Tag Archives: Transformers

Independence Day

It’s over an astounding 15 years since giant shadows cascaded across our cinema screens and Independence Day was unleashed upon the world. In that time it’s been easy to deride this sci-fi epic but as alien invasions go they have never looked so stunning. In fact, it’s fair to say that any alien invasion movie since (or before for that matter) cannot fail to be compared.

Essentially it’s very much War of the Worlds meets Irvin Allen-esque menagerie of characters – mostly cardboard – but played by a host of recognisable actors. So far so Earthquake or The Towering Inferno with aliens, and like those films the main leads are oh so engaging, in this case Bill, Will and Jeff (essentially the same character as he played in Jurassic Park). But, to be fair, as witty as we find Mr Smith exclaiming he is going to “whoop ETs ass”, what we’ve really paid our money for is to see the wanton death and destruction.

And boy, does it deliver that in spades, especially with perhaps the most iconic shot of 90s cinema, the obliteration of the White House. Of course, shots such as that and the destruction of several other buildings take on a whole new meaning in this post 9/11 world.

ID4 was uber American gung ho. It was a different time with a different President. Post Iraq and post 9/11 it’s a world that, rather ironically, looks completely alien. It’s as if it was a much simpler time ‘back then’. And although some of the dialogue (thank you Mr Smith) was trite in places you can’t deny the power and force of the President’s speech before the final (Star Wars-esque) run at one of the saucers.

Sure, we had seen giant saucers before, most notably in V some 12 years earlier, but never with such foreboding and with such aplomb, what with the giant clouds and those introductory shadows, Emmerich doing for UFOs what Spielberg did for sharks and not showing the audience until he absolutely had to, ramping up that alien fear factor to 11. The music is a bravo score by David Arnold, in his pre Bond days and hot off scoring duties from another Emmerich sci-fi epic, Stargate.

Just like those 70s disaster movies that it so perfectly emulates, the film also has that nice old skool Hollywood feel to it as the special effects were still very much in the early days of digital effects so many of the memorable moments, such as the White House exploding and fire raging through the city were done as practical effects so look real because, well, they were.

Far from a perfect film, with its clichés galore and film lore of dog evading certain death (that leap in the tunnel is great though) it is pretty much the perfect example of a summer blockbuster. It’s dumb, but dumb with style, but plenty of fun. Certainly compared to some of the efforts we’ve seen in recent years it could even be argued it’s not even that dumb.

Some of the characters are weak in places but there are so many of them, or they are snuffed out so soon, that it doesn’t really matter. Some of the jumps in logic defy, well logic, but it all works together, it all gels and above all else it makes you come out of a screening feeling that little bit more alive. No pun intended, but even after all these years, and numerous films filled with digital pokery, the film is still, rather fittingly, a huge visual feast of a blast that provides plenty of bang(s) for your buck.

Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich tried pretty much the same trick with Godzilla a couple of years later, but this time round the lightning in the bottle just couldn’t be recaptured, so it was certainly more than about hurling cash at the screen in the form of impressive special effects.

The marketing campaign was also something of a masterstroke, almost preparing us as if there were an actual alien invasion, with great posters and trailer campaign (with great use of Hans Zimmer’s score from Crimson Tide), complete with the destruction of the White House first being unleashed on an unsuspecting audience during the Super Bowl. Now, that’s how to grab attention!

There’s long been a mooted ID42 and post Iraq, post 9/11, post Transformers and Emmerich’s other disaster epics, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, it would certainly be interesting to see what they did next and if any of the original characters were involved. Certainly it would need a return from Smith, Paxton (as President obviously now retired) and Goldblum.

The sequel might not be invading theatres anytime soon but the 3D version of Independence Day (duck at that fire truck rolling through the air) is scheduled to set the world – along with box office tills – on fire sometime next year. Technically that’s ID43D then!

Horror hits high gear: remembering Maximum Overdrive

Stephen King adaptations have been part and parcel of the horror movie-going experience for more than 30 years and the results have been somewhat patchy, with The Shining and The Dead Zone at one end of the spectrum and the likes of Cujo at the other.

Also sitting pretty at this end of the line is Maximum Overdrive, a film based on a King short story (as so many are) featuring Emilio Estevez. But what sets this apart from other King fodder is that this was the first, and to date, only time that the bespeckled Maine writer has stepped from behind his typewriter to behind the lens to direct.

It’s a mess of a movie sure, but as always with ‘the King of horror’ there are intriguing ideas and interesting images to be had along the way, and to be honest it’s a gloriously fun B-movie in the same vein as Night of the Comet, Cat’s Eye and Creepshow, the latter two of which King was also involved in.

In many ways this is Transformers without the machines transforming into robots but what it does share with its Cybertron cousins is that is has plenty of explosions as pretty much everything you see on screen is blown to smithereens.  Unlike those robots in disguise there are also several rather cool and memorable death scenes including death by lawn mower, a cold drink machine that fires its cans of drink with deadly accuracy and a steam roller that makes a squidgy mess of a baseball team.

With a premise such as this, the emphasis is purely on the fun factor rather than the fear factor, which no doubt disappointed many, but when it’s someone like King running the show there is always some fun to be had. Sure, Emilio Estevez is the only character we give two hoots about (also look out for an appearance by Yeardley Smith AKA Lisa Simpson).

The ‘story’, as little of it there is, unfolds as thus: After a comet passes over earth it leaves a haze surrounding the planet which takes control of machines, making them deadly killers (no reason for this is given but we don’t really need or want one as it would only get in the way), it’s almost a homage to the likes of Day of the Triffids with machines running amuck instead of those pesky plants. A group of people try to stay alive hold up at the Dixie Boy truck stop, think of it as The Alamo with articulated lorries, including the particularly memorable ‘leader’ which has a face not too dissimilar to The Green Goblin.

Released in 1986, this was also the year that Halley’s Comet passed by close to Earth, so it could be seen as a reaction of that as being a supposed harbinger of doom, as it was allegedly sighted before The Battle of Hastings. It could also be seen as a pre-curser to the worry, even though it never materialised, over the likes of Y2K. For all of its comedy and its big bangs it certainly takes a tiny leaf out of the James Cameron book of doom mongering in posing questions about our over reliance on new technology and how we would cope if it bit back.

Before the days of mobile phones and our devotion to all things technology you can’t help but wonder whether it wouldn’t be the right time for a remake of sorts, like all geniuses perhaps King was just ahead of his time with this particular tale?

The mindless mayhem and death and destruction are worth a peek on its own and surely a film with little leaguers getting neatly pressed by a steamroller can’t all be bad!! A bonafide cult classic.