I’m Asking You, Just One More MINUTE! – Armageddon

23 03 2016

Armageddon (Touchstone Pictures - 1998)

Throughout the pages of history, there have always been beliefs as to how the world might end. Many of these beliefs come down to religious or cultural beliefs, while there is also the more popular forms of the world ending ranging from the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, to historical suggestions such as a meteorite similar to the one believed to have killed the dinosaurs, to ones presented in media forms of recent years suggesting anything from Giant Monsters to freak levels of nature to calendar’s. The thing is, unless founded by a religious belief (like I am), there is no telling what will end the world as we know it, but thanks to many movies over the last 20 years or so, at least we have found a way to entertain these ideas by producing many films that go on to suggest ways as to how it will happen.

Released in 1998 by Touchstone Pictures, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Michael Bay; Armageddon is an action/disaster movie depicting a possible end to planet Earth by throwing a massive pebble at it. Funnily enough, Armageddon was not the only film to be released in 1998 depicting the end of the world by a giant meteorite, as Deep Impact was released only 2 and half months before Armageddon, but Armageddon fared much better at the box office even surpassing Saving Private Ryan to become the highest grossing film of 1998.

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During a routine space mission, a space shuttle crew are attacked by a group of rogue meteors. The meteors rain down on New York causing city-wide damage. Under further investigation, NASA discovers that a rogue meteorite is heading to earth. The Meteorite dubbed a World Killer is so big that no matter where it lands will destroy all life on Earth. NASA director Dan Truman (Billy Bob Thornton) and Dr. Ronald Quincy (Jason Isaacs) come up with a plan to blow up the meteorite from the inside. On an oil rig, Oil driller Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis), considered the best of his profession is busy dealing with his mini protégé A. J. (Ben Affleck) who he finds having a fling with his daughter Grace (Liv Tyler). Harry is asked to go to NASA with his Daughter where they discover what is going on, he is asked to go to the Meteorite with a crew, and drill inside to drop a nuclear bomb in it. Unwilling to go with untrained NASA drillers, Harry demands that he takes his own un-trained astronaut crew of drillers. These include Bear (Michael Clarke Duncan), Chick (Will Patton), Rockhound (Steve Buscemi), Oscar (Owen Wilson), Max (Ken Hudson Campbell), Noonan (Clarke Heathcliff Brolly) and A. J.

Harry’s team is put through the ringer by NASA under the guidance of NASA Pilot Watts (Jessica Steen) and Colonel Sharpe (William Fichtner). It’s an uphill battle of wills as between NASA crews and General Kimsey (Keith David) against the oil drilling crew. While on Base, A. J. and Grace’s relationship heats up; rather annoying Harry in the process. As time goes by, the crews get into shape for the flight, but not before time. With just a few days left to go, a rogue projectile from the Meteorite crashes into the South Asia Sea, killing thousands. With the truth out, NASA prepare to launch. The plan is to send up 2 crews in highly modified shuttles, Harry leading the Shuttle Freedom, and A. J. leading the Shuttle Independence. The crews launch and dock with a Russian satellite to refuel, meeting Russian Cosmonaut Lev (Peter Stormare). The refuelling operation goes haywire, with the two vehicles departing as the station explodes, with Lev joining the crew of Independence. The two shuttles, having slingshot around the moon, converge behind the meteorite, however the Independence crash lands with most of the crew dying except for A. J., Bear and Lev. Freedom lands successfully, but miles off course however.

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The Freedom crew begin drilling into the meteorite but already encounter problems as the surface is made out of iron, and the machine is being run by a badly designed drilling program. Harry confronts Sharpe, but their exchange is seen by everyone at NASA who begins to worry that they might fail. Kimsey is ordered by the President (Stanley Anderson) to override the system and to detonate the nuclear weapons even though the hole has not been drilled yet. Truman orders his men to stop Kimsey, but it’s met with unsuccessful results. With the bomb ticking, Harry convinces Sharpe to turn off the weapon. Drilling recommences and gets off to a good start, however Rockhound having gone insane causes yet more problems that lead to the drilling operation failing, meaning that the team has failed overall. In the nick of time, A. J. and his team, having drove the Armadillo drilling vehicle from their crash site to the Freedom drilling site arrive and get back to work. With less than 2 hours remaining, the teams manage to drill the hole.

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With 30 minutes remaining, the team are attacked by a meteor storm, which causes detonation problems for the bomb. The team draws straws to decide who stays on the meteorite to detonate the bomb, with A. J. drawing the short straw. When he goes outside however, Harry pushes him back on the shuttle, taking up the job of staying to detonate the bomb. Harry makes a final tearful farewell to his daughter and says how proud he is of her and his crew, especially A. J. with less than 5 minutes remaining, the Shuttle has problems launching off the Meteorite, but thanks to some quick bodging from Lev, manages to take off. With less than 1 minute to go, Harry slips up, but manages to detonate the bomb with only seconds remaining. The Meteorite explodes into two pieces, which fly and miss earth by miles with the crew back on Earth being hailed as heroes.

