Friday, 8 July 2016

Independence Day: Resurgence. Hazard Moppets

There’s a moment in Independence Day: Resurgence when I said, out loud, in the cinema, “hazard moppets”. Emmerich conjured up a bunch of kids specifically so that they could blunder into the elaborate, stupid, trap which lies at the heart of his movie’s climax. Boldly led by Hazard Grandpa, because what could be more riveting that Jeff Goldblum’s dad running into him at the worst possible moment. Actual riveting, one of the most boring, yet noisy and dangerous, things in the world; that’s what could have been more riveting, and also more fun.

ID: R is one of those movies which succeeds only to the extent that it reminds you of something better. Skilfully loading the dice against itself on that score, it packs the cast with people who were fun in the first, better, movie and pretty much the only fun to be had in the new one. The kids never had a chance. If you’re in the mood to save yourself two hours and a modest sum of money, you can get most of the fun to be had in ID: R by watching the trailer up to the bit when Jeff Goldblum deadpans “They like to get the landmarks.” 

This is the kind of movie which sets out to trade on your fond memories of the original and winds up making you wonder if the original was any damn good at all. Well, I’m not going to make the time to check it out, just in case it turns out that twenty years ago I was easily pleased. But I do remember original ID as being a bit better paced. The new movies flails about trying to get us invested in the cast’s newcomers, and then throws a big mid-movie disaster in to get the stakes up, followed by yet another plucky attempt to take out the mothership by subterfuge. 

For all practical purposes, it’s the original movie, with more grey hair and more CGI. The grey hair adds something; the extra CGI takes it all back out again. There are some perfectly good ideas; the notion that the aliens would come back for seconds is a good one, and so is the idea that humans would have spent the last twenty years reverse engineering alien tech to get ready for the re-match. Good ideas are not, in the end, enough. Neither are CGI spectacles. And everything runs on coincidence; no matter what happens, there’s always a member of the principal cast to watch it. That’s a narrative convenience I can overlook; but when that rando runs into someone else who has no business ever getting near them … which runs to the grand climax of the Levinson family reunion, an idea so dumb it makes everything else look plausible by comparison. And of course there’s a dog which has to be recognised. 

I had way too much time to ponder the alien business model. In the first movie, they were just a bunch of dickish aliens come to take all of our stuff and kill us when we got in the way. This is a terrible business plan; if you have the kind of energy that can let you move from one star to another, you have the kind of energy which lets you make whatever you want, right where you are. However, compared to the new business plan, it’s bordering on genius. It now turns out that the aliens go from planet to planet, drilling into them to extract the molten core. Which they somehow use for building more ships or whatevs. 

Yeah. About that. The earth’s molten core is utterly unremarkable. There’s a bunch of iron, and there’s traces of other lighter elements, but nothing you couldn’t hammer together from other sources or find stuck in the core of pretty much any rocky planet anywhere. Even assuming that you decided it was cheaper to travel than to synthesise, for every inhabited planet with an iron core, there are almost certainly hundreds of uninhabited ones. It wouldn’t be worth the energy cost of wiping out the defence forces of an inhabited planet to get at the core when you could have your pick of hundreds of other ones without a fight.

And the science; the alien ship is so huge, it has its own gravity. Until it doesn’t, somehow. Extracting the iron core will switch off the earth’s magnetic field (almost certainly true) which will mean the atmosphere will disappear (complete crap; the earth’s atmosphere is not magnetic. Losing that much of the earth’s mass would certainly affect our ability to retain atmosphere in the long haul, and not having a magnetic field would play havoc with the delicate balance of electromagnetic fields and ionised layers in the atmosphere that keep a lot of solar radiation from getting down to the surface, but …) and so on. I hope there’s a DVD extra that consists entirely of a fed up physicist explaining that science does not work this way.

It’s not terrible. It’s just not good. It takes a couple of perfectly good ideas, and some half way fun characters, and just rehashes all the old story beats from the first movie. And fun and all as it is to watch Jeff rehash the David Levinson character, it would be just as much fun to watch him hash it the first time.

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