Released 1996 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Roland Emmerich
Stars - Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, and many others
When aggressive aliens try to take over the Earth, it’s up to the Americans to save the day, led by fighter pilot Captain Steve Hiller (Smith), President Thomas J. Whitmore (Pullman), and computer genius David Levinson (Goldblum).
Major violence; minor gore; minor blue language.
The rah-rah Americanism is pretty over-the-top ridiculous. The worst of it is when they start sending out the plan to take down the aliens and the British are like, “it’s about bloody time,” like they were just sitting around, waiting for the Americans to come save them.
It does that thing I hate in action movies, where if a person has one skill, that means they have another, tangentially related skill. [SPOILER] For example, Steve can fly a jet, therefore he can fly an alien aircraft. David writes code (I think?) and went to MIT, therefore he can write a virus to take down an alien computer system, etc. [SPOILER]
There’s some pretty hokey stuff. When I saw this in the theater 20 years ago (on opening day, I’m pretty sure), the whole entire audience burst into disbelieving laughter at the scene with the dog (if you’ve seen it, you know the one).
This is a formulaic, summer blockbuster done right. The bad guys, largely unseen, are pure evil. The good guys, though nearly beaten, prevail in the end. It’s got humor, it’s got explosions, and it’s got romance. Does it make sense? Who cares! This movie hit the big time because the formula works, especially when it’s done well.
The supporting cast is great. My particular favorites are: Judd Hirsch, as David’s father, Julius; Randy Quaid as alcoholic Vietnam vet fighter pilot Russell Casse; and Brent Spiner as scientist Dr. Brakish Okun.
The special effects have held up really well.
I really liked this the first time I saw it. In the ensuing years, I convinced myself that it probably wasn’t very good (I think I saw parts of it, but not the whole thing, until watching it again for this project). Let’s be honest: this isn’t the kind of film that’s going to be winning any of the big awards at the Oscars. It was never meant to be. It’s fun summer fluff, and it’s very enjoyable. I wouldn’t want to watch it once a year (as my husband and I do “Groundhog Day,” in honor of the day in question), but I could see myself watching it again 5 years from now and being entertained anew.
I give it 4 stars.