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Independence Day: A Landmark Disaster

Cynema is not a film review series. There are plenty of those online. Once in awhile a film comes along that defines everything about my Cynema concept. The latest is Roland Emerich’s two decades later (Why? That’s addressed later) sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence. It’s hands down one of the worst films of the last five years.

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Image: FOX

I knew what I was getting myself into. This is one of those movies that you can easily dismiss by saying “what did you expect? It’s okay, it’s not the worst thing ever. Just go with it.” They got my money.

However as I write this I continue to fight. I resist. I will not go into the darkness quietly…I had to get my Bill Pullman Henry V/Braveheart speech moment because a a number of people in this cynical mess try for one. I counted at least four times when someone tried to give some kind of “let’s kick ass” mini speech or pep talk.

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Image: United Artists

I keep telling myself: five writers. This had five writers. Heaven’s Gate had one. Do you understand that? Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate is one of the longest movies ever, the one that is blamed for bringing down an entire movie studio. It is synonymous with boxoffice failure and…had a single writer.

Cimino’s much maligned, and only recently rediscovered film, may have been long, indulgent or brilliant, but it was not cynical. At its worst it was a narcissist engaging his passion with little regard for others. The same can not be applied to this miserable sequel that is a poster child for what is broken with the studio system.

Again, this is not a review, but let me get out what I think of this “film.” It’s long, no fun, overblown, a mess, terrible script and a CGI crapfest that manages to rip off every major sci fi disaster film including Michael Bay’s stuff.  So why is it the topic of Cynema? Let’s take a look.

Roland Emerich

This is a guy who said he made a Godzilla movie but didn’t like them and had no real respect for them. He dismissed the creature and its film legacy as “Lego building” smashing. He then redesigned a world wide icon and had zero regard for the audience that made the radioactive beast an icon since 1954. Add to it that he stripped the film of its anti-war and nuclear message and gave Sony its wannabe Jurassic Park knock off. See my take on that here: http://horrorfuel.com/horror/reviews/cynema-godzilla-vs-gino/

Godzilla was a job and without understanding the art that went into the original 1954 film. He cobbled together a cynical pastiche of other action films and Jurassic Park.

That’s okay, because Emerich returns after two decades to deliver us a sequel that gives us a ripoff of his Godzilla ripoff while also ripping off the new Godzilla that tried to erase the stain of his ripoff. Resurgence is the Jaws the Revenge of Science Fiction Films. They coulda made a better movie and had all the resources to do so. They simply chose not to.

So it comes time to ask: Is Roland Emerich just an inept big budget filmmaker or does he just have such contempt for cinema and audiences that he just doesn’t care?

Emerich claims it took twenty years to make Resurgence because he waited for technology to be developed to realize his vision. His ideas were just that big. I ask, “couldn’t you have put some of that time to better use in developing a script instead of waiting for green screen CGI?” There isn’t a single idea in a script that took five people to write, including Emerich himself. To be fair, Jurassic Park was “65 million years in the making.” Maybe two decades isn’t so bad.

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Twenty years for cartoon style CGI action scenes, huh? Image: FOX

I equate the plus 100 million to make Resurgence on the same level as making the 100 million replica of Noah’s Ark that’s recently making headlines. Sure, you can do it, but why? It is a total waste of money and resources that could have been spent elsewhere. This was a director’s indulgence and “Look What I Can Do Film Making.” I was no major fan of the first film. While it was a mess, it was an efficient mess. The first Independence Day was a summertime popcorn film that allowed brain checks at the door. It launched a few big screen careers, gave us an eclectic, star-packed cast and allowed a script of one liners and cheesy set pieces to walk us through to the ending we all knew was coming. It wasn’t a classic, but it worked.

I equate the plus 100 million to make Resurgence on the same level as the 100 million remake of Noah’s Ark recently making headlines. Sure, you can do it, but why? It is a total waste of money and resources.

I am now a filmmaker. I wasn’t when I saw the first film. Now my life depends on securing financing and making good films to live. I see things differently than I did in 1996 and what I saw twenty years later appalled me. They could have made a good film, at least an entertaining one. They didn’t want to. Let’s see why:

CASTING

Like its “script,” Resurgence threw everything and the kitchen sink into casting. The goal was to cover all bases: a multicultural/ethnic cast that panders to the Chinese markets. This was done to ensure financial return akin to the stunt casting in last year’s equally dismal “Terminator Genysys.” See my take here: http://horrorfuel.com/horror/movies/zombie-movies/not-a-reboot-not-a-remake-its-a-repackaging/

Will Smith didn’t return. With good reason. So the filmmakers ensured to compensate by bringing back every cast member of significance from the first film, while also cow towing to the Chinese markets. The story I got is that Smith demanded 50 million and the studio balked. They shoulda paid it.

Instead we gets lots of references to Smith, his widow and his son…but all it does is remind us how smart Smith was to avoid this turkey. Instead they trot out  Jeff Goldblum to do his nebbish Ian Malcolm-boy wonder routine. Goldblum serves as the “I knew this was going to happen element.” He looks totally bored in this film.

The “script” gives nothing to do other than repeat his long in the tooth bit from the first film for over two hours.

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“Throw in the Kitchen Sink” casting of Resurgence like the writing style of its “script.” Image: FOX

For no other purpose than to connect this with the first film, Judd Hirsch returns as Goldblum’s father. He has his own movie in this. They turned him into the comedy relief guy that Randy Quaid served in the first film. Poor Robert Loggia, this was one of his last appearances and he gets 30 seconds of non verbal screen time while Hirsch takes us on a bad Jewish stereotype bus ride to once again  Area 51 to kvetch at his son, David. Why the kids along the way that he picks up? Well, you need young kids to represent the crowd that didn’t see the first film, right?