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Upon thinking of how Armageddon stands out on its own compared to other Disaster films of its kind, it’s really hard to start off. Compared to many other disaster movies of its kind such as the aforementioned Deep Impact, it seems nearly the same. Meteorite comes towards earth, and people go out to destroy it, sounds very similar doesn’t it? Well yes, and it is easier to compare the film to Deep Impact in comparison to the load of straight to DVD releases from companies like The Asylum and many other, cheap knock offs of films like this which attempt to do the same thing. However, Armageddon stands out more. Yes, it is a story of a Meteorite coming to Earth. Yes it will Destroy Earth if it gets here. Yes a Space Agency of particular mention send out a team to destroy it before it gets here. It all sounds like same formula used over and over again, however in the meantime, Armageddon does something different. Usually with science fiction films like this, there is great need for scientists and specialists in astrophysics to do the job, but it’s the case here, that the people asked to do the job instead are blue-collar working class men. People who aren’t geniuses at school, but people who know what good solid hard work is and how well it pays off when done well and right. These guys are not your average heroes, but from their way of life are people to look up to. Armageddon therefore does 2 sort of things at the same time to stand out more. One, it takes real people, real underdogs and puts them in a terrifying situation which they are not trained for to use their craft to save the world. And two, it takes space travel, out of the hands of the experts who started and hogged it for their own needs, and gives it back into the hands of those who on any other occasion would never go up in a shuttle, but provides them with the ultimate dream. It sets up the ground work quite well, and maintains that while the Earth is coming to an end, these working class heroes need to be trained up. It doesn’t ignore the issue; it keeps it in mind to prepare those who are going to solve the issue to be able to do it. It’s sort of like The Hunger Games, the training up of contestants to fight in a horrific battle, but doesn’t automatically start there, first they have to train.

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However this is a film; and films are never that simple. This is a full powered, 2+ hour film, and they are not going to fill it with an easy fix. So, things are added to spice up the plot. You have an unapproved relationship taking off; you have the animosity between the trained NASA crews who believe hiring the crew is a mistake, while the crew more sort of admire them, but don’t respect the treatment. Things then just get worse. From this I have this sort of belief as to how Michael Bay makes these films, and it all stems from this film: the idea that things just keep getting worse. This does not really spark until the crews finally go into space, where the space station blows up, one shuttle crashes, the drilling equipment has problems, a platoon of soldiers try to take over the operation in a mindless act, the equipment fails, a storm happens which causes problems for more equipment, someone then has to stay behind to blow up the bomb, and then the shuttle doesn’t take off. It makes everything that happened in the first hour seem easy in comparison. But all of these things, are directed in such a magnificent way that they cause real feelings to the Death of characters, the mindless act of a country leader thinking he owns the world into jeopardising the mission, trying to dig a hole in space (which turns out to be quite suspenseful), to both launching off a rock and then detonating a bomb in space with only seconds left. This film’s synopsis, setting and direction is done with such fluidity that there is always something going on that grabs you by the throat and pulls you ever closer to the screen as the film reaches its ever building climax, even if it’s still 30 minutes away.

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Armageddon’s stellar cast of characters carry a lot of the film’s tension and motion too, it’s not just down to the directors action/disaster talent. Some of these though are rather hit and miss. Now I don’t want to necessarily compare the works/talent of Michael Bay with that of Roland Emmerich, that fight will require some real thought. No, all I meant was how much difference there is in the choice of acting talent as to who gets bigger roles than others. With Armageddon though, there is a lot of room for comedy given its early premise and into this fold we do get some comedy acting from people like Owen Wilson delivering some punchy one liners, Michael Clarke Duncan being a real softy despite his size, Ken Hudson Campbell showing how hard he is despite being more of a big teddy bear, and Steve Buscemi being rather daft in a sexual innuendo way. These guys do serve the film’s wit and comedy section while also providing time to show off a more serious and poignant side, however, despite being pretty good at the end, I feel Michael Clarke Duncan could have delivered more early on. Wilson and Campbell I thought were more like comedy fillers, but Duncan was only briefly shown early on, and doesn’t really show much throughout this film until the Shuttle crashes, which think is a shame because he was pretty good in my opinion. But this is a very serious situation, and to this end we need people who are deadpan serious and in no way funny; which we do. This is what I meant when I mentioned Emmerich above.

