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Non-Review Review: Independence Day – Resurgence

Independence Day: Resurgence is the very limit case of nineties nostalgia.

This is true in a very real sense. The film is released two decades after the massive success of the original film, which came to theatres in 1996 offering unprecedented and awe-inspiring destruction on a previously unimaginable scale. Independence Day changed the public’s expectations for blockbusters, reworking the scale of apocalyptic destruction that could populate big summer releases. However, as much fun (and as well loved) as the film was, nobody was really clamouring for a sequel.

Jazzy Jeff, without the Fresh Prince.

Jazzy Jeff, without the Fresh Prince.

However, there is another truth about nineties nostalgia buried within this belated and bloated sequel. The nineties were a different time. They were a time at which Franci Fukuyami could make a semi-credible case that the United States stood at the end of history. The Cold War was over. The War on Terror had yet to begin. The Twin Towers still stood, and most Americans were oblivious to the existence of Osama Bin Laden or al-Qaeda. The economy was reasonably prosperous. Politics were relatively stable.

It is, of course, too easy to let nostalgia paint the nineties as some sort of “golden age.” There were horrific conflicts unfolding in Africa and Eastern Europe. There were clear shifts in American political rhetoric that paved the way for the current political climate. Paranoia and conspiracy theory were working their way into mainstream political discourse. However, the nineties were a time of much lower anxiety for most Americans, and time of peace rather than perpetual existential warfare.

Maps to the stars.

Maps to the stars.

As a result, Independence Day had a radically different context in the summer of 1996 than it would in the summer of 2016. In 1996, the destruction of the White House and the Empire State Building could be treated as ridiculous escapism rather than traumatic repetition. The narrative of American individualism and exceptionalism was oddly endearing in the midst of a period of sustained global stability rather than an era of resurgent (and violent) political nationalism.

Even in terms of entertainment, the original Independence Day arrived at a point where it was enough for a blockbuster to be a blockbuster, where thematic resonance and political commentary were optional extras that were tolerated so long as they didn’t get in the way of the explosions. Independence Day was released at a point where it was enough for a movie to be “dumb fun” without carrying a deeper message. Without the internet to pick films apart and pour over their subtext, it was a lot easier to just release an unassuming spectacle.

Over the moon about it.

Over the moon about it.

More than that, the sheer practical limitations of filming a blockbuster helped to rein in a lot of potential excesses of a film on this scale. While there was always computer-generated special effects, a heavy reliance on practical models and practical effects tended to dictate both the scripting and the direction of the film. Although Independence Day was an ode to heightened spectacle, there were limits to that spectacle. There was only so much of the aliens that could be shown, there were moments where things couldn’t be exploding.

In short, Independence Day was very much the perfect movie for 1996. In its own way, Independence Day: Resurgence is an ode to that. It is also a reminder that this is no longer 1996.

Not quite the Gold(blum) standard.

Not quite the Gold(blum) standard.

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Non-Review Review: The X-Files – Fight the Future

The X-Files: Fight the Future is often described as the mythology episode that somehow got released into theatres. In her review, Joyce Millman teased that Fight the Future was little more than “a two-hour episode of the show, except with better production values and a nicer wardrobe for Scully.” It is a fair point. It is not too hard to imagine a slightly cheaper version of Fight the Future split into two parts and replacing The End and The Beginning as the two-parter bridging the fifth and sixth seasons of the show.

Certainly, Fight the Future retains the late-stage mythology’s reluctance to provide any real sense of closure to the long-running plot about alien invasion and colonisation. Writers Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz increase the stakes by using some of that sweet blockbuster money to pay for a gestating alien fetus, but what do Mulder and Scully actually accomplish? What would a viewer jumping from The End to The Beginning miss, except for the fact that the Well-Manicured Man has left the mortal plane to visit that great Somerset estate in the sky?

What you've all been waiting for, admit it...

What you’ve all been waiting for, admit it…

The answer is nothing, but that is not the point. As much as Fight the Future enjoys playing with the trappings of the mythology (black oil! bees! tanker trucks! space ships! Oklahoma City!), the film is only interested in the idea of alien colonisation as a vehicle to explore the show’s central relationship. Carter and Spotnitz have shrewdly realised that Fight the Future will have the largest possible audience for the show, and has decided to give the general public what they want.

As a two-hour mythology episode, Fight the Future leaves a lot to be desired. As a two-hour Mulder and Scully ship tease, it is right on the money.

Buried secrets...

Buried secrets…

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Non-Review Review: Independence Day

I think there’s a serious argument to be made for Independence Dayas one of the truly exceptional summer blockbusters. It’s not exceptionally clever or insightful, its characters aren’t necessarily more than plot functions given life by a wonderful cast, but it has a high-octane energy and wonderful sense of tone that makes it a joy to watch. It’s cheesy enough that it never takes itself too seriously, and yet it’s efficient enough and effective enough that it never descends to the level of pure camp. It’s a deft balance, and I suspect that it might be a fluke, but I think that Independence Day remains a gleefully enjoyable guilty pleasure to this day.

Don't run! We are your friends!

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Non-Review Review: Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park is one of the “big” blockbusters which defined the nineties. It’s easily recognisable and has thoroughly entrenched itself deep in popular culture – along with Independence Day or Terminator 2. Also, like the two aforementioned films, it’s actually quite good. Of course, coming from director Stephen Spielberg, the man who invented blockbuster cinema with Jaws, can’t hurt. 

I call him "Rex"...

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