Disclaimer: *Mild* Spoiler Warning
Independence day is the 1996 blockbuster sci-fi film that has an ensemble cast set in America, the name is due to the coincidental event occurrence on July 4th.
The earth is attacked by the extraterrestrials, we are introduced to the large space ship at the film’s setup. Ironically, the footsteps on the moons is slowly erased by the spaceship’s vibrations, symbolizing the dawn of new provocation. Then, comes in the major characters, Thomas J Whitmore (Bill Pullman), U.S president whose integrity and role as the leader of the nation is being questioned by critics and journalists. David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), an MIT-educated expert working as the cable repair person, having a friendly relationship with his father Julius (Judd Hirsch). David divorced his wife Constance Spano (Margaret Colin) who is working as the white house communications director, a career David was against owing to the fact that he suspected Constance of having an affair with Whitmore. Capt Steve Hiller (Will Smith), an aspiring space pilot, living with his girlfriend Jasmine Dubrow (Vivica A Fox) who is an exotic dancer. David finds a signal in one of the satellite transmissions which revealed potential threat. He goes to the white house to warn the president, who orders the evacuation of the cities where the space ships assembled. The ships strike all the cities it reached using devastating directed energy weapons, vaporizing everything in its path and humanity is forced to take a stand before complete annihilation.
In spite of being a blockbuster which also became a trend setter in many ways, independence day was highly panned by the critics due to several plot inaccuracies and depiction of hyper-patriotism. Roger Ebert called out to the film in Siskel-Ebert show for the lack of imagination, and it was listed in one of the worst films of all time by Gene Siskel. When analysed with rationality and logic, independence day does look like a cardboard cut out of several sci-fi moments. The movie is flawed, no doubt about it, but substandard? One of the major aspects that received criticism is hyper-patriotism associated with the plot. Nothing else can be expected from a movie made by US based filmmakers about the nation fighting back, taking major precedence, when the world is under attack. The counter strike coincidentally or intentionally takes place on July 4th; well let us just assume that if the story took place (for eg:) in India, counter-strike will take place on August 15th, thus the Independence day. Great Britain, notorious for inflicting colonization and capitalization will probably celebrate it on the day Hitler committed suicide. The date need not necessarily be a setback for a moviegoer expecting a good ride and if the critics truly want to see a hyper-patriotic film please watch Olympus has fallen (2013). Independence day is probably one of the first films to have an African American in the lead role in a film with big ensemble cast thus playing the role of a trend setter. Director Emmerich admitted in one of the interviews that he did face tension in terms of racism from the studio who objected Smith’s casting in the lead role. The movie turned out to be a blockbuster and Smith is the most admired person from the movie. He delivered a controlled performance making capt. Steve admirable and heroic. The friendly moments between him and his best friend Jimmy (Harry Cornick Jr) are well done, in a way highlighting the friendship part. Goldblum played David Levinson in a flawed yet admirable way. Flawed because he didn’t let go of his stammering and low toned speech, but David is the major attraction along with Steve. He is the brilliant person who saved the world with a spark from his dad. Judd Hirsch did a good job as David’s father, and fun trivia is that the character is loosely based on producer/writer Dean Devlin’s uncle. Bill Pullman was less impression at the beginning and I thought why the hell he was cast in the role of the most powerful man in the world, but it works as far as the core essence is concerned. President is a young person who is in a way relying on his seniors for every major decision. But, he changes after he loses someone close to him and becomes the leader. President Whitmore becomes interesting after this moment from this movie.
This scene is also criticized for being too cheesy, but when analysed closely, it is intriguing. The president chooses to address because not just the pilots working under command needed the motivation but he himself is nervous. So, after the speech and receiving the reaction, Whitmore himself finds the inner confidence and do what he is meant to do, that is to fight back as the fighter pilot. The one reason why independence day entered the list of “worst films of all time”. Well, when the military is down by 15% and when the number of trained pilots are less, as the commander-in-chief, the president is entitled to make any decision. Also, has anyone forgotten this?
America as a nation is criticized for “bossy” nature. The fact that he went out physically to fight makes this character admirable than detestable, making up for the gloomy introduction.
