In the hot summer of 1996 I saw a film trailer that stole the breath from me and quieted my mind like a beautiful Japanese stone garden that explodes. A giant tumbling wall of flame rolled down a city block towards the screen and my mind boiled over with joy. I’ve never seen anything blow up so slowly before. Sideways. What mad vision is this? I thought to myself. Later the full trailer was released and I knew this was going to be an exceptional journey full of wonder and F-18 fighter jets flying through canyons with inexplicable slowness. Like Will Smith holding open a newspaper on his front lawn, I was awestruck. And, like the US Bank building in Los Angeles or the White House, I was about to be blown away by the majestic awesome-cannon that only points down.
First there was Gone With The Wind, then Jaws. Star Wars. Then Raiders of the Lost Ark. Films that redefined the epic cinema experience come only once in a while. Also, Jurassic Park, I think that was in ’94. Independence Day was one such film, changing the landscape of how epic a film can be until the following year when Titanic came out but before then, ID4 stood for something. Something I’ve never figured out but it meant this film. It meant this film.
When the aliens who had traveled across countless light years start attacking Earth’s major cities I knew, even as a child, that Will Smith would be intrinsic in saving us from extinction and not just because he’d essentially bagged a unicorn (the responsible, well balanced single mother/stripper) but because he had a fighter jet and a great sense of humor. And Harry Connick Jr. You cannot lose with Harry Connick Jr. Still, the night would be darkest before the dawn. In this film we would witness the vivid and horrific destruction of several major cities and think to ourselves, “Sweet.”
With the omission of dead bodies, the real gravity of this holocaust is left for later to contemplate. In the mean time, and in a touch of sweet irony, the aliens have attacked on the most important weekend for summer blockbuster season, the Fourth of July. It is possible that this coincidence is referenced by the film’s title, a Shakespearean-like turn of phrase with multiple layers and meaning. Like our own American Revolution that was ignited under the ire of unfair stamp and tea taxation, this day will become America’s opportunity to independence the world.
How Randy Quaid factors into this apocalyptic equation, no one will ever know. With the comic relief ably supplied by the Fresh Prince, what place does this creepy old man have in the tale of a three day long apocalypse? And why is he hanging around this lovely Native American family? How easy is it upgrade from crop duster to F/A-18E Super Hornet? This film answers at least that question: very. In a classically tragic (?) denouement, Randy Quaid sacrifices himself in a gallant, corny, and painfully long sequence, flying very slowly into the barrel of the enemy weapon. This spectacularly fragile and defenseless weapon destroys the entire ship at once, an engineering flaw one would expect from an incredibly advanced space faring race. Can’t remember where I was going with this point.
After all, how clever could these psychic armored tentacle monsters be? They don’t even have a planet. Much hullabaloo was made of the fact that the brilliant stuttering madman called Jeff Goldblum defeats the alien computer system with a Macbook but in my humble opinion if any of our technology would be compatible with the computers of an evil invasive race of genocidal monsters it would be an Apple product. What is more interesting is the vehicle that delivers our heroes to the enemy mothership; a crashed UFO fighter from the 1950s, the mysterious Roswell craft of American legend. It begs the question, no, PLEADS the question, “Why”?
Why has this ship been studied for four decades without any advances in comparable weaponry or technology? Why was no one on Earth, including the President, alerted that the existence of this alien race was already known when they arrived? And began destroying civilization? Why were we completely unprepared for their technological superiority? Why, why, why is Randy Quaid in this film? Like the vigilante anti-hero Rorschach from Alan Moore’s graphic novel Watchmen, this movie looks down at us and answers in malevolent whisper, “No”.
“No” is not a syntactically correct response to the question “Why”. “I don’t give a damn“, says Independence Day. Independence Day is the public school of summer blockbuster movie season. Everyone has gone to it, and if you haven’t you think you’re better than everyone else. But if you didn’t see Independence Day in theaters and you are hungover on a Sunday morning, turn on basic cable and surf around. It will be on. Independence Day or The Shawshank Redemption. And although Morgan Freeman’s soothing narration of Andy Dufresne’s journey towards salvation is always tempting, it will be worth your while to flip back and forth in order to catch the best speech ever by an actor portraying an American President that was not written by Aaron Sorkin. Independence Day is celebrated on the 4th here in American, which inspires the… Independence Day the 4th? …..ID4.
Ultimately, this film is about the courage and ingenuity of the human, nay the American spirit. ‘Jingoistic’ is a word that is thrown around a lot when describing Michael Bay’s body of work who had nothing to do with this film. That’s just an unrelated statement of fact. Anyway, this film does a capable job of showing that there are other countries in the world who are also overmatched by this alien invasion who wait patiently for us, the Hannibal to the world’s A-Team, to come up with a plan. And, in a fascinating pop culture allusion I’ve just manifested without a clear reason, our heroes celebrate the successful execution of their plan with cigars, just like Hannibal from the A-Team. It is Will Smith’s words to the knocked-out alien that provides the cognitive dissonance necessary to simultaneously love and really love this movie. He quips, ‘Welcome to Earth’ when in fact his message is the opposite. Not welcome.
Evil genocidal aliens (the British) are not welcome to Earth (America). Jeff Goldblum (Paul Revere) tries to warn us of the impending danger but it is too late, as the invaders are already in place (The Beatles). The only ones who can save us are a heroic and notoriously anglo-phobic President Pullman (Nixon) and the incredible near super human skills of former rapper Will Smith (Will Smith).
Why doesn’t this analogy, or article make any sense anymore? It’s about Independence Day (ID4). The answer is “no”.