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Face-Off: Independence Day vs. War of the Worlds

02.21.2013by: Paul Huffman
In last weeks Face-Off, we put together an action filmed match up between the Die Hard franchise and the Lethal Weapon franchise. While I awarded the final verdict to the Die Hard franchise, our readers understandably showed an ample amount of love to the Lethal Weapon franchise, whether I would have went the same way after seeing A Good Day to Die Hard I am still debating inside my head.

This week, with the upcoming releae of Dark Skies (a film I'm actually quite interested in) on the horizon we've decided on an alien theme with what is to me the second best of Roland Emmerich's films in Independence Day vs. Steven Spielberg's serviceable job tackling the classic War of the Worlds. While neither have the seemingly more subdued nature of a film like Dark Skies, both are suspense filled alien-centric joy rides that I and a lot of other people had a blast with. But which did you have more fun with? Let's discuss!
Cast
Behold, one of the films that helped launch the living hell out of Will Smith's film career. Here he played primary that comic relief that succeeds in more than annoying the hell out of you the whole time, and made himself a believable badass that could take out these aliens. Jeff Goldblum is at his Jeff Goldblum best and Bill Pullman has remained one of the best on screen American Presidents ever. The whole cast had great chemistry together and this element is one of the things that kept me from being fully invested in future Emmerich disaster films, the absence of cast and characters that meshed so well together. Get Smith and Goldblum in another movie together, if not a sequel to this.
Two actors carried this film beautifully, Tom Cruise and a way younger Dakota Fanning. Cruise came and did what he did best and sold the desperation to survive the hellish scenario they found themselves in, while being an emotional wreck in having to find a way to gain a middle ground with his children, who weren't giving him a snowballs chance in hell. Later on, another great actor in Tim Robbins came in and gave a truly menacing performance as a nutcase survivalist who well...ultimately didn't see eye to eye with our hero. Cruise and Fanning were a great team and complimented each other well, which was crucial in a film that ended up having this small of a central cast.
Aliens
Different approaches to the menace here folks, and to me the grand entrance those numerous ships (which were amazing) made and the countdown that kept us insects of a human race in suspense for a while before the attacks was a more effective way to go. They proved to be way more menacing as well, what with the shields on the ship (and the lengths the humans had to go to to take care of it), the always dreadful Area 51 alien verbal communication scene, the aliens not being slouches in aerial warfare. Took a damn nuclear weapon straight up their asses to ultimately do away with the lot, that's a far cry from bacteria I must say. Peace...no peace.
Now while both films alien visitors had the element of surprise in their own way, these bastards had it even more so. When the tripods emerged they didn't just stand there for a while so we could admire their design, they got straight down to the disintegration business and we scurried like cockroaches. Not to mention the rapture-like horn blaring that emanated from the tripods and their funny little habit of harvesting human blood and tissue. They went along causing devastation for a good long while, but death from natural causes didn't lead to a conclusion as cinematically satisfying as that of Independence Day, but they were menacing and a formidable force indeed.
Soundtrack
David Arnold actually held his own in his legendary opponent for this match up, with great tracks that portrayed devastation, despair, destruction, triumph, and tragedy. Great musical moments as the ship is gearing up to attack and the result, the emotional demise of the first lady, and the victory track after Will and Goldblum disposed of the threat as the walked triumphantly to their adoring wives. Also, who could forget Arnold's patriotic work that complimented so nicely the President's memorable Independence Day speech? Yes, David Arnold provided us with another element that allowed us to be invested in this film...bravo sir.
I have to be careful not to let myself get carried away with John Williams praise because next thing I know I'll carry on the subject of him into the next category. Williams didn't let Spielberg down with his work on War of the Worlds I'll tell you that much, with a score that was more unsettling than that of Independence Day. Despite the destruction going on in Independence Day, there was a fun tone to the film via the comedic relief...none of that was present here, and that was reinforced through Williams' score. Nothing more so than the subtle cue when young Fanning sees those bodies floating in the water, that bit alone earns Williams the victory in this particular battle.
Effects
This film ultimately ended up requiring about 3,000 special effects for what needed to be done. While some computer generated effects were use, most of the production consisted of the old-school method of using miniatures. Buildings, city streets, aircraft, landmarks, and monuments were created. The alien ships were also among what the team built, including a 12 foot version of the mother ship. Production designer Patrick Tatopoulos designed the films kick ass aliens, building 8 foot suits packed with 25 tentacles. This blend of CGI and practical effects ends up looking great, still works, and should be used for more films in the future. Hopefully if Emmerich throws together a sequel, he uses the same approach.
War of the Worlds was another film that blended CGI effects with that of practical effects. The tripods were designed by ILM to resemble aquatic life forms, namely jellyfish. Plenty of CGI and practical blends occured including live action "dust" mixed with the CGI ray assimilation . As well as the digital birds that had a tendency to hover around the tripods. The use of great lighting came in during the scene in which Ray's family is attacked in the minivan...Coleman lamps, oil lanterns, flashlights, and Maglights were among those used. Reportedly the hardest scene for ILM to construct was the Bayonne Bridge sequence that required the most blend of CGI and live action elements, the film required a total of 500 CGI effects. It all definitely looked beautiful.
Overall
Independence Day takes the cake for me on the re-watchability factor due to it mastering many elements that make it entertaining. The cast and the characters they portray, the comedic moments, the terrifying moments, the emotion, the patriotism...it's just an all around great fun time. We get two great central actors in Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum who are all the charisma you need, and of course effective extra terrestrial villains that make you damn near sh*t your pants on more than one occasion. It's ridiculous, it's over the top, it's fun, it's entertainment. The visualization of that ship emerging from the smoke, and the calm before the attack are cinematic shot that will stick with me forever. Give us a sequel.
I liked War of the Worlds fine the first time I saw it, but it's a film I grow more fond of with each viewing. Spielberg knocked it out of the park once again with this if you ask me. The gut wrenching performances from the liked of Cruise, Fanning, and Robbins. The unbelievable menace of the tripods (up until their goofy demise) and the terrific score once again from John Williams. We get a different breed of storytelling here that I'm in the mood to watch on certain days, dreary and dreadful with a sense of hopelessness. It was an impressive job from all involved, and while not my favorite Spielberg or alien themed film, it holds it's own and I believe H.G Wells may have been a proud papa.
Independence Day
So there you have it folks, two very entertaining alien films of a very different ilk. Independence Day to me is the DVD I'd reach for if you put these two movies in front of me. It has all the elements that made War of the Worlds as good as it was with some lightheartedness sprinkled in here and there for the sake of variety. But I know never to count on the appeal of War of the Worlds to some viewers so now is that time to let us know your thoughts on the matter. Strike back below.

If you have an idea that you'd like to see in a future FACE OFF column, feel free to shoot an email to me at paulhuffman@joblo.com with your ideas and some ideas for the critique to base your ideas off. Thank you and in the meantime...

Which alien film is your favorite?
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