With the release of a sequel 20 years in the making, I take a look back at Roland Emmerich’s original blockbuster
Following the huge success of Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park, in the mid-nineties Hollywood started to take risks on huge budget blockbusters. Independence Day was one of the simplest of these films. The idea was originally sold on to film executives as massive spaceships and huge explosion in famous landmarks. This was also probably the most heavily promoted of this wave of films – so much so that the hype around it alone was enough to have the release of Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! pushed back (despite being a very different film) to the winter, and Steven Spielberg apparently stopped production on his version of War Of The Worlds (which eventually came out in 2005).
Everyone knows the story of Independence Day by now – huge alien spaceships appear over famous landmarks around the world, scientist Jeff Goldblum (a slightly less smooth scientist Jeff Goldblum than in Jurassic Park) intercepts a message counting down to an all out attack, President Bill Pullman gives a speech which inspires the whole world to fight back, and fighter pilot Will Smith punches an alien – so, the point of this re-view is to ask, how does this film hold up 20 years later?
Now, I’ll admit that my TV isn’t the best way to experience a film of this scale. If the explosions don’t scorch my eye-balls and give me tinnitus, I’m not getting the full effect of what director Roland Emmerich intended.
I mentioned Mars Attacks! in the introduction, and that film actually cost more than Independence Day. Now, Mars Attacks! definitely spent more on its actors (Jack Nicholson et al don’t come cheap) but it shows that Emmerich really did get a lot out of his budget. The limited use of CGI is actually a big plus point for Independence Day. Many modern blockbuster have no weight when the big explosions start happening (look at something like this year’s explode-a-thon London Has Fallen or the wanton destruction in X-Men: Apocalypse’s finale), but the use of scale models in fact makes the destruction feel more real, and a LOT less dated than what computer generated imagery could have mustered up in 1996. And when CGI is used – things like the cloud cover over the spaceships when they first arrive on Earth – it’s used sparingly enough so that it still looks good 20 years later. The iconic sequence of famous landmarks blowing up, and the President’s plane’s escape especially, still look great. There are a few dodgy CGI moments, but that’s just because we have been spoiled with what we can see on even modestly budgeted films. It will be interesting if Independence Day: Resurgence holds up in 20 years time.
The humour of the script is still as effective now as well. The use of REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”, the SETI head scientist doing a bit of physical comedy, Jeff Goldblum and his father playing chess, from the very beginning there’s an undercurrent of homour throughout, but it’s nicely balanced and again (and I can’t believe I’m using this word so often) restrained later in the film to allow use to actually care about the characters. And of course, Will Smith is witty and cool and Jeff Goldblum is, well, Jeff Goldblum, and as watchable as ever. Also, Arrested Development and The Duff’s Mae Whitman is the President’s daughter! That’s something I didn’t realise until this re-view, and if that doesn’t justify a re-watch, I don’t know what does.
Basically, Independence Day is still as fun and enjoyable as it ever was. If you haven’t seen it in a long time, give it another watch, there’s a lot of fun to be had and lots of visually impressive moments. Also, by allowing the characters to be mortal and suffer loss (everyone of the main characters loses someone they care about) and the sheer futility of the first attempted counter-attacks, we actually get taken on a nice little journey throughout. The “all-hope-is-lost” moment actually takes up most of the middle portion of the film, but this gives the film an actual emotional weight.
It takes plenty of its cues from other classic sci-fi films (the computer virus is a nice, logical update on HG Wells’ The War Of The Worlds), but it has in turn been used as a template ever since. Obviously, credulity is stretched multiple times across the film, but looking back now, Independence Day is a blockbuster in the old tradition of epic movies. We have an awesome sweeping soundtrack, adrenaline-pumping action sequences, and maybe I’m biased, but it earns its finale, rousing inspirational speech and all.
And hey, they threw in an Airplane! reference. It’s almost like this film was made specifically for me.
What happened next? Independence Day went on to make over $800 million at the box office, and was the highest grossing film of 1996, and at the time was the 2nd highest grossing film of all time. Science fiction films moved firmly back into the mainstream, and the special effects disaster film made a comeback as well. Vague plans for a sequel finally became concrete in 2011, and here we are 5 years later with Independence Day: Resurgence being released on 23rd June 2016.
Will Smith followed this up with another huge hit in Men In Black, solidifying himself as a Grade A Hollywood superstar. His films have taken $6.6 billion at the box office so far, and has received 2 Oscar nominations, although the golden statue has eluded him so far.
Roland Emmerich made Godzilla and The Patriot, before going back to global destruction blockbusters with The Day After Tomorrow and 2012. His films have made over $3 billion at the box office.
Independence Day: Resurgence is released in the UK on 23rd July and worldwide on 24th June 2016. Book your tickets now!
Until next time, stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold. See you soonish.
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