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Posts Tagged ‘apocalyptic film’

Mom and Dad Save the World (1992)


Some kids believe their parents can do anything. Dick and Marge’s children have outgrown that stage, but little does anyone know that this middle-aged couple are about to save planet Earth…

Mom and Dad Save the World is a sci fi adventure film, loosely parodying Flash Gordon and similar space opera serials, directed by Greg Beeman. It stars Jon Lovitz, Jeffrey Jones, Teri Garr, and Eric Idle.

Emperor Tod Spengo has been the leader of the planet Spengo since he overthrew the previous king, It is a planet of idiots, but that’s okay because Tod is an idiot as well. However, he has a clever plan – blow up the Earth so that Spengo will be the greatest planet in the galaxy through sheer lack of competition (I did say he was an idiot). However, when he looks to see where exactly his Death Ray will impact on that stupid blue planet, he sees a middle-aged housewife exercising in the backyard, and is instantly smitten. Planet Earth’s imminent destruction can wait, he decides, until after he has captured his alluring Earth woman and made her his bride. Marge Nelson (said alluring Earth woman) and her husband Dick are about to leave on a trip to Santa Barbara to celebrate their 20th anniversary, little suspecting that some madman wishes to reduce their home planet to atoms. They find out in a hurry, though, when Tod uses his Magnobeam to abduct them, station wagon, luggage, and all, and bring them to Spengo. Now these middle-aged parents are forced to fight for their lives, their freedom, and the continued existence of planet Earth against the forces of unfathomable evil idiotic petulance and atrocious fashion sense in order to escape the clutches of Emperor Tod Spengo and get home safely. Naturally, hilarity will ensue.

This is a pretty silly movie, in the same category as Spaceballs. Tod Spengo is basically Emperor Ming as an overweight, insecure loser, which makes his antics laughable when they would be frightening on a serious villain. In fact, all the denizens of Spengo have a deadpan goofiness about them that makes it hard to take the story seriously. They follow Emperor Tod because he’s the emperor and they’re all idiots. The rebels see rocks as astonishingly advanced technology (perhaps in a shoutout to the Ewoks’ victory over the more advanced storm troopers in Return of the Jedi), and they believe stealth can be found in disguising themselves as birds of a scale that aren’t native to the planet. By far the most dangerous creature on the planet is the Lubb-Lubb, an adorable little mushroom-like creature capable of biting off your arm. You will be laughing and facepalming at everything that happens on Spengo. And that’s the whole point – this movie takes a theoretically serious story, adds a strange twist, and lets the thing spiral off into chaos. It puts a suburban middle-aged couple in the role of unlikely heroes, Spengo et al in the role of unlikely villains, and White Bird’s forces in the role of unlikely rebel reinforcements.

That said, this was a very well-done parody. The special effects were suitably campy, including the creature effects on the bulldog-men and fish-ladies (implied to be the male and female counterparts of the same species), the sets were gleefully complex to the point of absurdity, and the costumes were divided into two categories: state-mandated atrocious fashion, and loincloths. The acting was spot-on and sufficiently overdone for the genre, and the actors seemed to be having a great time poking fun at space opera conventions even as their characters took the whole thing seriously. Except for Eric Idle. He’s like that all the time.

If you’re looking for a goofy little send-up of the space opera genre and you’ve already watched Spaceballs more times than is entirely beneficial to your mental health, hunt down this little gem. It’s goofy and fun and more than a little insane, and that’s just the way I like my parodies.

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30 Days of Night (2007)

04/11/2011 1 comment

Welcome to Barrow, Alaska: the northernmost point in the United States – so far north, in fact, that there’s a span of about a month where the sun don’t come up at all. Ordinarily that don’t bother most of the locals; those that don’t like it head south for sunnier climes and the rest just hunker down like the hardcore Alaskans they are. This year, though, things are a little bit different, as the prospect of a thirty-day dark has brought some hungry visitors to Barrow, and they’re not feeling too neighborly…

30 Days of Night is a vampire horror film directed by David Slade and based on the comic book miniseries of the same named by IDW Publishing. It stars Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, and Ben Foster.