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Disaster movies carry a lot of characters because big disasters affect a lot of people; and while the big stars get the big roles, you also get lesser known actors (or at least of the time) who become stars in their own right, despite that here they fill rather small roles. For starters there is someone like Quincy played by Jason Isaacs. A competent scientist who for most of the film acts like a bumbling fool, but given a shot gives off his own small but still powerful performance not as an expert or fool, but as a very serious and intelligent specialist. We then have Jessica Sheen as Jennifer Watts. Watts acts like a trainer before doing a more pilot role later in the film. She shares very little dialogue compared to those around her, however she is a very strong and likeable character. She is very serious about her job and works hard, but she is not bullish like Sharp or Kimsey, she is rather likeable on the whole suggesting a nice person deep down if it wasn’t for her job. Keith David meanwhile plays something of a secondary antagonist as Kimsey, someone who doesn’t believe in the plan and wants to be as bullish as possible. He talks like a man without a conscious and thinks the way he talks and acts, in the process becoming someone who is very unlikable. This comfortably leads onto Sharp. Sharp is something of a side antagonist until the later parts of the film. Much like Kimsey he is rather bullish and believes he can do anything by himself and his own techniques. He is rather miserable to watch as he feels more like a hindrance than a help, but deep down he has genuine worry and feelings towards the mission, and it’s not simply through being a grunt that he acts this way, but from his own personal worry. In the third act he comes out as a really likeable character as he comes to trust those around him instead of trusting just himself. Even in the last few moments, he worry’s but has more faith in someone who began as his enemy.

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Armageddon does also carry a lot of tertiary characters who only get a few fleeting appearances, but who’s acting in their self is still pretty good fun to watch. You have people like the NASA flight director (Chris Ellis), the bloke at the end saying “1 Minute” as he watches the meteorite coming ever closer to earth (unfortunately could not find out what he is actually called), then there is people genuinely on the mission and more upfront with the cast like Noonan, and the NASA communications guy (Matt Malloy). To this we get someone like Lev. Lev is more of a comedy character but with a serious bite. He is more human than anyone else in the film and serves as both light relief and a human connection to the audience creating terrific moments such as how an ordinary person would react up in space, and how too they would fix a busted space shuttle.

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I don’t really know what to think about Willis in this film. He lays a working class hero and is obviously a man to respect, it’s just he seems not to be in the depth of his more action based roles. Here he plays something specialist and organiser, but still with the vocal range of an action star. He definitely carries that level of respect the role carries, and also the commanding presence, but for me just doesn’t feel like it works, or at least stand out enough. He does of course make the final stand and ultimate sacrifice, but I just don’t know what to really say about him (sorry Bruce). Billy Bob Thornton stands out a little more as he is both a very respectful guy and is something like Bruce’s equal in an opposite way of life. He however carries something of a burden on his shoulders, as he is a man who has worked hard to get where he is, but at the same time regrets the direction he has taken, and so feels the need to work harder to prove that his chosen direction is as worth it, but more for him than anything else. As a role, he was one to look out for and enjoy, not necessarily a man of action, but more a man with a brain to bring it. Ben Affleck is in a similar situation to Willis I think. He stands out as being more of a rogue or maverick, to Willis’s tough but serious and professional way. But much like Willis, I just don’t find that he stands out all that greatly to be enjoyed fully. It’s probably more the dynamics and confrontations between the two that really make both parts work and the earlier situations between the two are really funny. However, it’s more of a father son relationship story, with the Son seeking guidance and acceptance from the father who considers him something of a disappointment, but then grows to liken him, and accepts as well as love him, and the same the other way round, with the son, showing a higher level of faith in the dad upon his acceptance. Liv Tyler meanwhile plays a more adult based role compared to the two people flanking her. She plays a more professional, more knowledgeable based role to that of Willis, while also having a rebellious youthful side to allow her to fall for Affleck. Her moods change quite a bit though. Sometimes she can be very feisty, and angry, while others are very emotional. It’s hard therefore to recognise what age she is supposed to be playing as she seems to get younger and older consistently in different scenes throughout. This constant change can be quite annoying as you see someone’s character change; however her emotions and strength are what really make her.

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For me however, the film’s best character is that of Chick played by Will Patton. I have seen Patton in a variety of TV shows, but for me, this is his best performance. He plays something of a sidekick and loyal worker/companion to Willis throughout, and would be fair to say would probably even die for him. Patton though has a different backstory compared to everyone else. He has a major gambling addiction which has completely separated him from his wife, to whom he feels eternally guilty, and still loves and cares for as well as his son. Out of everyone, he receives the higher redemption, doing something which gives him a second chance at his family. He delivers strength, he delivers wit, he delivers emotion, he carries more than anyone in this film and has some of the film’s best lines, including the high-powered one which I used for this review’s title. A fantastic actor and an incredible performance.

