Tag Archives: independence day

Review – Arrival (12a) [2016]

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Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Denis Villeneuve – Prisoners, Sicario, Untitled Blade Runner film

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Johann Johannsson – Prisoners, The Theory of Everything, Sicario, The Mercy

Aliens invading Earth is not an original idea. Since 1996, there has been an overabundance of alien invasion movies. From the entertaining (Independence Day I and Men in Black I); to the risible (Mars Attacks! and Battlefield Earth); to the Tom Cruise saves the day flicks (War of the Worlds, Oblivion and Edge of Tomorrow); to a board game adaptation (Battleship, starring deserved Golden Raspberry winner Rihanna); to comic book adaptations (The Avengers I and Man of Steel); to the dull (Battle: LA and Independence Day II), audiences have seemingly seen it all when it comes to this genre. So how can Arrival differentiate itself and stamp its own mark?

One of the twelve UFOs. This one has stopped in rural Montana, with beautiful fields and mountains for scenery.

One of the twelve UFOs. This one has stopped in rural Montana, with beautiful fields and mountains for scenery.

Arrival is based on the short story by Ted Chiang. Twelve UFOs (shaped like giant contact-lenses) station themselves on random locations in the world. Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) of the US military asks Louise (Amy Adams), an expert linguistics lecturer, to use her philological skills to help the US government. Louise agrees and together with Ian (Jeremy Renner), a scientist, they try to work out what the aliens are saying, why they have come, and what their intentions are.

Concurrently, Louise keeps thinking of her daughter, Hannah. Somehow, Louise’s interactions with Hannah have a link to the aliens. But what is it?

Arrival is an interesting and original sci-fi film. Unlike the movies listed above, this one has no action sequences. Indeed, it is anti-action and does not depend on mass special effects either. Rather, the movie stresses the need for dialogue between the humans and the great other. This is most refreshing as guns, explosions, and the annihilation of aliens has long since become a sci-fi trope.

The stress for dialogue also enables viewers to comprehend the nature of our own languages and how they have shaped societies, which is interesting. Furthermore, the film gives us insight into a lost past in which peoples who had no common language made peace and worked with one other: for example, when the Spanish and Portuguese invaded Latin America in the late-fifteen century, and when the British began forging an empire in India in the seventeenth century. (Granted, the Spanish, Portuguese and British killed their fair share of the indigenous populations. But they still had to communicate and work with those they didn’t kill.)

Louise (Amy Adams) looking up in awe at the aliens. Her big blue eyes are so expressive and hint at a plethora of emotions running through her to add depth to her character.

Louise (Amy Adams) looking up in awe at the aliens. Her big blue eyes are so expressive and hint at a plethora of emotions running through her to add depth to her character.

Yet, as interesting as it is watching humans trying to work a new language, it is not particularly stimulating. At times, it is like watching someone untie a bunch of tangled wires or put together a complex, multi-piece puzzle. Both of which are fascinating, but become tedious after a while. Arrival does, however, do its best to keep viewers attentive. Principally, this is done by Forest Whitaker’s character (repeatedly) urging Amy Adams/Louise and Jeremy Renner/Ian to find out the intentions of the aliens because the US, Chinese, Russian and Sudanese(?) governments are preparing to launch military assaults on the UFOs/aliens. It is a good method, but one that becomes cheap and wearisome after a while.

Moreover, Arrival’s ending has two elements: one is very clever and satisfying; the other, though, streams into wishful thinking. This leaves audiences with a peculiar feeling. One wants to praise the finale, yet one cannot help but feel that it weakens the film as most of mankind (realists) understand that international diplomacy does not work the way the movie illustrates; self-interest being one of the many reasons for this.

But for all the plot’s problems, the actors perform well; especially, Amy Adams. Her character is multifaceted since Louise is witty, successful and hardworking, but also insecure and in grief. The pressure of trying to understand the Alien’s language rapidly gets at her, as well, and the way it manifests itself makes for curious viewing.

Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) telling Louise and Ian (Jeremy Renner) to find out why the aliens have come and what they want. And fast. Otherwise, there will be war.

Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) telling Louise and Ian (Jeremy Renner) to find out why the aliens have come and what they want. And fast. Otherwise, there will be war.

Unusually, the male characters are marginalised. Normally in Hollywood, it is the other way round. But Arrival has smartly inverted this cliché. Renner’s character/Ian is a good support for Louise and they work well together. Whitaker’s character/Colonel Weber is less so. He has one purpose and it is a relief that his character does not stray into the puffed-up general bad-guy trope, like Steven Lang’s villainous army man in Avatar. This is a good thing too for two reasons: one, Whitaker/Weber is not a villain (on the contrary, he is just a man who is afraid of the unknown); and, two, it helps to make Arrival something different.

Arrival is a brave and admirable alien invasion drama. It is distinctive as it refuses to go down the action and CGI route. Instead, it relies on its characters and the quest for dialogue and peace. The movie achieves this with success. For sure, the movie has issues, notably its ending. Nevertheless, Arrival must be commended. It stamps its own mark in a genre that has otherwise become generic and braindead.