As the quiet Alaskan town of Barrow prepares for its annual “thirty days of night” in the middle of the polar winter, Sheriff Eben Oleson notices that someone is taking great pains to isolate the residents, sabotaging the town’s communications and transport. When Eben’s soon-to-be-ex-wife, Stella, misses the last plane south, it looks like she is going to be trapped there for the long night as well, which makes things awkward between the two of them as they try hard to avoid each other in a town whose current population is about 200 people. Eben discovers a twitchy stranger in town is stirring up trouble, necessitating his arrest and jailing. the stranger is far from upset about this, saying that death is coming, and he seems to be under the impression that death is gonna help him out for all the good work he did on its behalf. Eben thinks the guy is just a loon until the sun goes down for the last time, and some other newcomers attack the local telecommunication center and power supply, leaving the town dark and completely cut off from the outside world. As Eben investigates, he and the other locals make a horrifying discovery: a pack of vampires has descended on the town, taking advantage of the long period of darkness to feast on the blood of the living. Now, Sheriff Oleson is in the middle of a desperate fight to save the remaining townfolk and last through the darkness, hoping to make it until the sun rises again…

Now, anyone with a decent working knowledge of world geography knows that above the Arctic Circle the sun doesn’t seem to behave like it does in the rest of the Northern Hemisphere. There’s a stretch in the middle of winter where the sun doesn’t rise. At all. In reality it isn’t as abrupt as it is in the movie, with a stretch of days where it just gets a little twilight-y without actual daytime, during the period depicted as full dark in the movie. The real-life Barrow is quite a bit more populous, boasting about 4,000 people with State PD rather than a local sheriff, and the airport doesn’t shut down in the winter except during storms. That’s the trouble with naming your fictional setting after a real town – the facts get in the way. But hot damn if the concept doesn’t make a neat vampire story. The vampires look like human-shaped sharks rather than merely pretty, predatory humans, and they’re ruthless and vicious and gigantic douchebags to their food source simply because they know they’ve cut off every avenue of escape. In the comic they get one hell of a smackdown from a master vampire who wants to keep up the Masquerade that this bunch are so happily wrecking; not so here. The solid black eyes and the mouth full of sharp fangs are chilling and psychopathic, and the extreme measures they take to make sure that absolutely nobody gets out is so brutally ruthless that I actually found myself a bit afraid of them. Those eyes have no soul. These vampires will eat your face, and enjoy it.

As far as the human cast goes, Josh Harnett fares well as Eben Oleson, but the other locals seem to fade into the background as potential vampire snacks, even his soon-to-be-ex who, while pretty handy in a pinch, never offers any clues as to the reasons for their split. The other humans are largely forgettable, and all in all the vampire sharks are more interesting than the townfolk. The dialogue felt a bit hackneyed at times – not so much a problem with what was in the script so much as the delivery. While the plot was mostly engaging, in the end most of the characters felt less like real locals in a real town way up in Bum Frapping Egypt, Alaska, and more like what they were – largely disposable characters in a vampire movie.

While the concept of vampires above the Arctic Circle had promise and the vampires themselves looked great, uninteresting characters and slightly odd dialogue made this more or less a conventional vampire movie in a new and interesting setting. While overall it was engaging as a vampire movie, unfortunately I think the comic miniseries did it somewhat better. Vampire fans should enjoy it, though. Rent it sometime.

2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984)

04/04/2011 2 comments

Okay, raise your hand if you watched 2001: A Space Odyssey. The whole thing? Good. Keep your hand up if you understood 2001: A Space Odyssey. Uh huh. Keep your hand up if you understood it without reading the tie-in novel? Yeah. I thought so. That’s why Arthur C. Clarke wrote a sequel, which was naturally made into a movie, in an effort to help explain what the hell was going on to audiences who have been confused for the last 16 years. Did it work? Let’s find out.

