Independence Day

Independence Day (1996)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Mary McDonnell
Extras: 2 Commentary Tracks, alternate Ending, 3 Documentaries, Trailers, Photo Galleries and more

When it was released theatrically – appropriately on Independence Day, July 4, 1996 – Roland Emmerich’s science fiction action film "Independence Day" quickly became a box office sensation. Although the film does have its flaws, which are mostly dramaturgic in nature, everyone who has seen it would certainly agree that it is a spectacular, bombastic, fun filled and highly entertaining ride. With lots of action, sly one-liners, big explosions, slimy aliens and some gripping spaceship dogfights, "Independence Day" contains everything a great popcorn movie needs.

Alien spaceships appear out of the blue and place themselves on top of major capital cities around the world. No one knows whether they are friends or foes and the US government sends out a greeting committee to welcome the aliens, but the helicopters are quickly shot down by a blazing light that emanates from the giant spaceship. Soon it becomes obvious that these aliens did not come in peace and in a carefully staged and sequenced attack, the creatures from outer space lay waste to the world, killing and destroying everyone or everything in their wake. Desperately, politicians, scientists and army men try to find a solution to the precarious situation that becomes more dangerous by the day and finally, on July 4, Independence Day, the American president decides to take action against the alien intruders. He arms a fleet of jet fighters and personally leads an attack against the spaceships that threaten to destroy the world as we know it.

"Independence Day" is featured as a multi-story presentation on this DVD, which means you can either watch the movie’s original theatrical version or the film’s special edition cut, which features nine minutes of restored footage. Simply select the version from the disc’s menu and off you go. Since it is realized through DVD’s seamless branching capabilities, you won’t even be able to tell where the player skips between the two versions. (For a more detailed look at how multi-story branching works, please take a look at our Production Diary for "The Abyss" where it is explained in particular.)

Although "Independence Day" comes as a spectacular special edition, the most important part of the release of the movie itself and it was with anticipation that I checked out the movie. Presented in a <$THX,THX>-certified <$16x9,16x9 enhanced> <$PS,widescreen> transfer in the film’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the version we get to see on this DVD is simply breathtaking. Absolutely clean and without any defects, the source print is virtually of pristine quality. In a few shots, some slight noise is evident, which is usually a result of the many optical effects that had to be applied to the original movie to realize the many special effects shots, as well as the chosen film stock in particular. Nonetheless, the image is very stable and sharply defined throughout. Only he slightest edge-enhancement has been applied to the transfer, but nonetheless, the transfer has a very natural and consistent, film-like look that is gorgeous to behold. Blacks are rock solid and very deep, yet never lose detail or break up with dot crawl. The highlights are well-balanced, giving the image a bold look that is sure to please. The colors of this transfer are almost out of this world – excuse the pun. Not only are the sand tones of the desert scenes perfectly reproduced, the powerfully lit interior shots and most importantly the scenes inside the alien spaceship are stunningly rendered. Without any bleeding, the colors are perfectly delineated and with its vivid hues, the presentation of "Independence Day" on this DVD is of reference quality.

To support the superb visual presentation of the movie, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has added a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> track to the DVD that is engaging and aggressive. Making full use of the format’s discrete channels, surrounds are always active and all sound effects are effectively placed in the mix to create a wide spatial integration. Look out for the chase scene and you will he the alien space ship behind you, flying over your head and catching up with you right in front of you, or check out the destruction of the White House where falling debris is engulfing the viewer. Beautiful ambient surround effects give the audio a very "big" quality. The track has a wide frequency response and sounds absolutely naturally. The bass extension on this disc will give your subwoofer a good workout as the LFE channel is engaged often to create a good degree of punch. Dialogues are well integrated and always understandable and there is no sign of distortion evident anywhere in the mix.
"Independence Day" features a great score by David Arnold, that greatly enhances the furious action we witness on screen. Heroic at times, bombastic at others and slightly unsettling at others, the score manages to capture the viewer’s imagination and takes the experience one step further. The track has a great spatial integration on this mix and comes across very dynamically and wide. The disc also contains English and French <$DS,Dolby Surround> tracks that are well-produced but clearly not nearly as impressive as the discrete <$5.1,5.1 mix>.
Both, the audio and the video streams are running at the maximum data rates that are available on DVD to ensure maximum quality of the presentation, and it truly pays off. No signs of compression artifacts are evident in this presentation.

There are also two separate <$commentary,commentary track>s that can be found on this release, one featuring producer Dean Devlin and writer/director/executive producer Roland Emmerich. It is the same track that was previously released on the Laserdisc of the movie. It is engaging and full of interesting information. Not always related exactly to what you see on the screen, both share ideas, intention and general thoughts on the subject of the movie and alien life. But also very scene-specific details are shared in the track. Without interruptions and pauses, the track always offers insight and keeps going at a good pace.

