Tuesday, January 8, 2019

SCI-FI WAR MOVIE: Independence Day (1996)

                “Independence Day” initiated a resurgence of summer blockbusters and made a superstar of Will Smith.  It was directed by Roland Emmerich (“Midway”).  He wanted to make a movie about aliens that did not have them sneaking and hiding.  It was the highest grossing movie of 1996 and won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.  There are over 3,000 special effects shots, twice the previous record.  The movie also set a record for most miniatures.  Some of the effects and miniatures were necessary because the Pentagon withdrew cooperation when Emmerich refused to remove references to Area 51.  The mega-patriotic score won the Grammy.  It won the Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film.

                The movie opens on July 2.  The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence unit picks up a radio signal from the moon.  The soundtrack blares REM’s “It’s the End of the World” in case you were one of the few moviegoers who were not impacted by the movies massive advertising campaign.  Genius nerd David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) makes the huge leap to recognition that those ominous alien spacecraft hovering over key iconic landmarks are not here bringing gifts.  He drives from NYC to the White House to convince the president (Bill Pullman) that his approval ratings will go up if he leads the world in a war for survival.  The crisis will also do wonders for David’s relationship with his former wife.  The dastardly communistic aliens blow up the White House in the greatest money shot in sci-fi movie history.  What seemed extreme in 1996…  As usual in an alien invasion movie, the humans have all the pluck, but the aliens are seemingly invincible.  Their fighters are so superior that it takes Will Smith to bring one down.  Their space ships have force fields so they have nothing to worry about, even violation of the cinematic interplanetary treaty forbidding Earthlings to use nukes in our defense has no effect. It’s going to take a miracle, like in every other alien invasion movie.

                 The movie hops around following its ensemble of stereotyped characters.  There would have been a lot of fired agents if the movie had gotten the box office it deserved.  Just to mention the most egregious:  Randy Quaid steps right out of “National Lampoon’s Vacation” to play an alcoholic, alien abductee who will switch from flying a crop duster to piloting an F-18 with no training.  As usual in movies of this ilk, any average Joe can save the world.  The climactic suicide mission is led by the kick-ass President of the U.S. who happens to be an ex-fighter jock. The silliness eventually reaches an idiot-pleasing crescendo and (spoiler alert) we win against all reason.  The last ten minutes are a shitfest.

                How anyone could have left the theater without shaking their head and covering their face is beyond me.  If the goal of the film was to insult the intelligence of millions, mission accomplished.  It accomplishes this mission by cribbing its list of sci-fi war movie clichés.  Pompous patriotic score – check.  Lame humor – check.  Happy rousing ending – check.  Redemption character saves the world – check.  Vastly superior aliens defeated ludicrously – check.  Huge crowd-pleasing explosions – check.  The list goes on.  If you want to turn your brain off and allow yourself to be entertained, fine.  But don’t try to argue it is a good movie.



  1. This why I am really worried about the upcoming movie Midway.

  2. When I saw it the crowd cheered when the White House was blown up. Bubba Clinton was prez at the time. :-)

    I always thought that's why it did so well. Was I wrong??? LOL

    1. Every movie should have that image. Throw in the Capitol building for extra crowd-pleasing.

    2. Seee? it's not just THIS president that everyone hated.

  3. Your review has it. It is a fun movie but only if you stretch "suspension of disbelief" to the limit.

    The effects are good, the pace is pleasantly peppy, and the one-liners are pleasant; it's like watching a well made live-action cartoon.

    But you definitely can't think too hard about the story. The move is worse than most alien invasion movies in addressing the (almost always unasked) question of "why would beings that have mastered space travel have any problem with Earth defenses?" The aliens could have stood off in space and dropped rocks onto our cities if they wished and we wouldn't have been able to do anything about it.

    It sometimes seems like there is some sort of evil Prime Directive that applies to aliens - they can interfere in our affairs but only if they get down on their knees and give us a chance to fight back.

    1. I completely agree. I hate "War of the Worlds" just as much, but at least in that movie the aliens are defeated with no action by humans. That ending is much more realistic.


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