2010: The Year We Make Contact is a science fiction film directed by Peter Hyams that serves as the sequel to the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. This film was adapted from Clarke’s novel 2010: Odyssey Two, which also serves as a sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Steady… no use getting confused already.) It stars John Lithgow, Roy Scheider, Helen Mirren, Bob Balaban, Kier Dullea, and the uber-creepy voice of Douglas Rain.

Nine years have passed since the epic mind-screw that was the failure of the Discovery One‘s mission to Jupiter, caused when HAL 9000 lapsed into Killer Robot territory and killed four out of the five crewmen, while the fifth, David Bowman, disappeared into an alien monolith about 2 kilometers long orbiting Jupiter and suffered an acid trip so bad that he evolved into a giant space fetus and left audience horribly, horribly confused. Somehow, the blame for all this (though maybe not the giant space fetus thing) has landed on the shoulders of one Dr. Heywood Floyd, who resigned his position as the head of the National Council of Aeronautics in shame. Tension has been growing between the United States and the Soviet Union (which in this timeline still exists, complete with Cold War, in the year 2010) as both nations prepare to go find out what the hell happened aboard the Discovery, with a slight wrinkle: The Russians will have their ship, the Alexei Romanov ready first, but American technicians will be needed to parse out the nature of HAL’s malfunction and to operate the American Discovery. Since the Discovery‘s orbit is decaying, it is likely to crash into the moon Io before the Americans are able to get their shit together, Russia and America decide to team up to find out what the hell happened. Once there, they make a few interesting discoveries: one, there is chlorophyll on Europa. Two, Europa gets really mad when they try to figure out where the chrorophyll came from. Three, HAL wasn’t homicidal, he just got confused when told to conceal information about the monolith and decided the best way to follow his orders was to kill everyone. Four, David Bowman is back. Sort of. Five, something wonderful is about to happen. And six, Dr. Floyd discovers the best way to get close to a hot cosmonaut who can’t speak English is to just be handy during a terrifying aerobraking maneuver. Down on Earth, however, tensions between America and Russia continue to intensify, and the force of both countries are starting to get ready to seriously throw down. However, when it appears that “something wonderful” is manifesting as countless thousands of little monoliths devourin Jupiter, the respective crews of both ships will have to work together to get clear of Jupiter, lest something wonderfully annihilate them all.

Good news: This is a straightforward narrative. You can all relax on that account, secure in the knowledge that you won’t have to watch it with a team of philosophy majors and compare notes afterwards. HOWEVER – you do have to have at least a vague idea of what happened in the previous film. They do recap what happened, as far as anyone on Earth can tell, but for obvious reasons they don’t explain anything about part four (remember, the acid trip?). You can catch up pretty quickly, though, so that’s good. However, something strange happened between 1968 and 1984: the space effects got slightly worse. They didn’t have greenscreen effects in 1968 (so far as I know), so they worked around it, to great effect. They did have greenscreen effects in 1984, though, and they used them to add a bit of realism to the spacewalking effects. They mostly succeeded, but if you know what to look for you can see the outlines. Not bad, though, and it gets a pass. Also, they get bonus points for getting Kier Dullea and Douglas Rain to reprise their respective roles as David Bowman and HAL 9000, though creepily Dullea doesn’t appear to have aged at all in 16 years. The addition of Roy Scheider, previously seen in Jaws was also a good choice, and would set him up for the sort of “wonderment of exporing new worlds” vibe he would give off in seaQuest DSV.

They also explain a lot of the trippy stuff that happened in the previous movie, which is good, but I can’t help but wonder if that would have even been necessary if the first movie had simply been a bit more straightforward. It doesn’t help that moth movies were trying to compress about two hundred pages of narrative into two hours of movie, but in that respect I think 2010 manages a clearer interpretation than its cinematic predecessor. It doesn’t jump around (let alone the first one’s jump of several hundred thousand years), and it follows a straight path to a definite conclusion. The story is tight and linear, and it actually makes itself understood. Yay.