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Like many science fiction disaster movies that have come before and after; Armageddon boasts an incredible level of special effects. Effects ranging from the Meteorite, shots in space, explosions, the lot. There’s not much that can be said much than that, given the level of reality that the film is set in and the low-level of need for space based science fiction. Well, if you are going to have scenes on the ground you may as well use real stuff. However, for the lack of special effects other than the use of space, Armageddon does great work in all forms of its effects, and in particular creates one of the best pieces of movie magic in the history of cinema. Space based movies have been made before of course, however not many of these films have really shown the launch of a space ship. The only one previous I can think of is Apollo 11, and that Launch is pretty cool, but what Armageddon does has not been done before or since. The space program has always been seen as something special and exciting, and the space shuttle’s none-the-less. The point of this film is that ordinary blue-collar working class hero types go into space to save the world, but right now they are on the ground, so eventually, they will need to actually go into space, and so, to mark this moment, the film goes all out to capture the moment, to capture the feeling, to capture the excitement of both being there, watching it, and being in the space shuttle. Using great levels of effects that are either models or real shuttles, combined with camera cuts or repositioning’s it makes the launch themselves something proud to behold. But then, the launch is not enough, the ships then need to actually get into space. This is the moment when the shuttle’s become CGI models, but made with such great detail that they look near copies of the models used during the actual take-off moment. But it’s not just the special effects; Music plays a great detail in the scene. It begins with a sort of operatic vocal back track and a tune of awe and wonder, slow, like the initial launch. This then cuts just as it builds to go slow again just to show the significance of the opening launch. The music then builds one more time into a very patriotic, and heart wrenching guitar solo that just takes over from the start. It really does make you feel emotional, because you are witnessing a great moment here, one that is really hard to explain if you have not seen it before. Then as the tone changes from the launch to the flight, the guitar and mixers take over to produce less a slow operatic performance, to something more modern, but still delivering power. It sounds less like a wonder, and more like a mission. It still drives the tension and worry, but still packs in a level of action and power that on the one hand still brings a near tear to your eye, while also just enjoying the spectacle of a space shuttle launching. The Space Shuttle program may be over, but it has given us one pure moment of Movie Magic that will be cherished for decades to come.

The rest of the soundtrack (composed by Trevor Rabin) delivers quite well too. Yes while the film is known for the inclusion of the Aerosmith song I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing, I think it is over used a little bit. I like Aerosmith, but this is not a favourite of mine, although that could be me preferring more a form of heavy rock than melody. There is another track of theirs in this film that I do like and does sort of prove the above point, but it’s nice to see Aerosmith in film form either way. Their song sort of provides a backbone however to most of the films melodious moments. My joy with the soundtrack (other than the above mentioned launch scene) though comes in the form of the films way of delivering a scene in the right way, by building huge levels of tension in strong tense scenes. The one that stands out is the last scene where the final few seconds tick by, and Harry Stamper tries to reach for the bomb detonator with very little time left. Yes there are other good pieces of soundtrack, including the scene at the Armadillo Testing area, the recruitment scene (which also happens to be another piece by Aerosmith), and the inclusion of the ZZ Top song La Grange; but simply picking up the score is hard to do, and can only be achieved through the really memorable moments, and this is one of those scenes.

Armageddon is a power packed Disaster movie that really works hard to put you in the situation and works hard to make it apply to you as much as possible. It delivers a realistic and believable setting for an end of the world scenario, and works really closely to the time limit to make it as tense and as action packed as possible. It features scenes of beauty and scenes that you will not be able or want to forget. It provides a cast of minor’s, majors and absolute stand outs and comes with effects and sound to boot. While maybe not likely to win awards despite being more popular at the cinema than those that do, Armageddon is in no way bad, rubbish or pants. It is an incredibly enjoyable film that packs a consistent punch that will have you gagging for more and more while also hoping for a breath of fresh air. Armageddon is as powerful as the name suggests and deserves a spot in the Disaster Movie Hall of Fame (if one exists?) as much as its peers and contemporaries.

GENEPOOL

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Checkmate – Independence Day

23 12 2015

Independence Day (20th Century Fox - 1996)

The question of whether or not we are alone in the universe has been tossed around for decades. Since upon discovering that there was an area above the planet, many have wondered if there was life on other planets. These thoughts usually then go onto the thought processes of considering the existence of Aliens, or UFO’s. To date, these thoughts are only theories. Yes, scientist’s get a little bit too excited when patches of liquid are spotted on other planets, but as this data has yet to be connected with proof of the existence of aliens, it should be noted that even if there is life on other planets, that it is a very big sky. But let’s not forget: “The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one, but still…..they come” – Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of the War of the World’s.

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Released in 1996 by 20th Century Fox, Produced by Dean Devlin and Directed by Roland Emmerich, Independence Day is a Science Fiction Epic Disaster Movie involving the subject of a large-scale Alien Invasion on planet Earth. What is one of the most successful, inspiring, influential and most important films of the last 20 years; it helped to re-kick-start the creation, development and release of other big action disaster films, including films like Armageddon, Deep Impact, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012.

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July 2nd. Above the surface of the moon, something big, black and ominous has arrived and is moving towards the nearby planet of Earth. Down on the planet, a group of scientist’s discover its signal, but don’t know what it is. The object is investigated by Army General Grey (Robert Loggia) who is informed that it is not a meteor, as it appears to be slowing down. He contacts the Secretary of Defence Albert Nimzicki (James Rebhorn), who in turn informs the President (Bill Pullman). In New York City, David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), an MIT Graduate works for a cable company, who appear to be experiencing technical difficulties. Meanwhile out in the desert, a young family made up of Miguel (James Duval), Alicia (Lisa Jakub) and Troy (Giuseppe Andrews) have to continually contend with their drunk out of control father Russel (Randy Quaid) who supposedly was kidnapped by aliens several years ago. Back in space meanwhile, several large Flying Saucers appear out of another vessel. This is spotted on Radar and the President along with Grey, Nimzicki and Communications Director Constance Spano (Margaret Colin) are told that each one of these objects, 500km wide in diameter are now entering the atmosphere. Sightings are spotted globally, eventually hitting mainland USA. Slowly, one by one, large clouds begin to appear over the world’s major cities, clouds so big they completely shadow everything underneath them. Eventually, the clouds break and out of the come the huge flying saucers, eventually hovering over and plunging several major cities into darkness worldwide.

