Alien invasion films have been a staple of science fiction movies for decades with such classics as George Pal’s War of the Worlds and Ray Harryhausen’s Earth vs. the Flying Saucers bringing alien destruction to the big screen, but in 1996 Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich took that standard sci-fi element and blended it with the 70s disaster genre, making a truly remarkable and explosive offering.
Set against the backdrop of the July 4th Holiday, a symbol of American independence and unity, the film unfolds with a sense of impending doom as several massive alien spacecraft descend upon Earth’s major cities, panic and chaos ensue. Independence Day swiftly transitions between different characters, weaving their individual stories into a larger tapestry of global crisis and it’s this narrative technique that allows the audience to experience the invasion’s impact from various perspectives, emphasizing the shared nature of the threat through the eyes of several characters, each contributing to the overarching narrative. Heading up the ensemble is Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith) a charismatic fighter pilot and David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) an MIT-educated satellite engineer who is the one to figure out that the aliens are not the “We come in peace” variety, and it will be up him and Hiller to take the fight to the alien invaders and save the day.
While Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith are the ostensible heroes of this film, Independence Day follows the formula that has been the backbone of many disaster films by supplying a variety of characters for us to follow; chief of them is the President of the United States Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman), White House Communications Director Constance Spano (Margaret Colin), who also happens to be David Levinson’s ex-wife, then we have alcoholic crop duster Russell Casse (Randy Quaid) whose life spiralled out of control after a supposed alien abduction years ago, next we have Steven Hiller’s girlfriend Jasmine Dubrow (Vivica A. Fox) who along with her son will hook up with First Lady Marilyn Whitmore (Mary McDonnell) for some added drama. But things get really interesting when our cast of characters are forced to retreat to Area 51 and they encounter Dr. Brackish Okun (Brent Spiner) who not only has alien corpses from the Roswell crash of 1947 on hand but a fully functional alien spacecraft as well. Like many alien invaders in past science fiction outings, these creatures are here to destroy our national monuments and blow shit up, and in that area, this film really excels.
• The eerie and breathtaking sight of massive spacecraft positioning themselves over various cities around the world mimics what we saw in the television mini-series V in 1983.
• There would be no need for the aliens to use Earth satellites for communications. They had deployed ships all around the globe which could easily relay signals.
• Jasmine, her kid and their dog surviving the fireball in the tunnel is ludicrous, they would have been roasted by the fireball going through the open door, not to mention the fire consuming all the oxygen as it travelled through the tunnel.
• Since the “shields” of the alien ships can not be penetrated, even by nuclear weapons, why would the aliens bother to deploy their own fighters to engage the oncoming earth fighters?
• The small alien craft would have been designed for multi-tentacled beings so trying to fly one with two human hands should be next to impossible.
• The aliens utilize a bio-mechanical suit so when Will Smith did the whole “Welcome to Earth” and punched the alien in the “head” all that should have accomplished would have been breaking his own hand.
• David manages to write a virus for an unknown alien computer, with an unknown and alien operating system and an interface that uses an unknown and alien language. There is genius and then there is magic bullshit like this.
• Using a “virus” to defeat the aliens is a nice reference to the common cold taking out the Martain invaders in the H.G. Wells classic War of the Worlds which certainly makes more sense than what we have here.
• Our heroes travel to the mothership aboard an alien craft that crashed in Roswell back in 1947, but for some reason, the aliens don’t question the return of this long-lost ship.
Beyond its thrilling action sequences and groundbreaking effects, the film offers deeper themes that resonate with audiences. One such theme is humanity’s ability to unite in times of crisis. The shared threat of the alien invasion erases national boundaries, bringing together people of different backgrounds and beliefs. The movie emphasizes that, in the face of external peril, humanity’s survival instinct can foster cooperation and empathy among even the most unlikely allies and Bill Pullman’s portrayal of President Thomas J. Whitmore brings a genuine emotional depth to the film and his rousing speech before the climactic battle has become one of the most memorable moments in cinematic history. The camaraderie and sacrifices made by the characters make their fight against the alien invaders incredibly compelling and relatable.
The movie is a rollercoaster of suspense, action, and heart-pounding moments with the now iconic scenes of the alien ships obliterating famous landmarks, such as the White House and Empire State Building, and becoming etched in pop culture memory. The CGI effects, though somewhat dated by today’s standards, were groundbreaking for their time and still contribute to the film’s intense atmosphere but it’s the amazing model work to create all that alien devastation that is beyond impressive – it still holds the record for most miniature model work to appear in one film – and it set the benchmark for such blockbuster effects for all future genre efforts. More than two decades after its release, Independence Day continues to hold a special place in the hearts of audiences worldwide and the film’s legacy is evident in its influence on subsequent science fiction and disaster films, as well as its impact on popular culture. The term “Independence Day” itself has become synonymous with the celebration of national identity and the triumph of the human spirit.
Despite its strengths, Independence Day is not without its flaws. Some characters fall into predictable archetypes, certain plot developments may stretch believability and the dialogue occasionally ventures into cheesy territory, while some character arcs a left undeveloped. Additionally, certain plot conveniences and scientific inaccuracies may challenge viewers who are seeking a more grounded science fiction experience. There is also the issue of some jingoistic elements – there are so many shots of American icons and military vehicles that you wouldn’t be blamed if you thought you were watching a Michael Bay movie – and when our heroes come up with a plan to take down the aliens we are “treated” to a montage of other countries standing around as if they were simply waiting for America to step in and save the day. However, these issues are easily overlooked in the face of the film’s overall entertainment value and if you came here to see Will Smith act cool and be a badass then you will get just that, and if watching cities explode and crumble is your thing then Independence Day has plenty of that as well.
In conclusion, Independence Day remains a beloved classic that encapsulates the spirit of ’90s blockbuster cinema and its combination of thrilling action, memorable characters and inspiring moments makes it a must-watch for fans of the genre. While it may venture into cheesy moments and goofy science its enduring appeal and impact on popular culture are undeniable. Whether you’re revisiting it for nostalgia or discovering it for the first time, Independence Day is a spectacle that continues to entertain and captivate audiences worldwide.
Independence Day (1996)
Movie Rank - 7.5/10
Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day remains a landmark in science fiction cinema. Its blend of action, heartfelt performances, and groundbreaking special effects contribute to a cinematic experience that leaves audiences on the edge of their seats.