Independence Day
Independence Day on Blu-ray

By Jim Bray

"ID4," as the producers liked to call it, was the big blockbuster summer flick of 1996. Inspired by the Irwin Allen disaster movies of the 1970's, films like "The Poseidon Adventure" and "The Towering Inferno," it begins with the virtual end of civilization as we know it at the hands of a race of extraterrestrials.

The aliens show up in a massive mother ship that disgorges an armada of smaller (only about fifteen miles wide!) saucers that take up position over major Earth cities. Computer guy Jeff Goldblum is the only person to have figured out that these visitors aren't there for any good purpose, however, and he races to Washington DC to warn the president (Bill Pullman) of mankind's impending doom.

The Pres and his entourage manage to escape in Air Force One, just as the aliens unleash their terrifying power. Unfortunately, most of the populace isn't so lucky and Washington, New York, Los Angeles, and various other major cities in the U.S. and around the world are struck down in blow after blow of the aliens super weaponry.

This leaves the survivors to pick up the pieces of humanity and mount a counter offensive against the invaders which, given the overwhelming power of the aliens, is easier said than done.

The first hour of "Independence Day," to the point just after the aliens' attack, is pretty darn good. It sets up the story well, introduces the characters and their situations, and uses some great special effects to show the alien ships' arrival over the cities - and, of course, the zapping of said urban areas.

Then the movie, unfortunately, goes into the tank - and the last hour and a half is so predictable, hackneyed, silly, etcetera, that it almost destroys the enjoyment you have of the first hour.

Still, this is a popcorn movie at best; just make sure you eat the popcorn during the first hour, so you can catch up on your rest during the remainder of the show. At least there are some neat homages sci-fi fans can watch for.

The Blu-ray is another good one from Fox. It isn't their best so far as picture quality is concerned, but it's very good nonetheless. There's quite a bit of grain, especially during some of the darker effects shots, such as ones set in outer space, but the colors are the best of any version of the film we've reviewed (as they should be!). Detail is very good as is the depth.

The audio is offered in dts-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround and, as expected (and required from such a film) it's very dynamic and uses the surrounds and subwoofer extremely well. This is one that you'll want to crank up (if for no other reason than to help keep you awake).

There's a pile of extras, too, some superficial and gimmicky and some worthwhile. First up is a commentary with director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin, and it's nearly enough to make you think the movie is actually very good. Another commentary features effects supervisors Volker Engel and Doug Smith, but it's best if you're a geek (not that there's anything wrong with that!).

Also on hand are an "ID4 Datastream Trivia Track", which I found a bit hard to read but which includes some interesting bits. The "Alien Scavenger Hunt" Interactive Game" makes good use of Blu-ray's capabilities, tasking you with "targeting" (via a moveable crosshair you control with your remote) objects that appear onscreen during the film. I played it long enough to score the first one (which is right in the opening scenes) but then got bored with it and dumped it in favor of watching the film instead.

Fox also lets you bookmark your favorite scenes for playback even after you eject the disc from the player (so you don't have to watch the whole thing again!), a Keyword Search of indexed topics (such as "Air Force One," etc.) that take you to the relevant point in the movie when you select them.

And if you have D-Box technology at home, you're in luck. Fox has includied D-Box motion control commands into the disc, for those who're ready to rumble.

There's also a selection of trailers, including some for Independence Day.

In all, there's plenty of stuff here and movie students (and ID4 buffs, if there are any) will undoubtedly enjoy the package.

Independence Day, from 20th Century Fox Home Video
145minutes, 1080p Widescreen (2.35:1), dts HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio
Starring Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum and a bunch of other people
Written by Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich, directed by Roland Emmerich


Ice AgeIce Age on Blu-ray

It’s never hard to tell when a studio has the title for the movie picked out before they have the idea.

Ice Age takes place mostly in green surroundings, but occasionally our protagonists venture into colder, snowier territory.

They should have called the movie “Summertime in Canada”....

Ice Age seems to be Fox’s attempt at cashing in on the success of computer-animated films that preceded it, rather than a breakthrough computer animated adventure of their own. The characters, story, and jokes are all standard Disney, only not as well done. In fact, Ice Age appears to be a blatant rip-off of Dinosaur, only set later in time. Even the animation seems like it was done by Walt Disney’s less talented cousin. (Ed: it reminded me of an old Rankin/Bass cartoon done in CG)

A sloth, woolly mammoth, and sabre-toothed tiger go on a journey to reunite a human baby with its human family. Along the way, they encounter various obstacles (such as ice), and in the end they all live happily ever after. There’s also a little creature of some kind who is always losing his acorn; but it seems more of a way of reaching 81 minutes and the welcome closing credits than actual comedy relief.

John Leguizamo, Ray Romano and Denis Leary lend their voice talents to the movie, and they seem to be well cast. Unfortunately, a movie needs more than voices to make it thoroughly engrossing. It needs a script.

To put it mildly, Ice Age is like a subpar Disney movie. In its defense, even subpar Disney movies are usually tolerable, and Ice Age is tolerable as well. It isn't memorable like some of the great Disney animated features, but at less than an hour and a half it’s a good time waster. And it looks great on Blu-ray.

Ice Age was the biggest hit of its release year, until Spider-Man, Star Wars Episode II, Men in Black II, Goldmember, Signs, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding came along; hmm…it sounds much less impressive that way, doesn't it?

The Blu-ray is presented in 1080p at the aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and it looks really good. Computer animated movies usually have great picture quality, undoubtedly because they can remain digital from the beginning to the end of the mastering process, and this one's no exception. All the colors are bright, there’s no trace of grain, and even the vast white backgrounds are textured nicely and don’t drown out the characters.

The audio is presented in dts HD 5.1 Maser Lossless but , except for a few instances here and there, it's mostly a front-heavy track. This is a shame, because during a few scenes (like the ice slide and the tiger attack) the rear speakers are used very nicely and it left us wanting more.

Extras include a directors' commentary, deleted scenes with optional commentary, and the short feature (though not short enough!) "Gone Nutty: Scrat's Missing Adventure." What appears to be missing is the script.

You also get HD trailers.

As you can tell, Ice Age wasn't our cup of tea, but if you enjoyed it, you’ll probably be pleased with this nice Blu-ray presentation.

Ice Age, from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
81 minutes, 1080p widescreen (1.85:1), dts HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio
Starring the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary
Produced by Lori Forte
Screenplay by Michael Berg and Michael J. Wilson and Peter Ackerman, Directed by Carlos Saldanha and Chris Wedge

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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