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In Los Angeles, air force captain, Steven Hiller (Will Smith) and his girlfriend Jasmine (Vivica A. Fox) wake up to see these things and Hiller is told to return to base, despite being given time off for the 4th. Back at work, David discovers a hidden signal and informs his boss Marty (Harvey Fierstein) that they are going to attack. He quickly rushes home to his Dad Julius (Judd Hirsch) and asks him to drive to the White House. The President asks everyone to remain calm while mass hysteria breaks out. Arriving at the White House, David contacts his former wife Constance and tells her that he needs to speak to the President – despite once punching him. He manages to talk to the president, telling him that the ships are planning a coordinated attack. Everyone at the White House rushes to evacuate, but just as they board Air-Force One, the time runs out, and all the spaceships power up their primary weapons, instantly decimating every city they are currently over. Air force one manages to get away, with Jasmine, still stuck in the city hiding in a tunnel.

July 3rd. Captain Hiller leads an air attack on one of the flying saucers near the ruins of Los Angeles. Upon firing their weapons twice, they discover the ships have a protective shield, before then launching their own fighter squadrons. These too are shielded, and slowly all the fighters are lost, except for Hiller who manages to run away. He is chased though by an alien craft, before they both crash and he knocks out the still alive alien creature. Several prime American military installations are then destroyed by alien forces. Hiller is eventually rescued by Russel Casse and an entire caravan of fleeing travellers. On Air Force one meanwhile, after David gets into an argument with the President and his advisors, Julius comes along telling them that the government were not as unprepared as they claim they were, talking about Roswell and Area 51. While everyone else dismisses the legend of Roswell and Area 51, Nimzicki has other knowledge. As a result they all go to Area 51 in Roswell New Mexico. There they meet Major Mitchell (Adam Baldwin) and scientist Dr. Okun (Brent Spiner) who reveal that there is indeed a crashed spaceship along with 3 dead aliens. Out in the remains of Los Angeles, Jasmine and her son (Ross Bagley) manage to get out of the tunnel, and using a truck finds survivors including the President’s Wife (Mary McDonnell). Hiller arrives at the base with the Alien, which Okun takes to dissect. However the Alien wakes up and attacks the scientists. Using Okun as a voice channel, The Alien reveals to the President what all they want is for humanity to Die, before psychically attacking him. The President is saved by his security detail shooting the alien Dead. He uses this as an opportunity to declare a nuclear attack on the Aliens. A nuclear strike team head to Houston Texas to attack one of the spaceships. After what appears to be a successful attack, the ship survives. At his old destroyed base, Hiller finds Jasmine and rescues her and the other survivors, however the First Lady dies, with the President comforting his Daughter (Mae Whitman) saying that she is sleeping now.

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July 4th. After a drunken stress out, David is inspired by his father who talks about getting a cold. That morning; David presents his idea to fight back against the aliens using a computer virus, and reveals that such a virus can bring down the alien shields. The only way of doing this though is flying the old ship into the Mother ship, something that Hiller steps up to do.  The President and his men manage to communicate with all the remaining fighter squadrons around the world, and plan to organise a counter offensive. With pilots low however, pilots have to be recruited from among survivors and refugees, to which end Russell steps up. As night falls, Hiller and David fly into Space and are pulled into the Mother Ship, spotting the large number of aliens inside it. Managing to hide themselves from the aliens, David implants the virus, which in turn brings down the Alien shields, allowing all weapons to penetrate. Flying at the front of the Squadron, The President joins in with the attack, piloting a fighter. They are able to do some damage to the ship, but are then attacked by the smaller alien fighters. With very little damage done to the big ship, it begins to circle over Area 51, planning to fire its primary weapon. With little ammo left, Russell flies in with the only remaining unfired missile, ready to disable the weapon. When the missile jams however, he decided to fly straight into the alien weapon, blowing it up instantly. The ship now destroyed internally, it begins to disintegrate. Inside the Mothership, Hiller and David launch a Nuclear Weapon strapped to the ship, and escape just as an invasion fleet is being launched. Successfully escaping, the Mother ship blows up from inside. The two men crash-land in the desert, as the disintegrated mothership streams into the atmosphere.