If you liked 2001 but were left a bit light on explanations, try out 2010. It’ll help you understand most of what happened in 2001, and brings the whole story arc to a very impressive conclusion.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)


With every successful movie, there is a good chance that the studios will want to repeat their success. Occasionally, this may result in an unrelated film being repurposed as a sequel, but more often the same people will simply make a sequel. As sequels go, there are three basic types:

  1. Sucky sequel: This sequel falls short (often far short) of its predecessor’s level of quality, and comes off as an obvious, half-assed money grab.
  2. Equivalent sequel: The sequel does not fall short of its predecessor’s level of quality, but neither does it improve on things.
  3. Improved sequel: A rarity, the improved sequel not only meets but also exceeds the quality of its predecessor, taking the concept in new directions that still fit with the established storyline.

In a pleasant surprise, this film finds itself in the third category. And it kicks all kinds of ass.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day is a science fiction action film directed by James Cameron, and is the first sequel to The Terminator. It stars Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick, and some really cool CGI effects.

It has been eleven years since Sarah Connor was last menaced by the (nearly) unstoppable Terminator. John Connor, the future savior of humanity, is now a troubled youth of ten, living with foster parents in Los Angeles after his mother was arrested for trying to bomb a computer factory and sent to a hospital for the criminally insane. Even though he spent his entire childhood being prepared for the impending apocalypse, John isn’t sure what to believe now. Little does he know that in the future, Skynet is going to make another temporally-assisted attempt on his life, this time with the T-1000, a newer and more dangerous model of Terminator composed of liquid metal, with the ability to mimic anything it touches, including people. Fortunately, the human resistance is able to send back yet another guardian, this time a familiar face – a T-800 identical to the one who previously tried to kill Sarah, but reprogrammed to defend John. The two converge on John in a desperate race, and their mutual target is about to learn that his mother’s crazy rantings are anything but delusional…

When I first saw this movie, I hadn’t seen the original in years, but I heard all the hype about the groundbreaking computer generated effects – only two years since The Abyss, in which Cameron also used groundbreaking CG effects, except the hard way. It was amazing to see the advances in CG since then, even though in the fifteen minutes or so of transformation time the T-1000 had, only a relative handful used CGI. And it looked amazing. As the first movie which had a major character be partially (and in a couple scenes completely) created in CGI, the results were impressive and eye-popping. Even though morphing effects had been in use since Willow, and CG-created characters were as old as Young Sherlock Holmes, this time through it looked amazing. Arnie, of course, gets enhanced with old-school makeup effects and animatronics, and the two types of effects mesh well.

The acting was also superb. Linda Hamilton, having previously played Sarah as a meek little mouse of a woman being menaced by things that technically hadn’t happened yet, buffed up to play Sarah Connors, Mother of the Human Resistance, and I could easily believe that she was a little unhinged, albeit with a very good reason – she’d been beaten over the head with a really bad future, she was having nightmares about the impending nuclear apocalypse, and she’d been told that her son was the only thing standing between humanity and its own annihilation. The movie does make it clear that even though John loves his mom, her behavior does not make her a good mother. If anything, it makes her borderline psychotic, to the point that she nearly tips over the edge into the same territory as the focused, emotionless killers whose creation she was trying to prevent. The opens the door for a surprisingly philosophical discussion about humanity, as the inhuman T-800 turns out to be a more dedicated parental figure to John than even Sarah was. Robert Patrick makes an effective rival Terminator as well, sleeker and faster than the T-800, in effect a leopard compared to Arnold’s grizzly bear. Also, sharp-eyed fans of the first will recognize Earl Boen reprising his role as Dr. Silberman, the police psychiatrist in the original, now responsible for Sarah’s care in this one (and about as effective), though of course he gets belted across the face with the truth in a very satisfying sequence at the psychiatric hospital.

