Thursday, July 21, 2016

Independence Day(s)

Independence Day, 1996, Roland Emmerich (Stargate) -- download

Despite my love of bad movies, I never liked the original one when I saw it in the cinema. Despite my love of disaster movies, this one never was added to The Shelf. In 1996 I was at the height of my Movie Snob era and the unbelievable nature of this movie ruined it for me. It was just so Hollywood, it was just so over the top. Despite some of the best destruction sequences of the time, I was soured by the rah-rah Americans Save The World aspects.

I have softened as years have gone by. But it is still not a very good movie.

Aliens invade, in big space ships smacking of flying saucers. But bigger; MUCH bigger. One cannot deny a certain amount of awe as those big things come pushing through the atmosphere, catching clouds on fire, looming over all the major cities. Obviously, Emmerich was a fan of the V series from the 80s. Even more impressive, when that big, pretty, blue blast takes out the tallest structures in LA and NYC, as well as The White House, I was blown away.

And then the response. When all seems hopeless, when the aliens seem impervious to everything behind their deflector shields/force field, the Misunderstood Scientist comes up with A Plan. I am an IT Guy and while I am used to the idea of technology being represented as a sort of magic for modern movies, the idea that a man on a MacBook could hack the network of an interstellar species was astoundingly ludicrous. The best explanation I ever heard connected all current microcircuitry and software technology back to that original crash-landed alien craft sitting in Area 51. So, that assumed, it was not surprising that a system based on the same architecture could hack into it. And what was the virus they installed?  Microsoft Windows --- the worst implementation of the original alien software OS. IT Joke. Tee hee.

The Speech done by Bill Pullman, Mr. POTUS, is still rather impressive in that flag waving inspirational sort of way, but the idea that only the US is doing anything about the aliens still bugs the @!#$ out of me. Sure, other things may have been going on which we are in the dark about, but its all presented as if the US is the only country with smart people. Or resourceful people.

One bit was rather prescient --- that Randy Quaid would play a wigged out nut suffering from a very real conspiracy theory.

Independence Day: Resurgence, 2016, Roland Emmerich (Godzilla) -- cinema

Twenty years later, the new movie is answering a lot of questions left by the first. The fun questions! The parts I believe should be part of all sequels to genre movies. Do the world building! What was the impact of the events from the first on the entire world? What would a post-alien invasion world be like 20 years later?  The obvious bits are there -- the stealing of the technology, the united world under a single government, expansion into space, advanced defense weaponry. But there was another bit I loved, where they travel to Africa and discover an untouched aliens ship settled down in a desert. The warlords who run the country have kept out the rest of the world. They have been in a running war for 10 years, fighting the aliens who spilled out of the ship. Remember, just because they defeated the original invasion force, doesn't mean there were not hundreds or thousands of surviving aliens. This small country stood apart from the rest of the world, fighting a war and defeating the invaders on their own terms. It was great background material, that while didn't contribute much to the overall plot, was a great addition.

Meanwhile the aliens have returned. In a bigger ship. One that settles down over the Atlantic Ocean.... ALL the Atlantic Ocean. Again, a bit ridiculous in how it is presented, but it is rather awe striking. Big landing feet come crashing down on the shores of Europe and the US washing away the coastline cities forcing people to flee inland. The annoying thing? They don't show it! There is a brief washing away of boats but then they are back to the reaction shots, as the US once again gears up to go against the aliens.

This time they are prepared. They have the technology. And it doesn't help.  Bigger alien craft, badder motherships and a Queen! And a new time-based threat to the planet, as the big alien ship drills a hole into our core to suck out all its glorious energy. This is what they normally do, but last time we interrupted their armada before the real mothership could arrive. Now the Queen is here and poking a hole in our mantle. And we have to stop her.

Another fun action CGI spectacular for the summer, is what we get. It looks spectacular, which of course always makes me wonder how dated it will look 20 years from now. The aliens have updated their fuzzy CRT screens for floating, 3D holography displays, as have we. The big plastic aliens were replaced with computer generated monsters who were just... bigger, meaner, nastier. Still not sure why they wear an environment suit you can punch them through. There is some token disaster footage as the gravity of a 3000 mile wide ship sucks up most of Singapore, Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, etc. and then drops it on London, and likely most of Europe. And yes, they answered my "they like to hit the landmarks" question.

Part of the marketing campaign had posters looming over local well known landmarks, like the CN Tower here in Toronto. But if all the major cities were destroyed 20 years ago, why would we rebuild them? The movie avoids it entirely by toning down the destruction but for the few aforementioned locations. Since the London Millennium Wheel was raised three years AFTER the aliens originally invaded, it gets screen time destruction this time round!

An amusing side-bit is the obvious pandering to China. The leader on the Moon is Chinese, not Chinese-American, and when they introduce the hot-shot pilots of our new inter-orbital fighter ships, flying beside Will Smith's son is a pretty, young Chinese pilot. Yay! They considered they rest of the world in the defense of the planet? No! They just stuck in China because it will sell well over there, in the largest after-market in the world. And again, the rest of the world is ignored in the planetary defense. Unless you include the token badass African warlord, who comes along to kill aliens with his swords.

The cast? Updated. Jeff Goldblum is back, no longer just running tech support for a TV station, but leading the world in technological defense initiatives. Bill Pullman and Brent Spiner are still suffering the woes of alien mind meddling. First Daughter has grown into Brie... wait, that wasn't Brie Larson? Hmm, Maika Monroe. Sorry, the current generation of Blonde It Girls all look alike to me. Liam Hemsworth (the non-Thor brother) and Jessie T Usher play the fighter pilots, but Hemsworth gets the lead billing role, despite Usher's character being Will Smith's (who is deceased in the movie) son. William Fichtner gets to play a good guy this time. Sela Ward runs the planet long enough to get spectacularly blown up. Vivica A Fox is no longer a stripper, but looks to be running a hospital, before it falls down. And there are some kids protected by Levinson's dad, again played by Judd Hirsch for the laughs & feel-goods.

All in all, it is a fun popcorn movie. Unfortunately, nothing is so spectacular as to be really memorable. There are no really incredible scenes, like that blowing up of the Chrysler Building in the original. The effects are great, but Ender's Game showed we cannot rely entirely on them to make a movie have impact. It hits all the familiar rah-rah notes, we even get a new speech from Pullman, but even they seem sort of tired, after thoughts. So, again, fun to watch while you are in the moment but not much else.