If I were to ask someone you to sum up Independence Day in one word, I highly doubt that the word you would reply with would be Tame (not unless you are doing it just for a laugh). It is not a tame film, in reality I can’t find a single word for Independence Day, but I can think of several. It’s Surprising, Hard Hitting, Enormous, Unstoppable, Redeeming, I could go on, but I will finish this bit with the word Fantastic. It’s a big film and does things in a big way, but why shouldn’t it, why should it conform or do things done before when that is not the point of this film. Not in its conception, not in its delivery, nothing about this film is small in any way, but it was designed to be as such. The idea originated with Emmerich’s fascination as to why Aliens fly through space for thousands of Light Years only to arrive at Earth and stay hidden. This knowledge sprouted the idea for a Large Scale Alien Attack, and as much became the case in future films from Emmerich, Nothing is kept down to a small-scale. It’s go big or go home; and everything in this film is big; Big scenes, big action, big surprises, big battles, big alien spaceships and an even bigger mothership. Independence Day delivers all of these things at an incredibly high standard that surpasses its own challengers and competitors. It’s a film with character, but also on that it is a film with a lot of characters.

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Independence Day tells a story, it tells a story of an Alien Invasion and what it could happen if Aliens with large amounts of firepower came to earth and set about wreaking havoc on it. But the destruction of cities and a way of life only for the heroes to find a way to overcome it is only one side to the telling of the tale. The other side is through what the characters are experiencing and how this either drives them apart or brings them closer together; Independence Day for the most part does the latter, but also reveals what drove them apart in the first place. Independence Day therefore contains a lot of subtext. These points are less subplot; and are more background details of characters, but it’s told with such passion and energy that you cannot hope to ignore them. Most of this is shown through the films top billing and the characters supporting them in particular. The President for instance is a hardworking man trying to do the right thing and lead in a rough situation, but at the same time he has a daughter and wife to think about. On top of this though he has past experience and animosity towards someone who rides in on a white horse and eventually helps save the world twice. This coming in the form of David. David is also a hardworking man who loves his job; he however though has a previous divorce with Constance which comes back up to haunt him, and somewhere in the past believing she was having an affair with someone, walked into the white house and punched him, although then he wasn’t the president. Then next to this we have yet a similar position with Captain Hiller. He however though has a girlfriend with a child; he loves them both dearly, and loves his new life, but finds this torn away from him due to current events. These events though ironically help him to find his family plus make a difference by bringing in his own skill set and knowledge. He is something of an outcast to this trio, but without him nothing could be done in the end. It’s a sort of three little pigs who all decide to stand up to the big bad wolf in their own ways; even though they are not pigs but humans, and the big bad wolf is a fleet of Alien Ships.

Bill Pullman, Jef Goldblum and Will Smith

Something that I continue to discover with Emmerich films is how enjoyable secondary and tertiary characters are. While these characters at no point in any of his films share the grand stage with the top billing, they provide so much enjoyment that it feels like they are as important as the top billing even if they don’t share this podium. Russel case’s family shares very little scenes as compared to everyone else, however they produce an important point of view on what these situations and events are to standard civilians, whereas most of the rest of the cast are actively involved in the understanding and activity of the event itself. What we have here is a solid family unit with Miguel having to be a father figure to his brother and sister while their father is not around. Troy and Alicia are at best supporting characters to this, but are involved in some interesting scenes including the cliché of Alicia wanting some love and intimate relationship before the supposed end of the world scenario; with Troy looking on. It’s a nice little addition to the cast while also representing a very important point of view; especially seeing as the rest of that point of view is represented in mass hysteria, and people thinking all these aliens are worth dressing up in ridiculous costumes all for the benefit of a night out (a lot like people who go to watch the Darts live). A lot of work has gone in to include a child cast in this film, but not have them in the background but as important editions. The President’s daughter and Jasmine’s son show much stronger understandings to the situation more than most adults. Add to this the level of emotion they show to the ones they love; it shows a much deeper level of understanding a stronger response to situations from a completely miss-understood point of view. Next to this we also have some interesting additions in the military with characters like officers and commanders. Some of these range from Air Force and Submarine captains, to their aides, plus the level and amount of military officers too. One person who needs mentioning of course is Major Mitchell. A strong caring and understanding character, but still maintains a serious tone. He is supportive of everyone around him and always persists to do the right thing. Easily one of the most enjoyable characters.

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What’s always important in high concept disaster moves like this is a sense of light relief in order to retain a level of humanity. So, bring in the clowns, of which there are a lot of in this film. From people like the Joke secretary of defence Nimzicki, to Mad Scientist Dr. Okun (not forgetting of course David’s boss; Marty). But next to that you have characters who start out as something of an off the cuff clown, but grow into very important and serious characters, while also maintaining their bright side. To this end we have the wonderful Judd Hirsch playing David’s father. He is not a clown as such, more someone who has his moments. He is a misunderstanding father to David, and throughout the first third of the film provides moments of laughter as to how a hysterical point of view of the situation is seen. There is another side to him though, a very admirable, and respectable side, one that creates incredibly powerful on-screen moments in the middle of tough, hot situations. Scenes like demanding that the people on Air Force one should be more grateful towards David for saving their lives, or when David is about to go into space. He is a very caring father and a very strong character; less of a clown, but one of the several strong emotional anchors throughout this film.

