When INDEPENDENCE DAY was released in the summer of 1996, sci-fi geeks and audiences in general were anticipating this film like rednecks anticipate the next episode of DOG: THE BOUNTY HUNTER. For anyone who has seen this film recently, especially those who have recently seen it for the first time ever, it is unfathomable to think anyone would actually look forward to a retarded piece of shit as ID4 (as some marketing executive at 20th Century Fox so cleverly decided to call it and inadvertently started the fucking annoying trend of abbreviating movie titles). However, one has to step back, take a deep breath, and understand the state of science fiction films during the 1990’s. Aside from the occasional STAR TREK feature film and the X-FILES television series, science fiction was pretty much a dead genre during the 90’s. Then, in 1994, Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich, the writing-directing team behind ID4, came out with their first collaboration, STARGATE. Much to the surprise of its studio, MGM, and the rest of Hollywood, the film turned out to be a big success and it made the industry realize that there was a big audience out there hungry for science fiction. Smelling the money, Devlin and Emmerich got to work immediately on their second film, ID4, an alien invasion movie that attempts to pay homage to 1950’s alien sci-fi movies. ID4 was a monster box office hit and it started a wave of disaster and science fiction films that continued well into the 2000’s.

Like it was something to brag about, the script to ID4 was reportedly written in the span of 1 month while Devlin and Emmerich were on vacation in Mexico. And it shows. Clearly, getting a script out as soon as possible to take advantage of their 5-minute fame from STARGATE was more important than attempting to write the greatest alien invasion story ever. ID4’s “story” is something I would imagine an 8-year old writing and even that is giving Devlin/Emmerich too much credit. Kids are more imaginative. ID4 is simply about aliens who invade Earth and the humans rise to defeat them. This is a very unapologetic, unsubtle, and straightforward alien invasion movie. Why do the aliens invade Earth? It doesn’t matter, but if you must know they are here because like all movie aliens, they want our resources and they need to first kill us and destroy our world before they could get to it. There is nothing here that has not been seen in other alien movies. The aliens arrive in flying saucers that look EXACTLY like the ones in the 1980’s TV mini-series, V (a far more superior alien invasion film by the way).

Devlin and Emmerich remind me a lot of Michael Bay. All three filmmakers clearly love movies (or else they wouldn’t be film directors), they have an affinity for large scale epics, and they live in the ignorant bliss of thinking they are good storytellers. Normally, when you hear about a bad director, its out of sight and out of mind because if he/she makes shitty movies, those films never register on your radar and you don’t care to waste any brain cells thinking about how bad that director is. However, what is so troubling about Devlin/Emmerich and Michael Bay is that not only are they crap filmmakers, they infect their poison on very high concept ideas that you wish were handled by good directors. Michael Bay’s PEARL HARBOR is the first example that comes to mind. ID4 is another. By 1996, a movie about alien invasions was obviously not an original idea, but because such a movie had not been made in a very long time, this idea was screaming for a great script and a great director to handle the material.

ID4 attempts to pay homage to 1950’s sci-fi movies. Like those films, ID4’s cast is full of scientists, military people, and government employees. The film looks at the invasion from a global perspective rather than on a smaller, more intimate scale like M. Night Shyamalan did with SIGNS. I have absolutely no problem with films paying homage to past movies (after all, that’s pretty much all Quentin Tarantino does with his movies), but the reason why 1950’s sci-fi films were so impactful is that those films really reflected the national consciousness of the nation. The aliens in those films represented the Communist threat and the science aspect of those films reflected the technological advancements of the emerging atomic age and subsequent space race. In 1996, however, no such parallels existed in the real world (or at least none that I can think of except maybe the emergence of the Internet) that could be represented in ID4. Consequently, paying homage to 1950’s sci-fi films with a modern take on those movies falls flat. I would have preferred for Devlin/Emmerich to have scrapped any notions of making an homage and have come up with a wholly original take on aliens invading Earth.

ID4 also pays its respects to the Irwin Allen era of 1970’s disaster films (THE TOWERING INFERNO, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE). In this regard, ID4 is much more successful. The 70’s disaster films typically had big casts, a love story, and one large disaster. ID4 has the same: large cast (Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Vivica A. Fox, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Robert Loggia, and Randy Quaid), there are multiple love stories (for Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, and Bill Pullman), and we obviously have the large event (alien invasion of Earth). But here’s the thing with those 70’s films. They generally sucked. They were melodramatic visual effects showpieces that hit upon a formula that brought studios a shitload of money. They have no staying power (with some exceptions such as THE TOWNERING INFERNO, which is only watchable now for the nostalgia factor if anything else). ID4 has those exact same problems.

One of the appeals of 70’s disaster movies was watching a bunch of famous actors share the same screen together. For comic book fans, its like when you see a big event featuring all the heroes team up to take on a huge threat. ID4 doesn’t have big famous stars on the level of Paul Newman and Steve McQueen (both in THE TOWERING INFERNO) (Will Smith was not yet the big star that he is today), but it has a few well-known actors that I would not have minded if they had been the only stars in this film. Will Smith’s career may have reached the stratosphere with his role here and the film has since become synonymous with his performance, but the two most interesting characters to watch are Jeff Goldblum and Randy Quaid. Goldblum reprises his geeky-cool scientist character (who also has the best one-liners in the film) from JURASSIC PARK and Quad looks like he’s having a fuckin’ ball as he chews up the scenery with his drunk Vietnam vet crop duster character. Another noteworthy appearance is by Brent Spiner (Data from STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION), who plays a scientist working in Area 51. One of the best scenes in the film is the brief interaction between Jeff Goldblum and Brent Spiner when they’re trying to figure out how to operate one of the alien’s ships.