It is very rare to find a sequel that improves so drastically upon the first, but it is not surprising to find that James Cameron managed to pull it off. If you enjoyed the first but felt it needed something more, watch Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and then just sit back and enjoy the action.

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)


H. P. Lovecraft knew a long time ago that there was a fate worse than death. However, this was not, as many believe, insanity. In the world envisioned by Lovecraft, everyone must remain slightly deluded in order to protect themselves from the more horrifying truths of the universe, and from truly comprehending our own place in it. Therefore, in Lovecraft’s universe the only fate worse than death is stark raving sanity.

John Trent is just looking for a few answers. He is about to find them… whether he wants to or not.

In the Mouth of Madness in a horror film directed by John Carpenter and written by Michael de Luca. The third film in what Carpenter calls his Apocalypse Trilogy (following The Thing and Prince of Darkness), this movie stars Sam Neill, Julie Carmen, J├╝rgen Prochnow, David Warner, Frances Bay, John Glover, and Bernie Casey.

Insurance investigator John Trent is very good at his job, winnowing out the truth behind would-be insurance scams. When hideously-popular horror writer Stephen King Sutter Cane comes up missing, with his latest book still pending, Trent thinks finding the reclusive author will be a snap – a publicity stunt meant to drive up demand for the expected book. These books are already wildly popular, but can cause sanity-shredding effects in readers who might not have all their marbles to start. Trent doesn’t believe the hype, but when he starts reading Cane’s books to find out what all the hoo-ha is about he starts to suffer vivid nightmares of monsters and deformed humanoids. He also finds that the cover art of Cane’s paperbacks contain strange red-lined shapes that when lined up properly, form a map of the state of New Hampshire, pointing to a town that only exists in Cane’s novels – Hobb’s End.

Sensing a possible lead, Trent goes looking for this town with Linda Styles, Cane’s editor, sent along to assist Trent. Unexpectedly, he does find Hobb’s End – populated by the fictional characters and storylines from Cane’s books. However, little does he know that his terror is only beginning, as he discovers that Hobb’s End lies far outside the comfortable reality he knows…

Throughout the 80’s, John Carpenter became known for some really kickass horror movies, and In the Mouth of Madness is no exception. Starting off as a mystery, in the style of many of Lovecraft’s short stories (and if you know Lovecraft’s stuff, you already have a fair idea how Trent’s journey will end), the story soon starts down a very dark tunnel that will have you wondering how “real” Trent’s world is, and for that matter whether Hobb’s End is more or less “real” than the “real world”. Numerous authors have since played with recursive reality in this way, like Danielewski’s House of Leaves, but this is really damn hard to pull off in visual media. I am happy to say the Carpenter nailed it, with the budget and resources of an 80’s horror movie. There is no CGI, and truthfully you don’t see many monsters (and what monsters are on screen are dimly perceived at best). However, it is still clear that Hobb’s End infects those who live and visit there, until the veil of sanity is finally clawed away from Trent’s eyes, showing him the true nature of things.

This is one of two movies I’ve seen where Sam Neill’s character goes batshit crazy, and he does “insane” well. He doesn’t overact it, not even at that moment where you realize… yup, his cheese has officially slid off his cracker. Trent and Cane are the only two characters that get any sort of fleshing out – but that’s the point. The whole premise relies on taking writing conventions and batting them all over the floor like a cat with a toy mouse. The people in Hobb’s End are simultaneously fictional and real, in ways that cheerfully stretch the fabric of this movie’s universe, until something has to give. And if that isn’t mindbending enough, several characters even discuss their own fictionality, especially when they do weird things because “that’s how he (Cane) wrote me”. Of course, by the end the fourth wall is gleefully shredded, and… well, there’s a reason why this is the third movie in the Apocalypse Trilogy.

If you like a good, trippy horror movie that messes with your perceptions of “real” and “fictional”, check this movie out. John Carpenter ably pays homage to Lovecraft’s work in ways that few directors have been able to do before or since. And remember: Reality is only what we tell each other it is.

