as the very
Hillary-like First Lady, but she has little to do after being
rescued by Hiller's spunky stripper girlfriend (Vivica A. Fox).
Hirsch becomes overbearing rather quickly as the doubting Jewish
father who suddenly dons a yarmulke when the going gets tough.
Equally broad comic relief is supplied by Quaid as the washed-up
aviator who rides out in style, a bit like Slim Pickens in ``Dr.

          The main characters are involved in variously complicated
amours that the alien invasion quickly helps them put in
perspective, just as a fast spot-check reveals that traditional
foes in the Middle East have seen the wisdom of putting aside
their differences in the face of the extraterrestrial threat.

          This gargantuan undertaking feels assembled rather than
directed, and it took a foreigner to create what could arguably
be the most patriotic film since John Wayne rode into the
sunset. The production job by all hands is enormous and
sufficiently skilled to make the film play effectively, even if
it's not always state-of-the-art.

          The picture delivers its scariest scene when it momentarily
decides to become a monster movie during an alien autopsy, but
violence is mostly general and directed at objects rather than
people, thereby further increasing the potential kid audience.
          Capt. Steven Hiller .............. Will Smith
          President Thomas J. Whitmore ..... Bill Pullman
          David Levinson ................... Jeff Goldblum
          Marilyn Whitmore ................. Mary McDonnell
          Julius Levinson .................. Judd Hirsch
          Constance Spano .................. Margaret Colin
          Russell Casse .................... Randy Quaid
          Gen. William Grey ................ Robert Loggia
          Albert Nimziki ................... James Rebhorn
          Marty Gilbert .................... Harvey Fierstein
          Major Mitchell ................... Adam Baldwin
          Dr. Brakish Okun ................. Brent Spiner
          Miguel ........................... James Duval
          Jasmine Dubrow ................... Vivica A. Fox
          Alicia ........................... Lisa Jakub
          Dylan ............................ Ross Bagley
          Patricia Whitmore ................ Mae Whitman
          Capt. Watson ..................... Bill Smitrovich
          Tiffany .......................... Kiersten Warren
          Capt. Jimmy Wilder ............... Harry Connick Jr.
          A 20th Century Fox release of a Centropolis Entertainment
production. Produced by Dean Devlin. Executive producers, Roland
Emmerich, Ute Emmerich, William Fay.

          Directed by Roland Emmerich. Screenplay, Dean Devlin,
Emmerich. Camera (Deluxe color, Super 35 Panavision widescreen),
Karl Walter Lindenlaub; editor, David Brenner; music, David
Arnold; production design, Oliver Scholl, Patrick Tatopoulos;
art direction, Jim Teegarden; set design, Pamela Klamer, Sean
Haworth, Mick Curkurs, Julia Levine; set decoration, Jim
Erickson; costume design, Joseph Porro; sound (Dolby), Jeff
Wexler; visual effects supervisors, Volker Engel, Douglas Smith;
digital effects supervisor/producer, Tricia Ashford; alien
creature effects, Tatopoulos; visual effects producer, Terry
Clotiaux; miniature pyrotechnics/mechanical effects supervisor,
Joseph Viskocil; model shop supervisor, Michael Joyce;
mechanical effects supervisor, Clay Pinney; stunt coordinator,
Dan Bradley; associate producer, Peter Winther; assistant
director, Sergio Mimica-Gezzan; additional camera, Ueli Steiger;
second unit director, Devlin; second unit camera, Jonathan
Taylor; aerial second unit director/coordinator, Kevin LaRosa;
casting, Wendy Kurtzman. Reviewed at Plaza Theater, L.A., June
25, 1996.


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