THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
**** SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
On the one hand it might be argued that I’m just not the right guy to appreciate a loud, popcorn-fueled blockbuster. And that may be true, though there are a fair number that I have happily enjoyed over the years (THE AVENGERS, WRATH OF THE TITANS, DOOMSDAY, NIGHT WATCH, THE LOSERS, THE ROCK, TOTAL RECALL, to name a few). On the other hand, I maintain that a movie can be bursting with exciting action, deal with larger-than-life situations, be filled with plenty of explosions and destruction, be completely entertaining, and still respect me as an audience member and tell a good story.
INDEPENDENCE DAY is barely any of these things, with absolutely nothing beneath the surface to boot. It’s not engaging or fun, it disrespects my intelligence, the action is poorly crafted, and it tells a hollow story so boring in its execution that I was nearly tearing my eyes out by the time this 2 hour and 24 minute whale of a movie had at last beached itself. I know that I saw this movie once before when I was ten, and I can barely remember anything about that viewing experience (including whether I even liked it or not). Now here I am, having seen it again twelve years later, hoping to whomever is listening to let me forget what I’ve seen and the fact I spent 2 hours and 24 minutes of my life watching this… this vapid, dumb whisp of celluloid fluff.
“If we don’t act now, we may not have much of an America left to defend.”
The thing is, on a technical and superficial level, INDEPENDENCE DAY gets a lot right. The music swells at just the right moments, plenty of “important” people and places die in explosive and bombastic ways, the “story” follows all the requisite beats needed to affectively show humanity at its lowest point before rising up due to a last minute spark of good old American knowhow, and it has plenty of action besides. In fact, INDEPENDENCE DAY is nearly a masterclass on how to guide an audience through a (seemingly) emotional and inspiring experience when really being the exact opposite. Because at the end of the day INDEPENDENCE DAY isn’t a story so much as a ride, one so carefully constructed in its disrespectful inanity that I actually found myself insulted.
INDEPENDENCE DAY is a product without any actual feeling or meaning or truth behind the loud and fiery façade, and is actually possibly the single most manipulative movie I’ve ever witnessed. DRIVE, THE AVENGERS, and THE DARK KNIGHT are all examples of films that manage to be extraordinarily affective stories without forcing anything down my throat or manipulating me into feeling certain things at certain times. Now I have no problem feeling what flimmaker wants me to feel – that’s part of the point of telling a story in the first place. But what does bug me is when I have no choice because they have technically tapped into the right places without respecting me enough to get there on my own. And INDEPENDENCE DAY is shameless in such manipulation, because it knows that there is nothing but air beneath the surface. A lot of people complain about certain movies being “Oscar Bait,” and it is my opinion that INDEPENDENCE DAY is an action movie cut from the exact same cloth. It’s “Action Bait,” and poorly done at that on any level beyond the techinical achievement of blowing miniatures up.
“It’s like in chess: First, you strategically position your pieces and when the timing is right you strike. They’re using this signal to synchronize their efforts and in 5 hours the countdown will be over.”
I won’t spend too much time on plot holes, though there’s one in particular that just… well, it bugs the shit out of me because the entire plot hinges on this development. When looking for some way in which to fly the alien spacecraft found in Area 51, Will Smith steps forward and says “I’ve seen the way they maneuver, Sir.” Then he gets inside the ship… and knows how to use it. Because he was chased by it through a canyon. The rest of the movie cannot happen if Smith is unable to fly the ship, and yet he is able to without much trouble beyond a humorous hitch or two (pun intended). Yeah, there’s some sort of diagram that kind of shows him what to do, but that shit’s still left extremely vague.
And speaking of the aliens, talk about some bland design. I suppose it was kind of cute to have stereotypical aliens be wearing scary suits (for whatever reason), but the suits and the ships and the aliens themselves were one and all completely boring in their depiction and execution. Maybe the intention in the mind of Roland Emmerich was that the point of the movie wasn’t having cool enemies so much as having humanity unite in the face of a vast threat, but that doesn’t mean I can’t find it extremely frustrating that what seems to be just about zero thought was put into the design of anything found in this movie.
“Now that’s what I call a close encounter.”
Hearkening back to a few paragraphs ago, the design is really a perfect example of how INDEPENDENCE DAY is utterly vapid and unexciting despite pretending to be otherwise – the aliens are only threatening because 1) they generally blow shit up and 2) everyone says that they’re threatening. There’s absolutely nothing in their design, methods, or goals that inspires me to be afraid and hope that they’re defeated. And no, I don’t want humanity to be destroyed, but you know what I mean. I only want those things because the movie tells me that I do, not because I came to that conclusion myself due to the affective, engaging, and interesting filmmaking. The aliens and their methods are not scary, I don’t feel for the characters that they’re threatening, and I couldn’t care less about what happens during this movie. This is mainly due to the fact that there just isn’t enough time to develop the large cast of characters plus an entire alien invasion story, and so consquently both suffer and I care about neither.
Look, I don’t hate INDEPENDENCE DAY. But I do think that even in the realm of the popcorn blockbuster it swiftly reveals itself to be cold and lacking. With a story that’s spread far too thin, a runtime that’s far too long, an art aesthetic that’s far too boring, action that’s far from thrilling, story beats that are far from surprising, characters that are far from complete, and a score that is as muddled as the aftermath of one of the movie’s many explosions. INDEPENDENCE DAY shoots for the stars and comes up seriously short.
“Didn’t I promise you fireworks?”
Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to [email protected], spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you’d care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!