Bill Pullman returns as a disheveled homeless looking president who compliments Goldblum’s “I knew this” with “I told you so.” We know that beard is coming off when he comes back to form and we know Pullman must die with an Armageddon rip off ending that brings no tears and thankfully no treacly, diabetes inducing Aerosmith song.

The original Star Trek timeline is done. No chance of Data Prime in the Abrams Kelvin Timeline leaves open Brent Spiner to be the other comic relief of the film. The writers ignore that it was pretty clear he died in the first film. Now if you want to argue against that, fine. However the writers also ignore the fact that this guy was comatose and bed-ridden for twenty years and pops awake and starts walking all over the place despite the horrible muscle atrophy that would have developed over that time. Spiner’s cynical job is to connect us to the first film and add the mad scientist element to an already convoluted screenplay.

The Rest of the Cast

Make sure we have a main Chinese female action hero to pander to the Chinese markets and check off the female action hero interest. Let the Chinese develop the moon base and give the command of said base to the Chinese. Before the left wing, easily offended readers get up in arms, this is not a racist statement. It is cynical though. This was a calculated move to hedge bets. They KNEW they were making a lousy film, but if they could just eke out a decent opening weekend in China and other Asian markets, this just might work.

Throw in a bunch of young, attractive and boring  20 somethings to appeal to the middle and high school demographic that likely didn’t see the first film; and you complete the cynical recipe for disaster film 101.

Don’t package all of these “world cultures” together and talk “diversity.” No, this has nothing to do with a reach out over color lines. The only color that mattered here was green.

This was “throw enough against the wall and see what sticks” cynical filmmaking. In away this is a kind of economic racism. Were the producers saying: “Get me a few Jew, a Chinaman and a several blacks and make sure a few of them are women?” In a sense isn’t that what they are doing?

Fox didn’t screen the film in advance for the press. Always a bad sign. I just want to know why did it have to be this way? Dean Devlin invoked 9/11 as an impetus for the sequel. Really? Don’t go connecting this CGI claptrap to a real landmark disaster that killed thousands. The New York attacks were in 2001, why wasn’t this out by then? The first film was a monster hit. I know Emerich and Devlin got sidetracked with Godzilla. After that debacle, this should have been on the griddle to serve right up as a comeback.

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Awww yeah! Everything’s bigger in ID2! Except the ideas. Image: FOX

The “Story”

Aliens invaded. Aliens defeated. Aliens come back. That’s how simple this should have been. But when you are pandering to so many money targets, the actual story takes a back seat. We make sure we work in an African warlord and Will Smith’s kid to secure a diverse cast.

Just write a good story and people will come. Don’t rip off every good and bad science fiction action film of the last twenty years. The whole friendly alien thing…where the hell did that come from? The Queen Alien should have James Cameron shaking his head, but wait….let’s make her 300 feet tall! Yeah, that’s original and the audience will love it! Now we have some monster movie in there because, you know, they’ve got Kong Island and Godzilla 2 going on…let’s cover that market while we’re at it.

Fit in every reference to the first film where we can legally squeeze in Will Smith without paying him. That will keep his presence attached and people talking. Let’s throw in lots of action scenes and go big. I mean really big! Everything is bigger in this! Bigger ships! Bigger aliens! Bigger cast!

Everything except bigger ideas.

There isn’t a fresh one to be found. And for a tenth of what the effects cost, they could have a few in a real script.

They had the resources to do this. They had the money. They had ability to get good writing. They had the time. This is like Indy IV…we waited this long for THIS?

So either the filmmakers are truly incompetent or they set out to make a cynical piece of product that would hit all the proper marks to make money. You don’t get to be Roland Emerich by being incompetent. So I am going with the latter.

Resurgence is Cynema. It is one giant, expensive, shining example of accountants and market analysts making a film.

The “Special” Effects

We waited two decades for this? Green screen action set pieces? Really? The ideas were just so fucking huge for Resurgence, that it took twenty years to realize them on screen? Where? I task the filmmakers now, show me where.  What idea was just so broad in scope that it took all this time to get it up on the screen? You mean making a giant 300 foot queen alien? Didn’t Stan Winston do this better (and without cloying computer animation) in 1986’s Aliens (another Fox film)– ten full years before the first film? Granted she wasn’t 300 feet, but the IDEAS, work and artistry that went into constructing and animating the queen in James Cameron’s film was far more breathtaking (and still is) than computer animation.

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Stan Winston’s FX wizards working on a really special effect from “Aliens” in 1985. Image: Stan Winston School

Don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining.

Emerich got caught up as a filmmaker and for whatever reason, Resurgence got dropped down the priority list. Don’t go into the media and tell everyone that the ideas onscreen were just so mind numbing in their expanse that the human race had to wait decades to implement them. There isn’t a single thing in this film that took twenty years to make. Not one.

They dusted off the idea, trotted out the cast members still alive and willing to do it and then went through the accounting and marketing/analyst departments to build a film around a product, not a film.

And you know what? When you do it like that, you get what you pay for.

I sat in a mostly empty theater. The ending was supposed to incite some type of applause with Brent Spiner gleefully announcing we are taking the war to the aliens. This jingoism hit the wall and dropped with a resounding thud. The few people around me just got up and walked out. Not even a chuckle.

I wonder if they were as disgusted as I was or wondering, like me, why they didn’t just walk out earlier on?

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