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Straight after that we have a string of Secondary characters; however some of these I fell are a bit hit and miss. Their part in the story being one of them, and I just feel like it’s more their story rather than themselves that help to make them stand out a bit more.  Jasmine for instance is much like Judd Hirsch’s character in that she is very strong and caring, but her determination proves to be her survival, and her love for Captain Hiller helps to bring them back together. Her attitude mixed with her caring side make her not a clown, but one of those strong characters, another anchor if you will that helps to keep your head in the situation in a situation such as this. The first lady is a weird one; I don’t see how her role is applicable in this film other than being another thing for the President to worry about. That’s not to say she is bad or unneeded, just relatively confusing.  Sort of reminds me of The Raid, where Rama has reason to get out of the building alive, but I think in this instance it just doesn’t really work as well. Mary McDonnell’s performance though is still pretty good. Constance on the other hand is a rather interesting character and helps deliver one of the major, if several subplots; that of the former relationship with David, and an uneasy relationship between David and the President. Constance is a much trusted advisor for the President, and speaks like a voice of calm reasoning in a tense situation. She does though also sport some relative attitude and does not keep herself back in such situations. Her relationship with David is a nice and slow addition providing room for the audience to take a breath for a moment, eventually leading to situations where she tries to keep David back or explain to him certain situations, but in the end is rather futile, all leading to a moment where you realise she is a more a career woman than a lover. While she does present herself as a really strong, warm character, it is hard to keep it up, and eventually she needs to redeem herself in this light. Then there is of course the films accidental hero. Russel Casse spends most of the first third of this film as a drunk crazed lunatic talking about being abducted by aliens. While this is the tale of many others and whether or not this is true, it turns out for the sake of this films plot that it is. He tries to be a good father to his children, but equally fails in this respect too. For the while he remains a clown, but as the film reaches its climax, he completely redeems himself. This could be either for what he believes in or vengeance, but deciding to sacrifice himself commits the ultimate defeat on the aliens by sacrificing himself, but at the same time, notes that he is doing it for his kids too. Thus he becomes not really an accidental hero, but the films real hero, similar in some sense to the ultimate fate of Toshiro Mifune’s character in Seven Samurai. Finally there is the fantastic General Grey. I love this role and character so much. He is played by an excellent, believable and likeable actor in Robert Loggia. He presents the General as a highly experienced and respectable character. He shows real calm and emotion but does not hold back his aggression for when he needs it to be, retaining his stance as a leader.  On the more common occasion though, he becomes and remains one of the Presidents most trusted men and along with Constance a sort of voice for reason. A real treat throughout this film. I don’t know how much more I can say about him other than just say how enjoyable a character he is.

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While not cast members themselves, to be fair The Aliens are characters too. They share some very interesting characteristics about themselves, and a lot of time has been taken in creating them and their ships, but as stated above, in Independence Day its go Big or go home. The looks of these aliens are very stereotypical like, with really thin bodies and really big heads. Shiny eyes, and no moving mouth, however, the detail of such creatures look less Science Fiction like and more Horror like. They are freakish and scary close up, and they are meant to be. They’re first appearance has to look scary as up till that point, only their ships have been seen. So there is no going overboard. We don’t know what aliens look like and it’s important for their first moment to be right, but also freaky and haunting. The big fight in the hospital room which leads to the scary conversation between it and the president is as equally chilling with small scenes of a moving arm, running, screaming, tentacles flying, and close up of the legs and inner bodies. While for the rest of it the aliens don’t show themselves like this except for in the mothership (where I can see a scene that looks either like an alien Call Centre, or the NSA HQ in The Simpsons Movie), their appearance here is enough to get us more involved, and take a brief pause from mass disaster to personal horror.

A lot of work has gone into this film regarding themes. There is a large selection of them. One of the most used themes is the large amount of evidence suggested and supported into the existence of alien life. These are mentioned periodically throughout, thanks in a way to Russell Casse consistently mentioning how he was abducted by aliens, plus people’s views and theories suggested around this. But the one that is used more than most is of course the mention of a crashed spaceship in Roswell and how it is being hidden inside Area 51. It’s a nice little touch which goes on to divert the story in a direction for the heroes to find a way out of the situation and rise up against their space oppressors. There are a couple of additional themes too in the forms of Extinction and Survival also. The theme of extinction is rife in this film. On the first day alone in the film’s narrative, within 20 minutes, an outside force arrives on earth, and soon destroys most of it. You look around the cities, being covered by this unstoppable black cloud, to which reveals a huge flying saucer. Huge cities with massive buildings and people everywhere and in one fell swoop, something much bigger and more impressive shows up (rather slowly to ramp up the tension) and by nightfall destroys 36 cities worldwide. In one day, a load of aliens show up in one ship, immediately separate into several and bring down a civilization that had spent so long fighting each other, rather than helping each other. Then however the theme of Survival begins to grow and come to light. With everyone now facing extinction together, they immediately pull together to help survive as a species than fight as one instead of several nations. It is a strong theme, and though while to begin with this film shows how selfish and weak humanity is not to work together but build to dominancy, it also shows how eventually they will come together to fight a common enemy.

