Independence Day appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although not without a few concerns, the overall quality of the picture seemed strong.
Sharpness usually looked quite good, with an image that appeared crisp and detailed most of the time. Some slight softness interfered with a few wide shots, but I didn't think this was a significant issue. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but some light edge enhancement seemed present through much of the film. The print itself looked fairly clean. Occasional specks popped up, but nothing significant marred the image.
Colors appeared bright and bold throughout the film, with no evidence of bleeding or distortion. The film featured a natural palette that seemed concise and firm. Black levels seemed deep and dark, and shadow detail generally was fine, although one or two "day for night" scenes looked slightly overly opaque. Independence Day didn't offer a picture that's "reference quality", but it presented a solid visual presentation nonetheless.
Although I once regarded the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Independence Day to be the absolute best demonstration material I owned back in my laserdisc days, that’s no longer the case; it’s been easily surpassed by more than a few other mixes. Nonetheless, the track still sounded pretty good.
The soundfield remained involving and rich. Each of the five speakers offered a lot of discrete audio from start to finish. Much of this came from the many action scenes - the various air battles really screamed, and the scene in which the aliens destroyed various US buildings rattled my neighbors with its deafening roar - but I also liked some smaller touches. For example, examine the segment in which Jasmine leaves the strip club's stage and goes back to the dressing room. When she gets back there, the track displayed a well-conveyed ambient sound of the music that plays in the main area of the club. Little touches like those helped make this a nice mix.
The audio quality also seemed very good. Much of the dialogue clearly was dubbed, but little of it came across as obvious. For the most part, speech sounded warm and natural, though at times some dialogue appeared slightly edgy. The music was rich and bright, and effects were always clear and realistic, with some good bass tossed in to the mix. I noticed a bit of clipping from my subwoofer at times, but the low-end usually came across as firm and tight. The audio of ID4 didn't floor me like it used to, but it still seemed pretty terrific.
When we examine the extras, we find a mix of pieces. On DVD One, two audio commentaries appear. The first originally popped up on a 1998 laserdisc and it presents remarks from director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin, both of whom sit together for their running, screen-specific discussion. This track has been much criticized for being dull and featuring plenty of dead spots, and both of those assessments are partially correct. Emmerich especially can spend too much time detailing the monotonous specifics of effects shots, and as the film progresses, some pretty significant gaps appear between statements.
Nonetheless, I found the commentary to offer a mildly interesting discussion of the film, mostly due to information from Devlin. By no stretch of the imagination is it a great – or even very good - track, but I think it offers enough of worth to earn a listen, especially during the first third or so of the movie. The chat includes notes about changes between the theatrical and extended versions of the film, various story issues and character development, and trivia like other folks considered for the cast. Overall, this remains a pretty mediocre commentary, but it does provide some decent information about the movie.
The second commentary comes from visual effects supervisors Volker Engel and Doug Smith, both of whom also chat together in a running, screen-specific piece. Unsurprisingly, this piece sticks almost exclusively to matters related to the special effects. Due to this, I found it to be fairly dry. Both participants are fairly personable, but I couldn't help but drift off every once in a while as I listened to them. More than a few dead spots occur, and that adds to the piece’s slowness. The statements provide some decent information, but the track just doesn't do a lot for me. It's worth a listen if you maintain an interest in effects work, but don't expect to be wildly entertained. (If you want to hit just the highlights, skip straight to the final fighter battle scene, as that portion of the commentary includes the most interesting material.)
The second DVD of Independence Day packs in a variety of supplemental features. In the "Featured Specimens" area, we discover three video documentaries. First we get a 29-minute and 15-second feature called Creating Reality. This program provides a nice overview of the effects process for the film. We get a mix of film clips, interviews with Devlin, Emmerich and effects creators, and some interesting behind the scenes shots. It's a very good little primer on the methods used to construct all of the many effects images in the movie, and although it's generally fairly superficial, it does provide additional depth than usual in some ways. For instance, we get a strong walk-through from Patrick Tatopoulos of the various suits used to bring the aliens themselves to life. My only real complaint? Not enough clips of effects supervisor Tricia Ashford - she's gorgeous! (Yes, I'm a sexist pig - this is not news.) By the way, I believe Ashford also can be seen in the film itself; she's not credited, but I think she plays one of the doctors in the alien autopsy scene.
Next we find The ID4 Invasion. This 22-minute feature sticks strongly to a promotional bent, but it's more fun than most of those puff pieces. Actually, its first nine minutes or so go the War of the Worlds route and pretend that it's a special report about the aliens' arrival; during those portions, we see a lot of the "news" footage created for the film itself, and while the approach is hokey, it's also kind of fun. The remainder of the piece spends part of its time providing the usual actor and crew sound bites plus some film clips interspersed with shots from the set, but we also hear a bunch of interviews with UFO "experts" who discuss the "reality" of the situation and what might occur if events similar to those depicted in the film actually happened. "The ID4 Invasion" doesn't substitute for a more substantial documentary, but it's compelling nonetheless.
