My first real experience with true Summer Blockbuster hype that I can really remember was Independence Day (or ID4 as some of the promotional materials touted it as). I was 20 years old and walked into the flashy new theater at the Mall of America (which is now a completely crap theater) around 4:30 in the afternoon, only to find out that ID4 was sold out for every screening until 10:50 that evening. “Holy shit” I thought. I’ve never seen this before. I convinced my girlfriend at the time to hang out at the mall all day until our screening at 10:50 that night. Reluctantly she agreed. And I’m so glad she did. It was the most memorable and maybe the best theater experience I’ve ever had in my life. And probably why I saw the movie in the theater at least 5 times back in late ’96.
Now, does ID4 have some holes and get a little cheesy here and there? Most certainly. Is some of the dialogue a little corny? Yeah. But the rest of the film is so enjoyable and successful and cool and fun and exciting that these very minor problems are so easy to overlook. Instead of the typical review, I’ll assume everyone’s seen the movie and present a list of reasons why I love ID4 so much (currently at #53 on my list of favorite movies of all time) and why I had such a great experience.
- The opening shot is a great. Sure it’s reminiscent of the opening shot of Star Wars, but that may be exactly why I like it. The ship looks awesome and instead of open space, we see the shadow of this monstrosity slowly devour the moon. A landscape that is recognizable and close to home – as opposed to open space or Tatooine. Doom impending. The theater seats rumble. Great opening shot. “For all mankind.”
- “…just a little anxious to get up there and whoop E.T.’s ass sir.” Will Smith. This was a big step in Will Smith’s career. This is the movie that solidified him as a summer hero for years to come (including this year, 2008). Funny, charming, courageous, skillful, cool and badass. Between Maverick or Capt. Hiller as my wingman, I’ll take Hiller any day of the week (though to be fair, I like Goose better than Harry Connick Jr). Punching the alien in the face was funny and unexpected. I remember the theater being fairly quiet right after it happened save for one probably 5 year-old kid who burst out laughing. The theater got quite a kick out of that.
- Bill Pullman. At the time, I only really knew him from While You Were Sleeping. When people mention great on-screen Presidents, Pullman is usually the first or second that springs to mind.
- The Speech:
- Jeff Fucking Goldblum. Love love LOVE him here. Every line spoken is Goldblum on Goldblum. I need to say no more on that.
- The attack. We all sat dumbfounded as the country literally goes up in flames. The anticipation of what was going to happen when that clock reached zero was exciting and the narrow escape by Air Force One was nail biting. Explosions, the gay guy’s simple resignation that his life is over, “oh crap,” and the flames sweeping through the city streets. Which leads me to…
- Probably my favorite scene of the entire movie. Boomer the dog leaping from car to car with a huge smile on his face and that big tongue lazily lolling out of his mouth as he leaps into the service corridor (in slow motion I might add) narrowly escaping the giant fireball. The most implausibe thing ever? So what!? The crowd on that Friday night went berzerk with applause. It was great. Still is.
- The patriotism. Ok, so some of you are turned off by the ra-ra America thing. Two words for that: tough shit. It’s the United States’ Independence Day. Nothing wrong in my mind with showing pride and ass-kickery from the strongest nation on the planet. Besides the notorious shots of the White House and Empire State Building exploding, I love the shot the next day of NYC in ruins and the statue of liberty lying face down in the water (that takes on a new meaning today, but in 1996 it meant something a little different – more fictional. We were angry in a good way). While V for Vendetta did it the wrong way and only angered me to see important landmarks blown up for the wrong reasons (i.e. promoting terrorism), ID4 did it effectively and for the right reasons. It brought the people together and made us hunger for vengeance and victory.
- Yeah, the July 3 counter attack and ensuing battle is super cool. Love the shot of hundreds of F-15s taking to the sky and all firing their sidewinders at the same time. It’s just awe-inspiring to look at. The camera pulls back a couple of times for a perspective on how tiny and insignificant the fighters are against this gigantic machine.
- All of the great character actors doing their thing. James Rebhorn as Mr. Nimzicki is devilishly snake-like. Although on our side, a real asshole that really helped to tie the room together. “Ah Mr. President? That not… entirely… accurate…”. Also Robert Loggia delivering the cliche lines a movie General is supposed to utter. Randy Quaid in a humorous role. Judd Hirsch Injecting some humor. Mary McDonnell before she was President of the Colonies serves a dramatic purpose: “Is mommy sleeping now?” “Yeah. Mommy’s sleeping.” C’mon, no emotional response pushing at your throat on that one?
- Brent Spiner as Dr. Okun (did you know his first name is Brackish? Cool). A nice unexpected cameo in which every dude in the theater simultaneously leaned over to his girlfriend and whispered, “ya know the robot guy that you kind of like in the Star Trek show I watch? That’s him!” He was humorous and disguised well. A nice touch having Data running Area 51.
- The effects. And not just the city and buildings exploding. The look of the ships, how they move, the smaller attack sequences and battles. At the time, it was beyond amazing how great everything looked. And to be honest, it still holds up really well today.
So yeah, all of the pieces of this puzzle fit really nicely into place. It’s easy to pick apart a lot of little things about this movie, but once you begin to do that, the whole thing becomes pointless. For what it is, the film is highly entertaining and exciting and despite having many multiple characters and story arcs, it flows really nicely. We get a good feel of who each character is and what motivated them. It’s not the deepest character study ever, but compare any character in ID4 to any character in Transformers. 10 out of 10 times the character in ID4 will be deeper, more interesting, funnier and serves an important purpose.
This movie is basically taking the idea of the 80′s television mini-series, V (which I love), and putting back in all of the exciting bits.
Unfortunately the creative team behind this movie (Devlin/Emmerich) hasn’t put together anything nearly as entertaining or fun since. That is my only regret.
Forget the fireworks tonight. Sit down in front of your Hi-def and watch Independence Day one more time.