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Blu-ray Reviews: Independence Day

Originally published in Sound and Image, April/May 2008, v.21#6
Last updated 29 June 2009

Independence Day cover Independence Day
1996 - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment South Pacific Pty Ltd
Director: Roland Emmerich
Starring: Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Robert Loggia, Randy Quaid, Margaret Colin and Vivica A. Fox

Movie: 4 Picture: 4 Sound: 4.5 Extras: 5

I was going to avoid including Independence Day for this issue, simply because I don't want these pages to become Sci-Fi extravaganza reviews. After all, we've already got RoboCop in this issue. But one enhancement moved it to the top of the list.

As an alien invasion movie, it simply isn't very good. But aside perhaps from Invasion of the Body Snatchers it is probably the least bad one made. And I for one find myself oddly drawn to overlook the many ludicrous aspects of the story that would, in any other movie, have me ranting at the screen. It's the kind of movie I want to like, so I allow it lattitude I wouldn't grant elsewhere.

Let's face it, you've got to grant points to a movie in which the daughter spaceships to the main one are themselves big enough to cover cities. And the special effects do look so damned good.

Oddly, the video quality isn't as good as I was expecting. The interiors are fine, but it's almost like library footage was used as background for some of the effects-intensive exteriors. For example, as the shadow of a shapeship moves over Washington, the top of the Washington Monument glitters with digital noise.

Still, it's much better overall than the 2004 DVD re-release of the movie, and kills the original Australian DVD release (which had the interlaced fields reversed for roughly half of the movie, lowering resolution significantly).

The sound is excellent, immersive, bass intensive and encoded in DTS-HD. Oddly, we don't get the French and Spanish Dolby Digital tracks present on the the US (region coded) version, even though our disc is compatible with Europe. There are also a couple of commentary tracks.

But the main reason I decided to review this disc was because of a couple of extras. Not the interactive game, which involves you looking for a dozen items through the course of the movie, but the navigation features.

First, you get 54 chapters, so there is a quite fine grain in selecting parts of the movie. Go to the Chapter Selection popup menu and, instead of pressing 'Enter' on your remote, press the down arrow and a list of scenes within the chapter opens. Each scene has a brief description -- 'White House: Connie answers her phone, sees David outside'. There are up to 16 scenes listed for each Chapter, so you can jump very precisely to where you want to go.

There is also a bookmark feature -- you press the '1' key rather than 'B' (used on Sony discs and HD DVD) to store these. They are listed under a Special Features entry with their scene description. Of course, they are persistent so you can use the bookmarks months into the future.

Then there is the 'Keyword Search' feature. This pops up an alphabetical list. Select a letter and you get a list of subjects, including events ('Explosion'), actors ('Goldblum, Jeff') and characters ('Levinson, David'). Select one of these and you are presented with a list of time codes and decriptions for all scenes in which the selected event or person occurs. There are, it seems, precisely twenty scenes in which explosions occur.

Running time: 145 minutes
Picture: 2.35:1, 1080p24, MPEG4 AVC @ 27.43Mbps
Sound: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 24/48 3/2.1 @ 4335kbps (Core: DTS 24/48 3/2.1 @ 1536kbps); Filmmakers' Commentary, Visual Efffects Commentary: Dolby Digital 2/0.0 @ 224kbps
Subtitles: English, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, English (Filmmakers' Commentary), Danish (Filmmakers' Commentary), Finnish (Filmmakers' Commentary), Norwegian (Filmmakers' Commentary), Swedish (Filmmakers' Commentary), English (Video Effects Commentary), Danish (Video Effects Commentary), Finnish (Video Effects Commentary), Norwegian (Video Effects Commentary), Swedish (Video Effects Commentary)
Extras: Scene selection within chapters; Keyword search; Alien Scavenger Hunt Game; Three trailers (1080p24, MPEG4 AVC, DD5.1 @ 448kbps - 6 mins); Theatrical teaser trailer (1080p24, MPEG4 AVC, DPL2.0 @ 224kbps - 1 min); Trailer for 'Fantastic Four' (1080p24, MPEG4 AVC, DD5.1 @ 448kbps - 2 mins)
Restrictions: Rated PG (Australian rating); Locked to Region B

This is the video bitrate graph for this movie, generated by BDInfo 0.5.2:

Independence Day video bitrate graph

Comparison: Blu-ray vs PAL DVD

Here are some comparisons between the PAL DVD and the Blu-ray version of this movie. At the top of each is the full frame (suitably shrunk down) used in the comparison (taken from the Blu-ray), with a 250 pixel wide detail from the frame underneath. The left side is from the PAL DVD. The image was captured digitally from the disc, scaled up from its native 720 by 576 resolution to 1,024 by 576 (to present in the correct aspect ratio), and then, in order to be comparable to the Blu-ray version, from that to 1,920 by 1,080. The detail is from that last scaled version, and has not been rescaled again.

The right side is from the Australian Blu-ray. This has not been scaled at all. Different applications were used to capture the two frames, so I am not comfortable comparing the colour between the two, merely the detail and sharpness. For those visitors from NTSC lands, generally the PAL DVD is just a touch sharper than the NTSC DVD.

Comparison 1

Yes, as we can see above, that five times greater detail delivers a recognisable human being, rather than an impressionistic splodge.

Comparison 2

Count the rivets if you can. You can from Blu-ray but not from DVD. In fact the rivet in the foreground at the bottom right of the detail is not recognisable as as such in the DVD.

Comparison 3

Let use lay out the differences. With Blu-ray you can, but with DVD you can't: see the weave of Will Smith's singlet, discern that his dog tags have characters embossed, notice that the newspaper is wondering 'WHY JUST BUY A PHONE?'

Comparison 4

I like wrinkly faces to demonstrate the differences in picture quality. But even Will Smith's fairly smooth skin is revealing here. Notice the slightly roughened skin at the top of his forehead? Only if you look at the right hand shot. And how about his eyeball. How much more realistic does it look on the right, with a reflection that is missing from the DVD, a pupil that can be seen within the brown iris, and even a tiny broken blood vessel.

Comparison 5

Oh, it's a protest sign. With actual words printed on it.

Comparison 5

Speaking of eyeballs. On the right we have them, and only on the right.

© 2002-2008, Stephen Dawson