The final program - a 28-minute and 15-second show called The Making of Independence Day - goes down a similar path, though I didn't like it as much as either of the prior two features. The conceit behind this one is that Jeff Goldblum "breaks in" to "Area ID4", where the cast and crew are being held; he's going to sneak in a get the scoop. It's a cute idea, but the program itself is nothing more than the usual puffy blather, with a mixture of promotional sound bites and movie clips. Granted, I might be too hard on it because it followed the other two; I may have enjoyed it more if I'd watched it first or second, but it seems redundant after the prior programs. Still, I appreciate its inclusion; I'd rather find a bland supplement on a DVD than none at all, and this one is watchable though unspectacular. (By the way, the "Goldblum on a quest" theme falls apart pretty badly when he enters the compound and we find interviews with... Jeff Goldblum, looking very different than he does as host. They probably should have omitted those parts.)
If you've listened to both audio commentaries, you've already heard a lot about the original ending of ID. Known as the Biplane Ending, this piece showed Randy Quaid's character in a different light. I'll leave the details out so it'll be fresh when you watch it, but suffice it to say that it was a very smart move for them to omit it; the current conclusion works much more effectively.
The scene runs for about four minutes and five seconds and features partial commentary on it from Dean Devlin. While his remarks are helpful, it seems unfortunate that we don't have the option to turn them off and listen to the clip with just its original audio. This isn't the end of the world, as the scene's sound can be heard, but it seems like a dopey choice. Nonetheless, I enjoyed being able to see the original ending to the movie. Knowing about this clip also makes it more fun to watch the theatrical conclusion since it becomes clearer the way some parts would have fit with the planned ending; they fit the changed scene but seem more incongruous when you know the way they were supposed to go.
The DVD features a wealth of material in the "Data Console" section. We get four teaser trailers, which last about five minutes total, plus the film's full two-minute and 20-second theatrical trailer. In addition, we find a collection of TV spots. Finally, the advertisements in the "Data Console" area finish with a promo for Apple Computer that ties in with the film and the famous ad that ran during the 1996 Super Bowl.
Two other features appear in "Data Console". First is a “Still Gallery” that includes a lot of information in a number of different sections. Production Photographs provides 312 frames of pictures. Some of these are posed stills, and a number of others show props or effects technicians doing their work. Most depict candid shots from the set, though, and although this section can be a chore to navigate due to the high number of stills, it nonetheless provides some good photos.
Storyboard Sequences offers the plans for three different scenes: "Welcome Wagon" (16 frames), "Destruction" (60 stills) and "Biplane Ending" (17 storyboards). I never have much enjoyed storyboards, but they're here for those who like them. Conceptual Artwork divides into "Alien Beings" (15 frames), "Alien Ships" (89 stills), and "Sets and Props" (47 shots). This section gives us a pretty good look at the planning behind the more fantastical elements of the movie.
The "Data Console" ends with some DVD-ROM content. We start with a game called “Get Off My Planet”. It has you answer trivia questions, decode messages, and select what cities to defend. It’s a cheap and fairly pointless contest; I gave up on it during the tedious “city defending” stage.
”On-line Special Events” just sends you to the Fox home page; nothing interesting appears here. When you try to access the “I>ID4 On-line Game”, you head to another link. I clicked to “join” but the link appears to be dead.
DVD Two also tosses in some Easter eggs. Enter the "Data Console" area and highlight "Main Menu". Don't click on it, though; push the "right" button on your remote and then hit "Select" (or whatever your remote's equivalent of "Enter" is called). Then you'll get a code that you can enter once you return to the disc's main menu. Do so, and you are supposed to get some bonus features.
I say "supposed to" because I had a terrible time getting it to work on my Panasonic player. It turns out that I needed to hit the ">10" key first and then enter "7-4". Once I did so, the feature worked fine.
I found three different extras in there. We get one that presents the main "destruction" scene in its various audio components; you can listen to it with its completed track or just with music, effects or dialogue. This is a cool feature, although it's too bad they didn't take it to the extreme found in the Bug’s Life Collector's Edition, which included complete isolated score and isolated effects tracks.
A less compelling piece is the “random destruction generator”. It gives you arbitrary access any of 12 different scenes of mayhem from the movie. It's a cute idea but pretty pointless, since all of the segments are easily accessible in the film itself.
Much better is its logical counterpart which occurs when you enter "7-2". At that point you can choose any of the 22 TV pieces that show up during the film, a feature that will definitely come in handy; it's nice to know that I don't have to muck through the random selector to rewatch pieces that I liked.
Finally, the ID4 DVD includes a nice booklet. We find four text pages of production notes that discuss the film's effects. We also get four more pages that offer comments from the various participants about the roles player by Smith, Pullman and Goldblum and some statements from Devlin and Emmerich about their development of the project. It’s a nice piece.
Many folks dislike Independence Day and hold it up as an example of all that's wrong with big-budget, brainless action flicks. To those people I say this: relax! Take fun and exciting movies like this for what they are and save the brainpower for your next perusal of Dostoyevsky. ID4 provides a thoroughly thrilling and enjoyable experience, plot holes and logic problems be damned. Both picture and audio seem excellent and the set also includes a solid collection of extras. ID4 earns my firm recommendation.