The structure of the film gave for buildup of the events which lead to resolution, with blending of humor, action, suspense, drama and sci-fi. Devlin and Emmerich’s writing gave each and every character depth rather making them plain. Randy Quaid played another character who, inspite of his eccentricities and alcoholism, earns our respect through his final showdown and unconditional love for his children. Robert Loggia as the general is another performance that is worth mentioning, he made the screen lively with his standard acting, a character bipolar to his portrayal in scarface (1983). Women in this film, except for Vivica A Fox, lacked depth. Margaret Colin is just there to pick fights with David and to do assistant jobs for the president. Her stone faced performance made the character despicable even when she says she never stopped loving David. Mary McDonnell as the first lady is limited to the role of inspiration for the president to move forward. And that’s it. A major criticism the film received is the anti-feminist elements; the lack of female characters in action at a scenario where the human race is down in numbers. While the president addresses by saying that “we cannot be divided based on petty differences”, it would have been better if the film showed female soldiers, pilots, and leaders. But instead, women’s role were reduced to trophies hugging their male heroes after the showdown. The only person who actually does something is Jasmine, from warning her friend about the potential blitz to saving as many people as she could including the first lady, after the first strike which left major cities in ruins. Vivica shined in her role, even though her screen time was limited, raising the question; how come she is not a successful actress while having everything to make her a star, from good looks to expressive face? Her chemistry with Will Smith is impressive.
There are a couple of plotholes that wouldn’t go off my head, something I agree with the harsh critics. One, how come the president did not know about the area 51? When he is handed the office, then he will be in charge of working of the nation’s affairs including the section that is deemed classified. No matter how the movie is trying to justify it from the secretary of defense’s “possible deniability” argument, this was too cheesy to handle. Plus, how did Steve fly the spaceship effortless? Learning the maneuvering capabilities by just observing them in action is not enough since Dr Okun (Brent Spiner) a scientist who has been working on their technology, claimed that it is far more advanced. And the trivia related to the UFO conspiracy where a spaceship crashed in New Mexico, recovered and worked on in Area 51 is used in the movie. That works as far the trivia is concerned, although I will not forgive the filmmakers for showing that “the aliens built pyramids” in stargate (1994). I like how they showed the hostility of the extraterrestrials with the destruction of major cities and the white house, the symbolic representation of how the aliens are taking over the authority, spreading fear and panic; but then we don’t get to see them come out of their space ships?
The combination of cinematography and editing increased the pacing of the film, creating the environment for the audience’s pleasure. The sci-fi part comes in towards the second half as the first part is about the hostility of the aliens, thus adding essence of disaster, something Mr Emmerich is famous for. David Arnold’s music brought the feel of military. However, the music is noisy during most of the action sequences, maybe it triggered the “patriotism argument” from the critics. Technically, independence day outdone the era with majestic visual effects. Not to mention, ample number of practical settings were used during the explosion scene and most of the action sequences. The aliens looked scary as well as gory, but the movements could been a little bit better as the puppeteering looks obvious at times. The direct energy weapon strike by the aliens is one of the most intense moments from the film, a scene which can be used for reference or for testing the viability of one’s home theater.
To me, independence day is not just a film, it played a huge role in my childhood and growing up. One of the major reasons for my soft corner. I watched this for the first time when I was 5 years. I remember being fascinated by the film rather than being intimidated, was discouraged from seeing it due to the presence of aliens and explosions. I have watched this countless number of times over the years, While growing up, one tend to be critical and start analyzing the film discovering the flaws, thus many turned against this. The pinnacle of this film, something that critics probably didn’t notice, is the powerful message it gives out about global unity. In the face of adversity where the beings are those who does not belong on earth, civilizations from around the world unite in common interest leaving their differences aside. Values related to family, relationships, friendship and leadership is also shown.Amidst the aliens, outburst and destruction of the white house, a shot which injected curiosity into the minds of the audience when the first trailer was released, humanity is underline of this film. That’s what the struggle for independence meant during the old days.
Independence day is an enthralling film and re-watchable entertainer.
Featured image: filmgrimoire.com