Aliens (1986)


It has been decades since Ripley last tangled with the ultimate killing machine. She never wanted to go back to LV-426, but in the time that she was in cryosleep, somebody had a great idea: establish a colony there and terraform the dead planet to make it habitable for human life.

No, wait. That’s not a great idea. That’s a bad idea.

So now Ripley has to go back to the place of her nightmares, just because Weyland-Yutani decided to be an idiot…

Aliens is a science fiction action movie and the first sequel to Alien. It was written and directed by James Cameron, and stars Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, William Hope, and Bill Paxton, plus the creature effects of Stan Winston.

When Ellen Ripley, sole survivor of the massacre and subsequent destruction of the Nostromo is rescued and revived from hypersleep, she discovers that 57 years have passed since her harrowing ordeal. Called to task for the Nostromo‘s destruction by a panel of Weyland-Yutani executives, her account of a hostile alien life form accidentally picked up on LV-426 is met with skepticism, because she blew the thing out an airlock to save herself rather than capturing the specimen for study, and because, to her horror, there has been a terraforming colony living there for the past 20 years, and they haven’t griped about any hostile wildlife. Her judgment is called into question, and she loses her piloting license. Not long after, W-Y loses contact with the terraforming colony (surprise!), and she is called in as a consultant on how to handle these monsters that don’t exist, but which haunt her nightmares every night. Reluctantly she agrees to go, hoping that facing her fears with help her get a good night’s sleep, and she is sent with a squadron of Space Marines aboard the Sulaco to check out the conspicuous absence of communications. The Marines are confident that they will be able to handle whatever is wrong, because they’re Space Marines, dammit, but Ripley has seen one of these things plow through six of her seven-man crew on the Nostromo, and has her doubts, made worse by the inclusion of android artificial person Bishop, who fortunately is a newer model that is Three Laws compliant. When they arrive, they find the colony almost completely abandoned save for a traumatized young girl named Rebecca Newt, who saw her entire family slaughtered by the things. Hilarity ensues when xenomorphs attack, wiping out most of the Space Marines and taking out the dropship that would have taken the survivors out of there. Now Ripley and the others will have to draw upon all available resources and their own ingenuity to survive…

I was impressed when I saw this movie for the first time. Building on the plotline established by Alien, this is a sequel that doesn’t feel like a sequel so much as a natural extension of the first – something that is apparently really hard to do, to judge by 95% of the sequels I’ve seen. Ripley is actually realistically affected by the horrors of the first movie, suffering from nightmares and flashbacks consistent with PTSD, and who could blame her? Then W-Y throws her under the bus regarding her actions aboard the Nostromo (kind of a dick move on their part, but a logical reaction to an apparently unbelieveable story), only to make it clear later that, yeah, we knew about them the whole time, and we didn’t want you jeopardizing access to possibly the coolest living weapon of our generation. Even here their motives make sense in a dystopic sort of way.

The acting here is also very well-done. Sigourney Weaver, reprising her role as Ripley, demonstrated that Alien wasn’t just a fluke (as she has continued to prove in the decades since), and Paul Reiser is affably slimy as Carter Burke, the guy who manages to wrangle Ripley back to LV-426 with the promise that W-Y will do everything he can to ensure the Xenomorph colony is destroyed (*cough*liar*cough*). And if creature effects can be considered actors, then Stan Winston’s Alien Queen rig, the most detailed single monster he had ever built to date, is still one of the most impressive animatronic puppets I have ever seen, alongside, er… much of Winston’s other work. The establishment of a hive society with a central breeding Queen takes its cue from the social insects of Earth, but ups the ante from fighting a single individual to outmaneuvering hundreds of Xenos, all coordinated with a single, thoroughly badass matriarch.

