I should preface this post by saying three things:
- I love the movie Independence Day (as should you);
- The first time I saw Independence Day, I was really high on hashish (will explain later);
- I was coaxed (not really, just had the time) into writing a review of Independence Day as part of Dubsism’s Disaster Movie Blog-a-Thon. I figured Dubs needed the cross-traffic and it’s about time someone on his site review of a movie that wasn’t filmed entirely in black and white.
So, let’s begin with the understanding that… I love the film Independence Day, in all its guilty, cheesy, Hollywood gloriousness. It’s just a great action movie (a premise with which you’ll likely agree) that holds a fair amount of merit (a premise with which you might not). It is, by Dub’s definition, also a ‘disaster movie.’ What screams disaster more than aliens dropping by Earth to exterminate the entire human race? Point, SportsChump.
Now, on to the hashish. In 1996 when Independence Day was released, I was returning from a trip to Europe with my then fiancée. Having spent far too much time in Amsterdam (not enough), I decided to be bold and mail myself back some hash.
I did so, of all places, from the airport. Perhaps not the smartest thing I’ve ever done in my life but I never claimed to be Einstein, case in point my love for Independence Day.
Knowing that coffee grinds throw off the scent of dogs, I decided to include some in the manila envelope, along with the hashish, that I would send back to my address in the United States. Except I couldn’t find any coffee packets. So, in the manila envelope, addressed to a fictional person who lived at my address, I placed two, things: hashish… and tea bags. It was the closest thing I could find to coffee.
All that being said, the hash got their safely (neither rain, nor sleet, nor hashish sticks) and I smoked some on my way into the theater before seeing Independence Day for the very first time.
Needless to say, that enlightened the experience.
I should also add that, years later, even without the Amsterdam hashish (unfortunately), the film still holds up as a mid-90s blockbuster. It was the 4th highest grossing movie of the decade.
The plot, in a nutshell, involves a black man, a Jewish man and a Southern man as they team up with the President of the United States to defend the human race from alien invasion. If that doesn’t scream blockbuster, I don’t know what does.
It bears note that it is also one of the first major Hollywood films I can recall that started blowing up shit. Like real shit. This was before 9/11 (in fact, you see the Twin Towers in the film, God bless ‘em) and it was the first time I ever saw iconic American buildings, i.e. the White House, the Empire State Building, the Capitol Building, being blown to smithereens, whether by terrorists or creatures from another planet.
This might not seem like much now but back then, especially under the influence of the hashish, seeing these monuments blown up on the big screen was a big deal. Thank goodness for Will Smith.
The movie intertwines the lives of Bill Pullman (war hero president), Jeff Goldblum (neurotic, environment-loving scientist), Will Smith (fighter pilot with aspirations of one day being an astronaut) and Randy Quaid (retired Vietnam veteran who was once kidnapped by these very same aliens). All four are proven actors perfectly capable of delivering formidable one-liners, both dramatic and comedic.
In Independence Day, all are involved in dysfunctional relationships: Goldblum whose wife left him, Smith’s failure to commit to his stripper wife and Quaid’s struggles with alcoholism. Pullman is the only one of the four in a normal relationship and his wife dies in the film. Go figure. The film is also loaded with cameos: Robert Loggia, Harry Connick, Jr., Judd Hirsch, Vivica Fox, that guy who played Data on Star Trek and James Rebhorn who plays Pullman’s sniveling Secretary of Defense.
The film begins with the discovery of a “radio signal from another world” as R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” plays gratuitously in the background. We soon find out that the aliens who sent those signals aren’t here on vacation. Enter our heroes one by one.
As these unknown objects enter our radar, the White House panics, kind of like it’s doing now. There is mass hysteria and widespread panic as no one knows what to do. Before the alien strike, the film shows people shouting “I hope they bring back Elvis” as they gather atop skyscrapers, awaiting their demise. If you think the film doesn’t accurately represent how people act when shit gets weird, you might want to watch it again. It is spot on!
