The age of the “Popcorn Movie” appears to have been forgotten, left behind in pursuit of the “Blockbuster Movie” Which, I think, is a real shame. These were simple films which lacked in emotional depth and exsisted purely to entertain people. With the turn of the century came a change in film critique and the expectations placed upon films. Entertaining people no longer seemed to be enough. This forgotten art form would not go quietly into the night, it would not vanish without a fight and so in 1996, Independence Day graced our screens. It then returned in 1998 with an Extended Cut, which I believe to be the best of the two- and so that is the cut I am reviewing.
Independance Day tells the tale of humanity’s attempt to survive alien annihilation, through an American-centric lense, focussing on a core cast of characters. They can only resist with their wits, their resilience and many, many missiles. With a runtime of two and a half hours you may think that Independence Day is too long, but it does a superb job of filling that time with suspense. The first alien saucer doesn’t emerge- from the atmosphere in a cloud of fire- until 23 minutes, and the iconic moment where they fire their lasers isn’t until 50 minutes. What follows is how the characters react to this, and by 1 hour 15 minutes, they have made it to Area 51 where the next half hour is a preperation for the climactic battle. This battle becomes our sole focus for the last 40 minutes from both Earth’s atmosphere and inside the mothership. The aformentioned scenes have some of the finest and most recognisable cinematography of the 90s, in a display of practical effects and matte paintings that served the original Star Wars trilogy so well. Not every single effect holds up perfectly even by the standards of 1998, especially the matte painting of Air Force One, but that encapsulates it as a product of its time. The film also appears to be an encapsulation of every space/sci-fi film that has come before it. There are moments that are reminiscant of scenes from Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, among others.
The soundtrack more than makes up for any “imperfections” with a score provided by both a large orchestra and choir that seems to inspire courage. The main theme is one of the most badass instumentals ever cmposed, while the more sombre moments seem to invoke a wish to survive. This pairs well with what I believe to be one of the finest speeches ever written, delivered with passion by Bill Pullman. Perhaps the most bizarre part in all of this is that the big speech, the other dialogue, and even the story and characters, are built on clichés. You’ve heard this kind of rousing speech, you’ve seen this level of destruction, you’ve met these kinds of characters… and yet, somehow, Independence Day is the perfect delivery of all of them. Bill Pullman is the perfct president, Jeff Goldblum is the perfect computer nerd, Will Smith is the perfect marine, Judd Hirsch is the perfect Jewish parent, and Randy Quaid is the perfect… drunk redneck.
This film was made at just the right moment in history. Any earlier, and it would have been just another action flick. Any later, and it’s the early 2000s. Let us not forget that this was the first film to completely obliterate the White House. In fact, that was one of the main selling points. That simply would not happen in a post 9/11 America, despite White House Down‘s best efforts. Independence Day is one of the last pure films, made in a time before the world was gripped with fear and movies were expected to challenge us. Not only that, but it encompasses the purest human objective- survival. This film may be American and there may be no escaping that fact, but I have always seen the climactic battle as a human achievement. As a great man once said
“We will not go quietly into the night, We will not vanish without a fight. We’re going to live on. We’re going to survive. Today we celebrate our Independencence day”
Until Next Time…