Independence Day bills itself as the summer movie that every red-blooded American is duty-bound to see. And after sitting through all 2 1/2 hours of this rabble-rousing, alien-annihilating saga, it’s easy to understand why.
An ambitiously epic movie extravaganza, Independence Day‘s sense of patriotism is so infectious that the president himself (Bill Pullman) even gets in on the action. The story takes place over the course of three days – July 2, 3 and 4 – when alien spacecraft the size of cities position themselves above every major metropolitan area in the world.
While the entire planet watches with dreaded awe, a bespectacled cable technician (Jeff Goldblum) stumbles across the alien’s code and deciphers that a countdown has begun. But before everyone can be warned, the alien ships unleash massive destructive blasts, flattening cities across the globe and bringing the Statue of Liberty to her knees.
After the world is nearly obliterated, Goldblum teams up with a cocky young Air Force pilot (Will Smith) and America’s young president to defeat the alien baddies and preserve the American way.
Jaw-dropping special effects bring a frightening realism to the film’s many battle scenes. That image of the Statue of Liberty sprawled on the ground is an unnerving shocker and just one example of the movie’s greatest coup. From Capitol Hill to the White House, icons we hold as a constant and familiar are catastrophically upended in visually devastating ways.
Icons we hold as a constant and familiar are catastrophically upended in visually devastating ways.
Independence Day also makes use of a large ensemble cast. Joining Pullman, Goldblum and Smith are Mary McDonnell, Harvey Fierstein, Robert Loggia, Judd Hirsch, Randy Quaid and Harry Connick Jr. in various roles.
It’s this grandiloquent scale of the film, however, that drags Independence Day down. Director Roland Emmerich, who also helmed the bloated science-fiction thriller Stargate, has enough trouble figuring out which scenes should follow eachother without adding superfluous characters and extraneous sub-plots to the mix.
As an alien-invasion thriller, Independence Day belongs to the clearly defined tradition of 1950s movies such as The Day the Earth Stood Still and War of the Worlds. And though they may seem a bit dated today, those films have more than kitsch value because they often reflect the fears that existed during the time they were made.
In The Day the Earth Stood Still, which a character happens to be watching in Independence Day, the alien visitor demands that the nations of earth unify in the name of peace. Independence Day also calls for the unification of people across the globe – but for the purpose of a giant war campaign.
The difference lies in the fact that those making movies during the ’50s had the disillusionment of a recent war on the one hand and the anxiety of the Cold War on the other. In 1996, America’s last full-scale conflict was a flag-waving triumph in the desert. Perhaps that explains why The Day the Earth Stood Still cried out for peace and Independence Day glorifies taking up arms.
But if this is more than you’re looking for in lightweight summer fun, don’t be put off. First and foremost, Independence Day is superior science-fiction schlock, where the fate of the universe is spelled out in a grandiose style to match. So sit back, enjoy and remember to salute when it’s done.