Independence Day

Director: Roland Emmerich

1996

Right from the off the film is crammed with iconic images. First you get space, the moon landing in particular with the infamous “We come in peace for all mankind”, followed by the raising of the Stars and Stripes at Iwo Jima and the Statue of Liberty. In these three images we see America as an explorer, a warrior and the land of the free.

“Director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin pack their movie with humorous actors – Will Smith, Robert Loggia, Judd Hirsch, Harvey Fierstein – playing the action with tongue planted firmly in cheek, though the real star here is not any of the actors, but the brilliant special effects.” (858, Joanna Berry, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) Emmerich is something of a pro at engaging disaster movies following up Independence Day with The Day After Tomorrow (2004). Will Smith is epic as Captain Steven Hiller. He captures the balance of humor and action perfectly and it’s not surprising that this was the film that launched him as a blockbuster actor. I love Judd Hirsch as David’s father – he is just so very Jewish! Jeff Goldblum is surprisingly sedate as the scientist David.

Bill Paxton is commanding as the President. He’s a smart leader, one who is willing to listen to scientists as well as, and most of the time instead of, his military advisers. All the more surprisingly when you think that his character is himself a military man. I also really enjoy Adam Baldwin’s performance but then he is a Joss Whedon regular and as a self-confessed Whedonite I am kind of predisposed to like anything he does. Emmerich makes all the female characters throughout the film extremely strong and capable in their own right. Ultimately it is the useless drunk who ends up being the hero of the piece, sacrificing himself for the greater good and somewhat redeeming himself in his son’s eyes.

The plot moves at a fast pace with the whole of America descending rapidly into panic and organized chaos on the military front. Their first response to the appearance of the ships is one I found surprising. Instead of shooting or attacking the ships their first action is to send a “Welcome Wagon” echoing the plaque on the moon, “We come in peace for all mankind.” I found it surprising watching it post 9/11 where it seems as though relations are not so readily friendly. It wouldn’t seem strange if their first response now would be to shoot first and ask questions later. “From alien spaceships reminiscent of the cult television series V, to the attacks on Earth (almost too realistic), we watch in horror as once great landmarks – the Empire State Building and the White House – are reduced to piles of smoking rubble.” (858) The initial attacks are mind-blowing; the special effects still hold up now and have lost none of their intensity. If anything they have gained added intensity when viewed through post 9/11 eyes. It’s an extraordinary thing watching iconic buildings being decimated. You can’t help but recall the all too real events of that fateful day in September and the devastation that followed. Although the images presented in Independence Day are engineered in a computer there are plausible links between the two, the imaginary and (sadly) the reality.

The links established between the core group of characters is done well allowing all the separate parties to converge throughout the film with one purpose – to unite in one final grand affront to defeat the aliens at the climax of the film. The children create an opportunity for emotional scenes as well as forming a similarity between the President, the most important man in the country (and depending on where you live the world) and a lowly soldier, Hiller. The downfall of an entire alien invasion is something as delightfully simple as a common cold.

The colours of the alien spacecraft are gorgeous blues and greens and completely at odds with the tone which actually makes them more sinister. You associate blues and greens with calm, peace and serenity (at least I do) and therefore expect the aliens to be peaceful … which they’re really not.

And then of course you have the slightly saccharine moment of “Didn’t I promise you fireworks?” and the whole Happy 4th July stuff which I have to say as a Brit kind of passes me by. However all in all Independence Day is an enjoyable romp and a lovely way to spend Friday night with the family when television lets you down.

 

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