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Independence Day Boasts some of the best Special Effects used in Cinema history to date. It’s been nearly 20 years since it was first released, but the effects produced back then were made to such a great standard, that two decades later they don’t look like they have aged a day. They look as sharp and crisp now as they did then. A lot of hard work has gone into produce such great effects and have as such created some terrific moments and scenes. While it is an Alien Invasion film, the Action Directing style of Emmerich reveals itself more than once, showing scenes of wonder amazement as well as terror and tension. Scenes that are common in action movies like the plane fleeing from the circle of fire, the missiles hitting the alien ship at the end, people running away in mass hysteria (which today would be a lot different as most people would probably take videos, selfies and upload them to twitter way before thinking about running away) as well as the launching of the Nuclear Missile half-way through. Add to this you also have the big near Top Gun like air battles between the planes and the small alien fighters, one of the film’s first surprising moments. However, don’t forget about the great detail and design that went into the spacecraft and how well it was delivered to the big screen. The big city sized vessels are amazing things to look at, especially in their earlier moments in space, and of course hovering coldly over the city. Two images in particular I love include them breaking out of the clouds, and one hovering ominously over New York as David looks on. Then into this, we get the brilliant scene of the weapons powering up. It’s an interesting seen that just speaks “WOW!” This bright light that suddenly appears all over a city plunged into darkness. Like the idea of how Moths are attracted to light, or a bug zapper entices a bug to its death, this long moment of a revel of pure green light, and how it attracts everyone to look, but then too late. Like the Death Star preparing to fire; it builds up and then everyone nearby simply gets destroyed by the Aliens true intentions and power. Then as the counter attack begins early on, the wonderment at how powerful the aliens are and even have a defence which makes them nearly indestructible and can fight back any enemy, no matter how big or small they are. The aliens in this film are Dangerous, and that’s a fact, but as the film carries on, of course they need to be defeated, and so with the defences down, they finally get their comeuppance in a barrage of missiles strikes on their hull. Big, destructive, but so is the ships. Eventually though, they get destroyed at their weakest point, their main weapon systems. But don’t forget, there are other ships worldwide, and that brings us onto the Mothership. Now while the mother ship could look smallish alone in space, don’t forget this thing houses millions if not billions of aliens, plus the city sized spaceships. This ship itself, while not flat like the city ships; is still pretty black and ominous, hidden in space. All this together alone creates an amazing look to this film that still stands out to this day, and let’s not forget the destruction of the cities, particularly the iconic view of the White House getting blown up.

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With all this detail and eye candy on the large amount of special effects, it’s easy to forget about the level of charm Independence carries also. Several scenes with the human interactions, and just moments like images of Air Force One arriving at Area 51, or the world discovering the arriving alien force, there are so many nice scenes that nearly get forgotten about, but are still fun to watch. What helps these additionally is the wonderful score composed by David Arnold. Independence Day has a great mix of pieces, from sounds of incoming death, destruction, big battles and victory, to sounds of remorse, emotion, curiosity, the lot. The music is very Americanised and patriotic in its sound, this includes pieces like the President’s speech, the beginning of the end credits, and when the air force starts winning in combat. These though are reserved more towards the end, and to begin with, instead of a high level of mystery as to what is going on, instead a more serious tone begins almost immediately as the film starts. For example the ominous scary tone as the Mothership arrives and reveals itself. As the discovery stage commences you get a wave of Military style tunes as events unfold all over the place. These tunes don’t stop when the city is initially destroyed, but continue throughout the second act, then developing into the patriotic music to end with. But for me, the real soundtrack is when the aliens arrive over the city.

This sound of terrifying magnificence, deadly wonder and impending doom is just fantastic. It mostly takes the form of something building up, but then, when the ship comes to light, breaking the clouds and hovering over the scared people, backed up with sounds of something roaring just creates another simply “WOW!” moment that gets me every time. The opening credits feature similar dark sounds plus this music does return briefly in the end credits.

Alltogether, Independence Day is a Fantastic film. I love it to bits. It comes packed with action scenes as well as scenes of disaster emotion and moments that just make you want to shout out “WOW” and is backed up with so many brilliant characters and a stellar cast to play them all to back it all. Plus, let’s not forget the terrific soundtrack and beautiful special effects. I am not kidding when I say how much I like this film; it takes the idea of an Alien Invasion and puts it in the here and now, in a very believable setting. To me, I prefer this to Star Wars, I think it’s better than all 6, no 7 (seventh had not been released at time of writing) films put together, I will go on record for saying that…..no wait, better: “This is Better than Star Wars!” it’s a big claim, but I wouldn’t be saying that if I didn’t feel that.

GENEPOOL








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