Whatever else ID4 has in terms of character development is non-existent. Overall, there are just too many characters in the film for anyone to receive proper treatment. This problem exists even with the characters who do work. For example, I could care less about Randy Quaid’s character because we don’t spend enough time with him to connect with his character emotionally. There is one very brief description of his background as a Vietnam vet and an implication that he’s considered a crazy drunk by the local townsfolk. But that’s it. Consequently, his poor skills as a father and his subsequent redemption fail to elicit sympathy from the audience or to cheer him on when he goes on a suicide run into the alien ship.

The casting of Bill Pullman to play the President of the United States is one of the worst casting choices that have ever been made. In the beginning, he portrays the President as being this laid back and lackadaisical figure. Whatever momentum the film scrapes up is always killed whenever Pullman opens his mouth. And let’s not forget when he tries to pull off a BRAVEHEART speech before the human’s big counter-attack. It’s a laughable effort that falls flat on its ass. However, I will give Pullman credit for the film’s best dialogue where he states that there is no Area 51 and his adviser interjects and says that is not exactly true (ok, he gets partial credit because Pullman doesn’t actually say the punchline). As further evidence that no thought was put into developing this film, ID4 also plugs in comic relief characters that are nothing more than stereotypes. Those characters are played by Harvey Fierstein, who plays the stereotypical gay guy, and Judd Hirsch, who plays a stereotypical Jew. If you consider a flaming, over-the-top gay man and a Jew whose schtick comprises of Rodney Dangerfield/Jackie Mason type of humor funny, then I guess the film succeeds in that respect.

The film’s character problems can also be attributed to the film’s poor dialogue. A few examples: (little kid refuses to take his medicine after he witnesses his older brother get into an argument with their drunk dad (Randy Quaid) “I don’t want your stupid medicine because I’m so sick of medicine.” (Two young adolescents hiding in an underground military base before the aliens attack find comfort in each other) Girl: “I don’t want to due a virgin.” Boy: “If we do, we’ll both die virgins but at least we’ll be together.” Let this be a lesson for all you aspiring screenwriters. When you crank out a screenplay in a few weeks time, this is the sort of bullshit dialogue you will end up with – a clichéd, unimaginative jumble of words that will make your audience cringe with embarrassment.

Rushing a script has another consequence: illogical plot holes. ID4 is chock full of them. The following are the ones I discovered, but I’m sure there are many more:

  1. How is it that you show SETI discovering the aliens and the military figuring out what the aliens will do, but there is no mention of NASA figuring all this shit out?
  2. Why would aliens secretly place a countdown signal in one of our satellites? Why not just simply communicate with each other as to when they will attack Earth? Related to this, how is that only Jeff Goldblum discovers this signal?
  3. Why do clouds accompany the arrival of the alien ships? So fucking dumb.
  4. How does Jeff Goldblum (even with his MIT education) figure out so quickly that the alien’s satellite signal is really a countdown to Earth’s doom?
  5. In light of global panic and uncertainty that Will Smith simply refuses to believe in, why doesn’t he still take his stripper girlfriend and stepson with him to the air base for their safety?
  6. Related to this, if the stripper girlfriend (Jasmine) is so worried about an impending alien attack, then why does she work a shift at her strip club instead of just saying, “fuck this shit” and getting the fuck out of L.A.?
  7. Assuming this was due to the film’s rating and perhaps lack of budget, but why do we not see charred bodies all over the destroyed cities?
  8. When Jasmine and the other rescuers come across an injured First Lady, how is it that they don’t immediately recognize her? Strippers can’t be that stupid, right?
  9. Why does Will Smith show emotion when he’s informed that the El Touro airbase has been destroyed, but he barely showed any emotion when he found out L.A. was destroyed and presumably, Jasmine and his stepson were killed?
  10. How did Will Smith know Jasmine was at the El Touro airbase?
  11. What kind of President would decide to fly a jet fighter in a suicide mission against the aliens considering that if he gets shot down (very likely), his country will have no leader (since all the other White House and Cabinet members are presumably dead) and his daughter will lose her only parent in a post-apocalyptic world?
  12. How does Jeff Goldblum figure out that there is one main ship that controls the other ships?
  13. Why use up your limited supply of jet fighter missiles on little alien ships instead of only on the big mother ships? Jets have bullets too.
  14. Randy Quaid’s sacrifice is nice and all, but how does destroying the mother’s ship’s main weapon cause the whole ship to be destroyed?
  15. Finally, the film’s most memorable logical misstep was how the HELL can a Mac laptop connect to an alien’s computer system and upload a virus to it?

Does INDEPENDENCE DAY leave any sort of legacy in film history? Probably not. The money sequence where the aliens first attack and destroy NYC and L.A. is still fun to watch on a nice sound system despite the effects’ outdated look. But like most of the film, ID4 has become an ugly relic of the 1990’s. It helped establish Will Smith as one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars and Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich as one of Hollywood’s most successful filmmakers, but other than the film being a career booster, it has been relegated to a footnote in film history.

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