Holy moly, I've hit my 200th installment on Fishing in the Discount Bin! My DVD/Blu-Ray database program tells me I have 800 films, so I guess this means I'm 25% done. And for the big 2-00, what better than one of my favourite films, Independence Day. This is in my notes at February 28, 2015.
This marks my 200th installment of Fishing in the Discount Bin! I've got a lot of freakin' DVDs. I was wondering what I should do for #200. I figured it should be something big. Auspicious. I've considered plowing through every Pixar film. #200 would be a good place to start. Maybe every Batman film. But then, when I was in the city today, I noticed I had $7.99 left on my last Christmas gift card, and Independence Day was just $7.99 in the discount bin. One of my favourite movies, it was due for a Blu-Ray upgrade, and I had yet to do it here for Fishing in the Discount Bin.
Independence Day, it is.
Independence Day marks a very special time in my movie-going history. It was the spring of 1996 when I started going to college. Thanks to the wonderful computer lab at Augustana, I was finally able to access this magical, mystical "Internet" that they were talking about on the news so much. After hearing rumours for many years, I figured the Internet would be a good way to get information on a possible movie version of Spider-Man. The very first words I typed into a search engine were "Spider-Man movie," and that led me into the wonderful world of websites dedicated to movie gossip.
Skimming these websites, reading up on all the upcoming movies, a lot were starting to get really excited about this alien invasion film called Independence Day. The more I read about it, the more I got excited, too. And when it came out that summer, I was there opening weekend. It came out July 4, and it was my birthday movie on July 7.
The takeaway is: Independence Day is the first movie I got excited about purely from Internet buzz.
Since it was my birthday movie, the whole family came along with me to see it. Coming out of the screening, I remember seeing the massive crowd already lined up for the next showing. I asked my mother, "What do you think would happen if I screamed out, 'Who's here to see Independence Day?'" My mother said, "They'll probably think you work for a radio station or something and that you're giving out prizes." Oh, mother. How prophetic.
God, I remember that screening. You can tell that there were a lot of sci-fi geeks there for that opening weekend. When Brent Spiner made his appearance as the slightly-mad scientist who'd been studying the aliens for 15 years, you could hear the excited whispers all throughout the audience. "Oh my God, it's Data! IT'S DATA!" Or when they're slicing open the bio-mechanical suit to get to the alien inside, and the suit just kind of springs open. Man, did my mother jump.
One of the first VHS tapes where I went out of my way to get the widescreen version, largely at the recommendation of a cousin of mine. And I was devote of widescreen versions ever since. When my DVD player was new and exciting, it was among the first DVDs I bought, back when I was so excited about my DVD player that it was common for me to blow an entire paycheck on new DVDs. I remember being in HMV, as I plucked that super-special edition off the shelf. "Here it is, the main reason I came into the city today!" I exclaimed. "Hey...," said my friend I was hanging out with that day, mildly disappointed.
So much good stuff on that DVD, like the original ending. Rather than redeeming himself by giving up the booze and quickly learning to fly an F-18, Randy Quaid's character straps a bomb to his biplane and flies straight into the alien ship on a suicide run. It's just a tad too ridiculous...which is why they refilmed it after test screenings.
Great bonus features, that didn't make it to the Blu-Ray, sadly. It's strange, because I watched the Blu-Ray with its trivia track, and they make allusions and references to the film's extended edition. It's on the DVD, but not on the Blu-Ray. So I guess I'll be hanging onto the DVD for a little bit longer.
I'm sure you remember the plot, as pretty much everyone saw it in 1996. Aliens attack the Earth, and humanity rallies to fight back. Director Roland Emmerich said that, rather than the classic alien invasion films of the 1950s, he was trying to emulate the classic disaster films of the 1970s...films like Airport, The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure. It just so happened here that the disaster was an alien invasion.
We have our heroes. Bill Pullman is President James Whitmore, a former combat pilot who's on his way to becoming a lame duck president. But, disaster strikes, and he's soon rallying the troops to repel the alien invasion, even climbing back into a cockpit to lead the troops into battle himself.
Jeff Goldblum is David Levinson, a computer engineer who works for a cable company looking after the satellites. He discovers the hidden alien signal in the satellites and is able to warn the president, quickly becoming the tech guru to repel the aliens. He goes from figuratively saving the world (it's shown quite early on that he's quite environmentally conscious, riding his bike to work and always recycling) to literally saving the world.
And then, Will Smith as Captain Steve Hiller, the Marine fighter pilot who punches an alien and eventually flies an alien ship to battle the mothership. As I'm sure has been quite well documented by now, this film pretty much cemented Will Smith's "leading man in a blockbuster" status. It's amazing this film came out immediately after Fresh Prince of Bel-Air ended, to establish a timeline. And where the hell did "Welcome to Earf" come from? He clearly says "Welcome to Earth."
And a quick mention of Harry Connick Jr as as Hiller's wingman, Jimmy Wilder. As has been widely documented by now, as Friends was still the top TV show of the day, the producers originally wanted Matthew Perry for this small role, but he couldn't work it into his schedule. It's starting to go down as "Tom Sellick as Indiana Jones" as one of history's best known could-been roles.
This was the mid-1990s, so a lot of digital visual effects were still in their infancy. The vast majority of this film's Oscar-winning visual effects were done with good ol' fashioned models. Granted, in hi-def, some of the model-work becomes apparent, but it's amazing how well the effects still hold up after 19 years.
And David Arnold's score is still majestic. Sadly, Arnold doesn't do a lot of work in Hollywood anymore, outside of the James Bond films. Most of his work these days is on British television. (He does the music for Sherlock.)
Everything about this film is just fun. The right amount of humour, memorable characters, the right amount of suspense to keep you guessing...it is the epitome of perfect popcorn entertainment.