Second Union

Second Union

VINTAGE APOCALYPSE: Independence Day (1996)

“They’re like locusts. They’re moving from planet to planet… their whole civilization. After they’ve consumed every natural resource they move on… and we’re next.”

Independence Day, 1996 (Will Smith) 20th Century Fox

There’s been a great deal of revisionism with regard to certain movies deemed classics over the last 30 years. Some, like The Matrix, have inexplicably skated over these sentiments while others have suffered under the cold analysis of heterodoxy. Titanic is one such title. The movie made $2 billion dollars worldwide, but now it’s regarded as crap. I don’t know that Independence Day was ever seen as a cinematic masterpiece, but I know a lot more people tend to hate the movie these days compared to when it was first released.

Maybe the people who enjoyed the movie in 1996 feel a little more than embarrassed at watching Jeff Goldblum destroy an enormous alien mothership with nothing more than an Apple Macintosh Powerbook. I mean those things never got faster than 100 MHz, and you’re telling me 32MB of RAM can speak an alien language and then dump a virus into the mothership’s alien technology? It’s called suspension of disbelief, but that’s not the point. The point is I loved Independence Day. I loved it when it came out. I loved it on video. I love it now in 2020. I thought The Matrix was pretty nifty in 1999, but I don’t have as much love for the “blue pill” the movie offers me these days. Truth be told, The Matrix bored me, but I realize it’s an acquired taste.

It was the movie’s trailer, famously released during Super Bowl XXX on January 28, 1996, as well as the first X-Files videotapes, that had me screaming, “Shut up and take my money!” The trailer, featuring images of the White House being destroyed by alien spaceships, was so hot everybody was talking about it. Independence Day had all the promise of a cheesy science fiction “B’-movie but made on a big budget, like Plan 9 from Outer Space or It Came from Outer Space, and I was prepared to accept it on that basis. All you have to do is convince me and I’m with you.

The film operates on tried and tested beats, as if writers Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich watched every science fiction film ever made and distilled them down to a formula. They introduce characters and ideas that will figure prominently in the final acts, such as Randy Quaid’s drunken fighter pilot, Goldblum’s computer whiz who deciphers the mysterious signals from the aliens, and Will Smith’s heroic air force pilot. All these people come together (with unpopular President Bill Pullman) to beat up some aliens and restore truth and justice to the American way! I’m getting ahead of myself. Enormous ships appear over Earth one day and position themselves above large city populations all over the world. Former M.I.T. genius turned cable television repairman Goldblum figures out (with his trusty laptop) the aliens are coordinating a first strike, so he takes his woes to the President.

Evacuations are ordered and, in one of the more tense scenes, Air Force One takes off just as the White House is destroyed. Goldblum and his rabbi father, Judd Hirsch manage to escape with the President and his Press Secretary Constance (Margaret Colin), Goldblum’s ex-wife. The Air Force is dispatched and hotshot fighter pilot Will Smith (and friends) take on the smaller alien ships and get their butts kicked, but he does manage to capture one of the aliens and bring it back to AREA 51 in Roswell, New Mexico! Area 51, being a top-secret location is the perfect place to plan a counter-offensive, and this is also where all the central characters meet. There’s even a little bit of domestic drama to keep things moving.

It’s beautiful how everything comes together, but it is very by-the-numbers for a movie of this type. The aliens are dangerously telepathic and their purpose seems to be consuming all of the natural resources of a given planet and then moving on. This is when Goldblum gets the idea to give the alien computer a “cold.” More specifically a computer virus. He and Will Smith will fly a captured alien craft into the mothership, dump the virus and beat cheeks. Independence Day is equal parts Star Wars, Alien, V, and War of the Worlds. It’s incredibly cheesy and it never tries to be anything more than the cribbed components that make up the story, and that’s why I love it. Independence Day was followed by the unwatchable 2016 sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence.

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