At the same time, Pullman, who plays perhaps cinema’s most ideal president ever (a former fighter pilot who speaks in a raspy voice and has extremely presidential hair), comforts his panicking Oval Office “I don’t want to add to a public hysteria that’s going to cost lives. I will advise people not to panic. The best idea is to stay in their homes.”
Does any of this sound familiar? (Except, of course, for the ideal president part.)
The aliens finally hit Earth, strategically placing themselves over key areas and all hell breaks loose. Pullman’s advisor asks the president what he wants to do. He replies “Address the nation. There will be a lot of panicked people out there.” Can I get a Pullman/Smith ticket in 2020!
About 45 minutes in, shit gets crazy. Call me insane, call me cheesy, say that I don’t know shit about movies (you’d be wrong about one of those three for sure) but that sequence where the aliens start blowing up everything in sight is one of Hollywood’s most riveting sequences of the ‘90s. If you’re not moved by watching entire cities decimated, then I don’t care who you voted for, you’re not a damn American!
The movie is heavy on military presence which is what differentiated Aliens (the sequel) from Alien (the original) and made it a far more successful, box office hit. There’s no denying Independence Day tugged at America’s heartstrings with fighter planes flying through the air “anxious to whip E.T’s ass.”
Ironically, President Pullman and his United Colors of Benetton discover that uploading a virus into the alien’s network is the only way to shut down their defenses and allow for the world’s military to “bring those sons of bitches down.”
And they do.
The frightening and overarching premise of the movie is that the government had been hoarding alien bodies in its Area 51 for years. They knew these things existed and that another attack was possible. Pullman was kept unaware for “plausible deniability.” While our president remains delightfully uninformed, Independence Day hints at the secrets that government might be keeping from us all.
You know how the rest of it ends. The empire strikes back and world order is restored… just with a lot more damage and considerably, fewer buildings. But what I love most about Independence Day is its overarching message: that a united mankind can conspire to save the world against any foe, alien or viral.
Or maybe I’ve been smoking too much hash.
The best posts are written when the author is experiencing a flashback. That must of been some good hash. Good times,damn good times.
We could probably all use some right about now, I’m sure.
What’s funny is, after writing this post, I do love the movie… but I’m not sure I’d put it in my Top 100.
I may have to make a list. It’s not like I don’t have the time.
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Will Smith looks as young now as he did then! Amazing! And this movie holds up just as well. Have seen it countless times over the past 24 years!
Hey, I resemble that “black and white movies” remark. Be warned, I may have to put your name down somewhere and strike a line through it.
Independence Day is more fun than I expect to fine in a contemporary movie. The family gathers and recites favourite lines back to the screen. The world is saved and a good time is had by all.
I found your review through Dubsism’s Disaster Blogathon. Great review of one of my favorite 90s blockbuster/action movies. Cheesy maybe, but who cares. The movie gets action right, plus enough but not too much so-called human interest. I absolutely love the cast.
I support that Pullman/Smith ticket in 2020 btw.
I am a sucker for Independence Day. Like you, I still am to this day.
As you can tell by my post, it holds a dear place in my heart.
And yeah, Will Smith was the perfect leading man for this role.
Keep educating me on those “black and white” movies I should watch and I’ll gladly tune in.
You mean films like Raging Bull, right?
Thanks for the kind words.
The first time I saw Remember the Titans, I felt it was ridiculously cheesy.
However, to this day, lines from the film’s script invades my every day vernacular.
Attitude reflect leadership.
Don’t mind me and I continue to do my up and downs until Blue is no longer tired or thirsty.
This film never gets old for me – in fact, I watch it about once a year. Plot holes? You bet, but it’s so much fun and the cast has superb chemistry. (I think the casting director deserved an Oscar for this film, if there were such a thing.)
My fave scene is where Will Smith drags the alien carcass through the desert. He is perfect in this scene.
They showed it again on USA yesterday.. twice. I kept it on at the bar with the volume down while I was working. As always, it generated a fair amount of conversation.
Delightfully cheesy yet so damn good.
And yea, those Smith scenes with the alien. ‘WHAT’S THAT SMELL?” and “Now that’s what I call a close encounter” as he lights up the cigar are classics.