A very fun and patriotic movie, although quite dated.
Movie Review #1,067
Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi destruction and violence. Released July 3, 1996. Directed by Roland Emmerich. Written by Dean Devlin & Roland Emmerich. Starring Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Robert Loggia, Randy Quaid, Margaret Colin, Vivica A. Fox, James Rebhorn, Harvey Fierstein, Adam Baldwin, and Brent Spiner.
With a title like “Independence Day”, you have to expect a patriotic movie—and that’s precisely what you get. Yes, it’s a sci-fi movie about an alien invasion, but more than aliens, “Independence Day” is about the common man. It takes pride in the one of the truest aspects that makes America, America, and that is diversity. In just the first scene, we see a team of four scientists investigating potential alien life: a white guy, an Asian guy, a black guy, and a woman. Twenty years later, you barely notice it, but it stands in stark contrast with the sort of team we might see in sci-fi movies of the ‘50s or ‘60s.
But the diversity found in “Independence Day” goes beyond races and genders. There’s an even stronger message about social diversity in a subplot during the final third of the film. Will Smith is Captain Steven Hiller, a pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps who longs to become an astronaut, even after NASA has rejected him. Jeff Goldblum is David Levinson, a computer genius and avid chess player, who has a degree from MIT but works as a satellite technician. These are two ordinary, everyday people who couldn’t be more different from one another, and either one of them has their doubts about the other’s abilities. But ultimately, they recognize that their differences don’t matter; they are both Americans and are both willing to fight for their country together.
Director Roland Emmerich is clearly a patriot. He recognizes that heroes come from all walks of life, and in this movie, every American is a hero. There’s not one character in this movie who isn’t rooting for America, fighting for America, or strategizing America’s victory against the invading extraterrestrial life. This may seem like just some silly sci-fi movie. Over an hour of the running time consists of aerial fight sequences, where volunteer American soldiers make every effort to take out alien spacecraft that hovers over them. Most of the movie reminded me greatly of the tie-fighter scenes at the end of “Star Wars”. But there’s more to it than that. Maybe it’s wrong to politicize a blockbuster action movie, but “Independence Day” is surprisingly political as a statement about militarism. The alien invasion allegorically stands for terrorism. Their fearful presence poses a very similar threat to national security. In a world post-9/11, where every American is either directly or indirectly affected by the threat of global terror, the message of “Independence Day” feels even more heroic.
But despite that, it’s not very convenient to say that the film has grown with age. The special effects feel extremely dated In the very beginning, the title shows up in a typeface that looks like an ugly, bastardized version of the font used for the “Terminator” movies. Only to make that worse is that the way the title makes an entry reminds us of a PowerPoint effect. There’s no denying that this is a fun movie, or that the action sequences are awesomely choreographed. But it’s also pretty hard to ignore the cheesy visual effects that “Independence Day” offers. The fact that it won an Oscar for its lukewarm achievement in visual effects seems to confirm that our standards for special effects have evolved greatly over the past 20 years. Beyond the all the ugly hues of lights and laser beams that pervades the action scenes, the biggest mishap seems to be with the film’s use of miniatures. Surely this can be a good way of doing more with less, but in this case, it detracts from the film’s otherwise realistic look.
“Independence Day” is cheesy, and aside from how it fares in the visual department, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Composer David Arnold, perhaps best-known for scoring every James Bond movie since 1997, delivers a score that is cheesy but memorable. But what sticks with you even more is the screenplay, written by Emmerich and his frequent collaborator Dean Devlin. The script is shamelessly full of cornball dialogue, and it truly grows on us throughout the movie. The good guys fighting to save our planet are having fun with it, and in return, so are they people watching their heroic feats.