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Review – Independence Day II: Resurgence (12a) [2016]

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Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

  • Roland Emmerich – Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, Stargate

Cast:

  • Liam Hemsworth – The Last Song, The Expendables II, The Hunger Games I-III(ii), The Duel
  • Maika Monroe – The Guest, It Follows, The 5th Wave, The Scent of Rain & Lightning
  • Jessie T Usher – When The Game Stands Tall, Survivor’s Remorse, Almost Christmas
  • Bill Pullman – Independence Day, The Grudge, Torchwood, The Equaliser, Brother In Laws
  • Sela Ward – The Day After Tomorrow, The Stepfather, Gone Girl, Graves
  • William Fichtner – Armageddon, The Dark Knight, Entourage, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, If
  • Deobia Oparei – Thunderbirds, Your Highness, Pirates of the Caribbean IV, Game of Thrones
  • Angela Yeung Wing – Hitman: Agent 47, Ferryman
  • Jeff Goldblum – Independence Day, Jurassic Park I-III, Law & Order, Mortdecai, Thor III
  • Judd Hirsch – Independence Day, A Beautiful Mind, Sharknado II, The Muppets, Wild Oats
  • Chin Han – The Dark Knight, 2012, Contagion, Captain America IIGhost In The ShellMusic Composer:
  • Harald Kloser – The Day After Tomorrow, 10,000 BC, 2012, White House Down, Discarnate
  • Thomas Wander – 10,000 BC, 2012, White House Down

Twenty years ago, Director Roland Emmerich made the great disaster movie, Independence Day (ID1). Aliens came from space and blew up the White House. This was innovative and spectacular to watch as no-one had used CGI on such a scale before. Yet, that was in 1996. Could the same ideals that fuelled ID1 to success back then, have the same impact on viewers today?

The aliens, with its enormous space ship, destroying an American city. (It's hard to know which one as the cities all looked like smoke, ash and rubble after a while.)

The aliens, with its enormous space ship, destroying an American city. (It’s hard to know which one as the cities all looked like smoke, ash and rubble after a while.)

Independence Day II (ID2) is basically the same film as ID1. The key differences are that this one starts in outer space. While there, humans learn that the aliens have awoken after twenty years in hibernation (or whatever aliens do whilst in a state of torpor). Now, the aliens are returning to destroy the Earth again (for reasons that are never explained).

Only, this time, the aliens have even larger spaceships and more powerful weapons than first time around. All the nations of the world, across all the continents, must unite and work together if they are to stand a chance of defending the human race from extinction.

The aliens unleashing their arsenal upon London. (Haven't we seen this sight before?)

The aliens unleashing their arsenal upon London. (Haven’t we seen this sight before?)

Yes, ID2’s plot is as laughably corny as that. It is also entirely predictable. One can draw the arc of the film before going into this two hour-long action, Sci-fi, disaster fest. This is because: one, disaster movies tend to have (very) similar storylines; and, two, the plot for ID2 is an inconvenience to the special effects.

Ninety-plus percent of the film is special effects of one kind or another. Arguably, the most enjoyable part of ID2 is spotting from where Emmerich has gained his inspiration for the CGI. The aliens look remarkably similar to those from the Alien franchise and Prometheus; the space ship looks the same, just larger, than the one from ID1; and the destruction of the White House and London look like those same events in ID1, Deep Impact, Olympus Has Fallen, Thor II: The Dark World and London Has Fallen. Suffice to say the effects in ID2 do not look as innovative or inspire the same awe as they did in 1996. And that is despite the CGI being in a different league to what Emmerich had to work with twenty years ago.

Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), filling the boots of Will Smith, and flying a fighter jet into toward the aliens to try and take them out. I wonder, will he succeed?

Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), filling the boots of Will Smith, and flying a fighter jet into toward the aliens to try and take them out. I wonder, will he succeed?

Nevertheless, while watching ID2, one spends less time wondering about the contrast in the quality of the CGI, compared to the giant hole in ID2 known as the lack of Will Smith. Smith was the hero of the last film and ID2 does not feel right without him. (The reason for his absence differs depending upon the source: Smith claims he could not work on ID2 as he was already committed to Suicide Squad, which filmed at the same time; while the studio claims Smith asked for too much money and told him to get lost.) In Smith’s absence, Liam Hemsworth, Jessie T Usher and Maika Monroe decently fill the void without being anything remotely special. Yet, somehow, the three of them can’t quite capture Smith’s panache, and that is even with all the clichés that Emmerich has dumped into this unimaginative, by the numbers movie.

Over-all, ID2 is a standard, semi-enjoyable disaster movie. It tries to repeat what occurred in ID1, only on a gargantuan scale and with a plot that gets in the way of the CGI. All of this is done without Will Smith and the movie cannot get past it. Indeed, if anything, Smith’s absence emphasises how important he was to making ID1 so entertaining and successful in 1996. Without him, ID2 underlines how unoriginal and dull humans fighting (technologically superior, yet paradoxically primitive-minded) aliens has become.

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