The second <$commentary,commentary track> features the visual effects crew, including Volker Engel and Doug Smith, who were the special effects supervisors on the movie. In a rather technical fashion, the two dissect most of the scenes and shots you see on screen to explain exactly how they were achieved. Since "ID4" is a very effects heavy film, they obviously have a lot of explaining to do. Interestingly, you cannot browse between all audio tracks on the fly. To access language and <$commentary,commentary track>s you always have to revert back to the language menu of the disc, which can be a little tedious, especially if you wish to switch between commentaries.

Coming as a 2-disc box set, which seem to become a trademark of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment’s special editions, the second disc of the package is filled with supplemental materials so plentiful it is hard to recount them all.
First there is a "HBO First Look" documentary "The Making of ID4" that is hosted by actor Jeff Goldblum. Not only are his comments funny and entertaining, the look behind the scenes of the production is interesting and informative as well, although the piece has a very strong PR feel consistently throughout.

Next up is a 22-minute mockumentary called "ID4 Invasion." It is a lengthy entertaining pseudo-documentary about a real life alien invasion, that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s a good laugh so make sure not to miss out on this one. With fake newscasts and reports it is highly entertaining and in the end it leads into a small introduction of the film itself with clips from the movie and a short look behind the scenes. Interestingly, I noticed that neither this mockumentary. Not the "Making Of" featurette contain any timecode information.

For fans of the heavy-duty effects school, "Creating Reality" is an intriguing 30-minute documentary that takes a look behind the scenes of the production. With chapter stops that allow you to select certain segments, the featurette takes you through all kinds of special effects that were employed in the film. It contains a large number of interviews with crew members, including Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, in which they discuss the approach to special effects in the film in general, and later in minute detail. From Patrick Tatopolous’ alien designs over miniature effect shots, models, motion control shots and CGI elements, this documentary covers every aspect of the film’s special effects and also features the White House blow-up in quite some detail. This is a documentary you should not miss.

Next up in the list of supplements is an array of trailers. Featuring all sorts of theatrical teasers, trailers and TV Spots, the disc even contains the infamous Superbowl spot. It is a short trailer with the tagline "Enjoy the Superbowl – it may be your last!" But also an Apple Computers commercial can be found here that utilized footage from ID4 to promote the power of its computers.

A giant still gallery can also be found on this second disc. Divided in different segments you can spend countless hours going through these images of varying detail. There’s an extensive gallery of production photos that were taken on the set and give you a good idea what it has looked and felt like during the film’s principal photography. Then there is a gallery with over 100 Alien spaceship design sketches by Patrick Tatopolous. Many scenes that you know from the movie are presented here in early marker sketches by the artist, which initially served as early illustrations, what the scenes could look like in the final film. It is complemented by a section that contains a series of Alien being designs and about 50 sketches of sets and props, which were later built for the shoot of the movie.
Three complete storyboard sequences can also be found in this section of the disc. "Welcome Wagon" shows you the storyboard drawings for the scene when the helicopters first investigate the giant spaceship and are promptly destroyed. The second storyboard scene is "Destruction" which shows you the entire storyboard drawings for the Alien attack that included the destruction of the White House and other landmarks around the world. The third segment shows you the storyboards for the original biplane ending of the movie that was never completely finished. However, a rough-cut of that ending is also on the disc, giving you an idea what the film’s ending was initially planned. Complemented by an audio <$commentary,commentary track>, you learn that the ending was replaced due to the loss of dramatic impact it caused.
A DVD-ROM section on the disc contains even more features. One of the those is accessible even on set top DVD players, so make sure to check it out. It is a preview of the "ID4 Online" computer game. Looking very much like a multiplayer "Wing Commander" game, the previews is nevertheless quite exciting, if only to see how the alien spaceships have been translated into the game world.

I think it is obvious from this review that "Independence Day" is a captivating special edition that is well worth its money. Fans of the film get everything they ever wanted to see, hear or know about the movie and the presentation is top notch. The menu system on the discs is very slick looking, and transitions are nicely done without taking up too much time. While it takes a little to boot up the menu for the first time, from there on you will get around the disc in a very timely manner.

I know some people never liked "Independence Day" because they felt the story was flat and the film was a mere effects spectacle. While I agree with that to some extent, I find myself intrigued by the film every time I see it. It is a bombastic movie and pure popcorn entertainment. With a lot of cool images, spaceships, heroes, and cool aliens, the film is highly entertaining and a lot of fun. This DVD release even more so, because not only does it give you some additional entertainment in the form or all those features, it makes the film look and sound better than ever before. Just watch the destruction scene in the film and you will know what makes DVD such a killer video format. Nothing beats the quality of the visceral impact this scene generates in your living room!