– Summary –
Director : Roland Emmerich
Year Of Release : 1996
Principal Cast : Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Robert Loggia, Randy Quaid, Margaret Colin, James Rebhorn, Harvey Fierstein, Adam Baldwin, Brent Spiner, James Duval, Vivica A Fox, Lisa Jakub, Ross Bagley, Mae Whitman, Bill Smitrovich, Harry Connick Jr.
Approx Running Time : 145 Minutes
Synopsis: Aliens invade the Earth, devastating cities and obliterating mankind. As the survivors begin to regroup, a way to defeat the newcomers must be found before it’s too late.
What we think : Gargantuan destruction flick offers thrills, fun and adventure, as we watch Earth being targeted for destruction. Amazing effects (for the time) and a terrific cast giving it their all, plus a rousing “America, F@CK yeah!” tone set the benchmark for summer popcorn films ever since. ID4 is a winner.
Dazzling, bombastic, utterly cheeseball sci-fi blockbuster that reinvented the disaster film for the 90’s and the new millennium, and catapulted the burgeoning career of one Will Smith firmly into the A-List status he’s enjoyed ever since.
Featuring some goofy characters, some state-of-the-art effects and action sequences, a witty (if slightly idiotic) script and some great performances by what can only be described as an eclectic cast, Independence Day is one of those rare films where the lapses on logic and common sense are bludgeoned into nothingness by the sheer exuberance of it all. Featuring star turns by Bill Pullman as the US President (one of the good ones, like Harrison Ford in Air Force One), Vivica Fox, Mary MacDonnell, Harry Connick Jr, Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum and Randy Quaid, ID4 is an epic, full scale Hollywood blockbuster in almost every sense.
One bright day, in the middle of the night, alien ships descend from outer space into our atmosphere, hovering over our major population centers like enormous, city sized saucers, much to our dismay. They do not want to communicate with us, they simply want to annihilate us, as they quickly show us when we send a team of soldiers to try and make contact. Using a strange electronic signal to coordinate their attacks, at a predetermined hour each ship opens up like some bizarre interstellar flower, and unleashes seven shades of hell upon the earth, with the aliens’ destructive beams of energy laying waste to everything in sight. Buildings collapse, both famous and not-so-famous, cities are levelled and people obliterated in the maelstrom that accompanies the alien ship’s arrival.
All this takes place on July 2, a couple of days before the American holiday of Independence Day (well, duh!), leaving a day or so for “us” to gather our forces and strike back. It makes sense that if aliens come down and try screwing with us, we’ll give it our best shot to see them off the porch in short order, right? That’s exactly what we do, at least, try to do, the following day. The remnants of the armed forces not taken out by the alien ships gather in hidden bunkers and deserted areas outside major population centers, trying to find a way to defeat the almost indestructible alien beings. Their ships, both large and small, are surrounded by an impenetrable forcefield, which not even our most powerful nuclear devices can penetrate.
Hidden deep within a bunker in Area 51, the US President (Pullman), a TV technician (Goldblum) and the technician’s father (Judd Hirsh) find a way to defeat the aliens using a kind of War Of The Worlds esque-virus to implant into the aliens computers, to disable the forcefields and make them vulnerable. So, in traditional Hollywood style, a last ditch effort arises (against incredible odds) to use a stolen alien fighter to fly up to the mothership (hovering just inside Earth’s orbit) and deposit a nuclear device within it, thus disabling the alien fleet and sending them scurrying back to their proverbial holes.
Will Smith gets the bulk of the laughs as a gung-ho fighter pilot for the military, who not only captures an alien alive, but trundles across miles of burning desert to Area 51 to allow scientists to study it. In the process of this “study”, it is revealed that the aliens will never reason with us, never try and compromise on anything: they simply want us eradicated. It’s at this moment, when we find out what the aliens want, that the film puffs out it’s chest, gets all square-jawed and patriotic, and let’s fly with a salvo of “you will not prevail” cheese that almost threatens to overturn all the good work the film had done up until that point. Bill Pullman, himself more square-jawed than almost the entirety of the rest of the cast combined, delivers a flag-waving speech of monumental import, all with the rising musical score pounding us into patriotic submission along the way.
Independence Day gets most of it’s favour and cheeky impact from the genuine sense of fun leeching from every frame of this film. Director Dean Devlin savours every nuance of terror and madness as the alien crafts descend at first, then lovingly ladles upon the extravagant destruction, savouring every moment of building collapse and explosion with a glee that’s apparent to all; something which would be awkwardly reminiscent of the events of 9/11 a few years later. However, ID4, as a pre-9/11 film, will elicit the most hopeful and inspiring feelings from the audience. And with humanity stepping up, coming together as one, and having a last-gasp effort against the enemy, you’ll be proud as punch you all live in the United States.
Oh, but you don’t? Sorry then, because this film paints in such broad strokes that it has little time for anything outside of the US. Occasional mentions of British and Middle Eastern forces are inserted through the film, although all appear subservient to the interests of our mighty United States. According to ID4, only the US can save the world.
As far as being a serious work of art, ID4 is as far from that as the Pope is from becoming a hooker. There’s no hidden subtext to this film, no message within the scripting or action that would seek to elevate your thinking to a higher plane. Nope, it’s simply all about the explosions, the whizz-bang effects, the cheesey screenplay and the gung-ho acting. And, as long as you don’t expect more than that, you’ll thoroughly enjoy it. A film without pretence, is a film to savour. ID4 became the catalyst for the new wave of disaster films during the 90’s, which proliferated due to a desire to see whose effects could outdo the others. And as the scale of the disaster became larger, conversely, the scale of human drama became smaller, with less emphasis on the script and more on just how cool the film could look.
Admittedly, too much of a good thing can spoil the experience, so it’s good to know that ID4 never outstays it’s welcome: the original cut of the film is better than the available Directors Version, in which a few minutes of extra footage is woven into the narrative. However, the extra footage does nothing for the film over all except extend it a little in running time, and hardly seems worth it in the end. Still, ID4 is a genuinely entertaining piece of sci-fi extravagance.
For a blockbuster film, in the truest sense of the phrase, ID4 is a triumph of movie-making. Superb.