If you enjoyed the original Alien, I highly recommend Aliens. While it’s more action than horror, it’s a satisfying continuation of Ripley’s story, and capably expands on the cold insectile ways of the Xenomorphs to make them seem more like an organic species, intelligent, deadly, and brutally efficient. Every sci fi fan should have this in their collection.

Independence Day (1996)


Alien invasion movies have had a long and illustrious history since the fifties, when flying saucers menaced the military, or alien shapeshifters copied your friends and family. In every case, however, the aliens would invade in relative secrecy, quietly trying to take over a small town before (presumably) moving on to the rest of the planet.

Then Roland Emmerich came along and said, “You know, that’s kind of stupid.” This movie is what resulted.

Independence Day (Roland Emmerich Breaks Shit Part I) is a science fiction movie directed by the king of monumental damage, Roland Emmerich, who co-wrote the film with Dean Devlin. It stars Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Margaret Colin, Vivica A. Fox, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Robert Loggia, and Randy Quaid. This movie sparked a minor wave of disaster movies throughout the 1990’s.

On July 2, a massive alien ship sets up housekeeping near Earth’s moon and sends out a series of 15-mile-wide ships, positioning them around Earth. While this is happening, television broadcasts around the world start suffering from rhythmic patterns of interference. In New York City, cable technician and chess enthusiast David Levinson (Goldblum) discovers that the interference is due to a signal being sent through the world’s satellites; at first he thinks the interference is harmless and can be filtered out – but then he notices the numerous broadcasts covering the arriving spaceships and suspects a darker purpose. With the aid of his father Julius (Hirsch), he races towards Washington D.C. to warn President Whitmore (Pullman) of the attack. When his evidence is presented, the White House is evacuated aboard Air Force One, narrowly avoiding fiery death as the aliens strike. The coordinated attack takes out Washington D.C., Los Angeles, New York, and a lot of other major cities around the world. Boy, does it suck being right.

Military attempts at a counterattack meet with failure, as the huge city-destroying ships are protected by an impenetrable force field. However, a single fighter pilot, Captain Steve Hiller (Smith) manages to outfly and outwit one of the attack saucers sent out after Earth’s forces, netting a minor victory and one unconscious alien pilot. Hiller joins a caravan of refugees and leads them to the infamous Area 51, where it is discovered that (surprise!) the military has known about the existence of aliens since the late 50’s, and has been studying both the dead pilots from previous landings and the technology they brought with them when they crashed. The President is naturally Not Happy that he was kept out of the loop for the same of national security, but optimistic that they might be able to discover a weak spot in the alien technology. Their only hope is that the alien computers are compatible with MacOS…

Independence Day was a fun little movie and my personal introduction to the sort of widespread destruction that Emmerich would adopt as his trademark in later disaster movies (see my review of 2012). Gaining his inspiration for an open alien invasion while he was working on Stargate, Emmerich pulls out all the stops to establish the tactics used by an alien race that seriously doesn’t give a damn about us and wants us all to die in a fire, which they helpfully provide, free of charge. While they are roughly humanoid and share many of our weaknesses, their motivations are terrifying and alien: we cannot reason with them or strike up a compromise. Their technology is frightening and efficient. And they want our planet. The ultimate solution is also a sly nod to War of the Worlds, if you really think about it.

On the human side of things, the cast was interesting and diverse. Jeff Goldblum is effective as the twitchy genius (that is, every role he’s ever played since the remake of The Fly), and Will Smith, in his first major Hollywood role, quickly establishes himself as a major actor and a force to be reckoned with. Randy Quaid plays… Randy Quaid, really, but with a troubled past and a true heart that manages to avoid his usual tendency to be a magnet for slapstick buffoonery. The supporting cast is also engaging, especially One Scene Wonder Dr. Okun, manifesting closer to Brent Spiner’s true personality than he ever was as Lieutenant Commander Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

If you’re looking for a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat alien invasion movie with widespread destruction of recognizeable landmarks and memorable characters, check out Independence Day. Roland Emmerich definitely delivers.