Review: Independence Day (1996)


Director: Roland Emmerich

Starring: Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum

Release Date: 9th August 1996 (UK)

It’s the mid nineties and Hollywood execs are desperate for something big, a holiday movie that can take the lucrative July 4th weekend by storm but also dominate overseas box office. They need stars, they need effects and they need something to help bankroll James Cameron’s ambitious retelling of some boating accident from ages ago. So Fox turned to Roland Emmerich, hot off Stargate, and asked him to pull out something spectacular.

The result was Independence Day.

We open in space. The American flag still flies proudly on the surface of the moon, but a dark shadow descends as it heads towards Earth. It doesn’t take long to reveal the spacecraft and, as they position themselves over numerous cities around the world (though we are only privy to the American gaze), we are introduced to the numerous characters who will play their part in our story.

This is a film before it was outrageous not to have a strong, prominent female character, hence we have President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) who is trying desperately to save the world and by default his daughter and wife. We have computer wizz Jeff Goldblum who is trying desperately to stop his ex-wife and Presidential aide from being mushed by the aliens. We also have fighter pilot Will Smith who is trying to save his wife, young Son and dog from aforementioned aliens. Spoiler alert – the first lady dies, but Vivacia Fox is a badass stripper so it doesn’t matter that she really does need a man.

Gender equality rant aside, Independence Day is, like most effects heavy blockbusters, a film best watched in its time. The graphics do not age well, but the staging of the first attack is still impressive in its grandiose symmetry. However, it is also a thrilling underdog movie dripping with American patriotism. It doesn’t have the villain embellishment that many modern movies do, because these aliens are totally hellbent on destroying all humans and stealing our resources.

Once this has been established, and we get a sneak peak at Emmerich’s vision of Area 51, the film gears itself up for an epic battle between humans and aliens, preceded by one of the most memorable and goospimply movie speeches of all time courtesy of Mr. Pullman, or should we say Mr. President.

Essentially this is an ensemble film where an all-star cast assemble to defeat an evil adversary that threatens to destroy the world. There’s nothing clever or deep about it, nor should there be. Independence Day shamelessly celebrates the human capacity to come together, to fight together and to survive. In some cases Emmerich denies us the satisfaction of a truly happy ending as an unlikely hero sacrifices himself for the greater good, but put to a truly stratospheric score from David Arnold you have all the makings of a modern classic.

If you’re in this for the effects you may be disappointed by Independence Day, but if you’re capable of just enjoying film as a mass medium and briefly switch off your critical eye, you will find yourself watching this movie over and over again. Don’t worry, we all do.

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