Independence Day

"Welcome to Earth."
(This is a review of the original 1996 movie Independence Day, and it includes spoilers. I'm posting it because the sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence, is premiering this Friday.)

This isn't a great movie. I'm not even sure it's a good movie. But it is an outstanding popcorn movie. It's also obnoxiously American. After all, it insisted on pushing an American holiday onto the rest of the world.

When I first went to see it in the theater in 1996, it completely pulled me in -- at first. I was taking it seriously, especially since Roland Emmerich spent so much time deftly setting up the massive destruction sequences that blew our socks off. My favorite bit during those big action sequences was Air Force One escaping the destruction of DC by a thread.


How Planet of the Apes of them.
But about the time we started getting into Roswell and Area 51, even with Brent Spiner's hilarious performance as Dr. Odun ("They don't let us out much"), I simply couldn't take the rest of the movie seriously.

Not that I didn't enjoy it. ID4 is fun to watch. Every scene has something exciting or enjoyable in it. The aliens are completely vicious and irredeemable, so watching them go down is unequivocably fun. And they gave us such wonderful character actors like Robert Loggia and Adam Baldwin to support the stars Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman. Judd Hirsch as Jeff Goldblum's father was my favorite, hilarious and adorable in every scene he did. I especially liked how he was looking for souvenirs in the White House during a national emergency.

Independence Day quite deservedly made Will Smith into a movie star. I absolutely loved the sequence after he lost his entire squadron as well as his best friend and crashed in the desert, where he advanced on foot to the crashed alien ship and yelled before punching the tentacled alien in the face. Smith has said that with Steve, he was going for Han Solo. Whatever. It worked.
"You know, this was supposed to be my weekend off, but no. You got me out here dragging your heavy ass through the burning desert with your dreadlocks sticking out the back of my parachute. You gotta come down here with an attitude, acting all big and bad... and what the hell is that smell? I could have been at a barbecue!"
Bill Pullman as earnest, heroic President Whitmore was pretty much doing a straight version of his character in Spaceballs, although maybe he didn't quite pull off the fighter pilot leading his rag tag squadron of amateurs into battle. But Jeff Goldblum was wonderful as David, the tech guy obsessed with recycling, who gets to outright save the planet in the end.

This time through, I noticed that pretty much every character in this movie lost someone they care about in the first half of the movie, which was nice set-up: Harvey Fierstein as David's workmate (I loved that his last words were "Oh, crap"); Harry Connick Jr. in a gem of a performance as Steve's best friend. Unfortunately, while the cast was wonderfully diverse, the two female leads, Connie and Jasmine, ended up as cheerleaders while Steve and David were saving the world. And they started out so well. Connie was the president's chief of staff, or possibly his press secretary. And Jasmine may have been a stripper, but she was also a single mother who commandeered a highway maintenance truck and saved a lot of lives. It's sort of shame that they were sidelined in the end.


A lot of critics point at the plot elements that were just too hard to swallow, and yes, I did mention above that after a certain point, I found it impossible to take this movie seriously. Coordinating a world-wide mass attack with a window of only a few minutes using Morse code? Jeff Goldblum bringing down the aliens with a laptop? But in the movie's defense, they did set up the computer virus at the start with the countdown embedded in our own satellites thingy. And I liked that it was not nukes but smarts that brought the aliens down.

Okay, okay. But I'd save my dog, too.

Bits:

-- This movie takes place on July 2, 3 and 4. It begins and ends with a countdown.

-- Mary McDonnell played the first lady. Just a few years later, she got to play the president. I couldn't help but think about the current presidential election.

-- A lot of the Los Angeles attack on the alien ship is very Stars Wars attacking the Death Star.

-- I always loved the use of the song "It's the End of the World as We Know It."

-- The West Wing oval office set looked an awful lot like the one used in The West Wing three years later. Was it the same one?

Quotes:

Marty: "Omigod. I gotta call my brother, my housekeeper, my lawyer. Nah, forget my lawyer."

Steve: "Look, I really don't think they flew ninety billion light years to come down here and start a fight, get all rowdy."

Julius: "If you're so smart, tell me something. How come you go to MIT for eight years to become a cable repairman?"

Woman: "Oh god, I hope they bring back Elvis."

Colonel: "Something you want to add to this briefing, Captain Hiller?"
Steve: "No, sir. Just a little anxious to get up there and whoop E.T.'s ass, that's all."

Julius: "All you need is love. John Lennon. Smart man. Shot in the back. Very sad."

President: "What do you want us to do?"
Alien: "Die."

David: "You really think you can fly that thing?"
Steve: "You really think you can do all that bullshit you just said?"

Casse: "I picked a hell of a day to quit drinking."
An appropriate petit homage to Airplane, I assume.

Casse: "All right, you alien assholes! In the words of my generation: up yours!"

This movie is still fun to watch, which I can say with complete truthfulness since I very much enjoyed watching it last night. Three out of four cigars,

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television, especially science fiction, and spends way too much time writing about it.

3 comments:

toby martin said...

I loved this movie as a kid! I've not seen it for a long time, maybe I should. I'm unsure if I want to see the new one or not, the trailer showed too much and Will Smith isn't in it.

Baby M said...

This film is not hard-core hard SF, and never tries to be. As you said, it's a popcorn movie--two hours of big, dumb, goofy brain candy, at which it succeeds brilliantly.

My favorite part is Will Smith going out to fetch the morning paper, completely oblivious to the giant alien spaceship floating above his head.

Icebox17 said...

Although the plot has not aged particularly well, especially as technology has become more and more accessible, the dialogue was always fantastic. I saw this movie while in the Air Force, stationed in Germany on base, and when Whitmore gave that final speech, I can tell you honestly that 2/3rds of the movie theater stood up and cheered as if he were leading all of us airmen and officers into the battle with him. Only time in my life I can remember doing something like that.