It’s flags on lapels and faded decals
Independence Day (1996): 9 out of 10: is a science fiction action film set around July 4th, the United States’ national holiday. The movie begins with the sudden appearance of massive alien spaceships that position themselves over several major cities around the world. As humanity grapples with this unexpected visitation, the intentions of the aliens become clear: they are not here for peace.
The film follows a diverse group of characters, including the President of the United States (played by Bill Pullman), a brilliant satellite technician (played by Jeff Goldblum), and a courageous fighter pilot (played by Will Smith), as they try to comprehend the alien threat and find a way to counteract it.
As nations around the world suffer devastating attacks, the survivors come together, aiming to launch a coordinated defense on July 4th, turning the day into a global fight for humanity’s survival.
“Independence Day” is known for its dramatic action sequences, iconic imagery, and the theme of global unity in the face of existential threats.
The Good: Independence Day is a bigger film than I remember it. It is a breezy two and a half hours. Like all great disaster films, it has a dozen or so story lines all intersecting in the incident and as the cast is whittled down, they come together to survive and in the case of Independence Day to kick some alien ass.
One of the highlights of Independence Day was the amazing special effects, especially when it came to the destruction of various American Cities. (Washington D.C, New York and Los Angeles are featured.) The effects hold up very well thirty or so years later. In fact, they hold up suspiciously well. Much like a simular film of the nineties time well renowned for its special effects (Jurassic Park) Independence Day uses a combination of practical effects, miniatures and CGI.
The puzzlement is not that the effects hold up. It is that they look better than their modern equivalent. Looking at the effects in Independence Day versus, say, Moonfall and Independence Day’s effects are simply more visceral. Honestly, despite a small fortune spent on CGI dinosaurs in Jurassic World, it simply does not have the same quality as Spielberg’s original T-Rex effects. The CGI cannot compare to the actual life sized T-Rex puppet used in the first film.
Independence Day does have a cast of dozens and some real star making turns for both Will Smith and Bill Pullman. It is a lot of the smaller character work that does some heavy lifting here. For example, Randy Quaid as the crazy drunk outcast (I know. How does he pull it off?), James Rebhorn as the clear bad guy who never gets around to doing bad guy things because alien attack, and Harvey Fierstein making me want to watch The Birdcage for the twentieth time even though I am now reminded he somehow is not in that movie.
The Bad: There really isn’t anything bad per se in Independence Day. But any movie with a dozen subplots is going to have a few that don’t quite work as well as the others. If there is a weak sauce, it is the First Lady (Mary McDonnell) dying very very slowly after her helicopter crashes, talking with Vivica A. Fox who is a stripper, single mother, dog owner and girlfriend of ace pilot Will Smith.
I understand what they were going for. Kind of like a Crash (the bad Oscar winning one not the sex with/in a car one) vibe but obviously ten years before Crash. Those scenes take a little too long in a movie with an already healthy runtime and really add little either in narrative way or in a simply entertaining way.
The Ugly: I get what the screenwriters were going for. Hey you know how in War of the Worlds the alien invasion was defeated by a virus. Hey let’s have these aliens be defeated by a computer virus. Well, it was a cute idea. But it was also a really stupid idea in 1996 and is even stupider in 2023.
In Conclusion: Independence Day is better than you remember it. Heck, there is a whole bit right out of every creature feature with a long-haired hippie Brent Spiner that would be the highlight of most movies and that I honestly forgot was in this one till I saw it again.
To quote our best president, Bill Pullman. “In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. “Mankind.” That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom… Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution… but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live. To exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: “We will not go quietly into the night!” We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!