Independence Day Duology

*This piece is comprised of my reviews for Independence Day and Independence Day: Resurgence with an additional conclusion*

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 emotional depth and existed 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.

Independence 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 preparation 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 aforementioned 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 reminiscent 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 instrumentals ever composed, 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 perfect 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 Independence day”

This call to arms is a declaration of survival in the face of almost certain annihilation and that “our” is all inclusive. Humanity is aiming to be free of all tyranny and, as the sequel will show, they succeed. 

With this action packed disaster epic taking the world by storm, calls for a sequel were loud and continuous. These calls would not be answered for over 2 decades but this doesn’t mean that the franchise was lying dormant. 3 novels were released in 1996, 1998 and 1999 with an Omnibus Edition featuring all 3 in 2016. The first – Independence Day – was a novelisation of the film including the previously unseen original ending. The second – Silent Zone – was a prequel focusing on the life of Dr Brackish Okun (portrayed by Brent Spiner in the film) as a scientist in the late 1960’s/early 1970’s. The last – War in the Desert – focuses on the two Royal Air Force officers seen receiving morse code in the film on July 3rd. There were also several video games on several different devices released during this period, including the now defunct Independence Day: Online which billed itself as a direct sequel to the film. Then in 2011, news came that Emmerich was returning to the world he had created with a two-part sequel that he had tentatively titled Independence Day Forever. Despite Will Smith not returning due to salary disagreements and only one part of this epic being greenlit by Fox Studios, work began on what would soon become 2016’s Independence Day: Resurgence.

Set 20 years after the first film, we find humanity under attack from the very same alien race as before- having received a distress beacon from the previous mothership. This mothership comes with a much bigger and deadlier ship known as a Harvester which immediately obliterates a large section of the Earth just by landing. It is up to our new team of heroes and some of our old favourites to, once again, save our planet from extinction. Much like its predecessor, Independence Day: Resurgence sets up the main characters before wreaking havoc. This includes Dillon Harper and Patricia Whitmore, who are the children of the previous protagonists Captain Steve Hiller and President Thomas Whitmore as well as Patricia’s fiance Jake and his best friend Charlie. This is a perfect amount of characters to focus on, and I think the film would have been less plot-heavy if it had focused solely on them. However no sequel would be complete without some returning faces so we welcome back ex-president Whitmore, Dr Brackish Okun, David Levinson and Julius Levinson. On paper, this may seem like a lot of characters, but Independence Day: Resurgence manages to divide its time equally between them. The returning characters actively drive the plot forward instead of hindering it, except for Julius who is just here because we’d miss him if he wasn’t, while the new characters do most of the actual alien fighting. This film also never uses the original movie as some kind of crutch by making constant references to keep you invested. There is the obligatory Will Smith cameo via painting and a nice little gag where the White House isn’t destroyed (which looks a little silly but is worth it to me) but that’s about it. The film manages to stand on its own.

There were several large complaints levied at Independence Day and not all of them are unfair. Mae Whitman portrayed a young Patricia in the original film but she is replaced by Maika Monroe for this instalment. They are both solid actors and media outlets proclaimed that it was industry beauty standards that were to blame, although Emmerich has stated that Whitman opted not to read for the role. Whatever the case may be, it would have been nice to have her back. There are also claims that this film is dull and lifeless, which I disagree with. There are no facts to spout here, it’s just personal opinion and mine happens to differ from the majority. There are two genuine issues with Independence Day: Resurgence and the first is the treatment of Dr Brackish Okun, who is joined this time around by his life partner Dr Milton Isaacs. The issue here isn’t that they’ve put gays in my alien movie (obviously), the issue is that you can’t really tell they’re gay. I can tell that these two men are an item through their affection and use of “babe” but a straight person could easily spin this as two campy bros. This would be enough of an issue itself, but the novelisation states their relationship explicitly in the book’s second chapter. During Milton’s visit to a comatose Brackish, which is present in the finished film, we are given this:

“They hadn’t been open then- in 1996 it was a different time, and fraternization among staff was frowned upon no matter what gender the fraterniser may be. To be gay at Area 51 was to be discreet.”

The second issue is the character of Charlie who is given a love interest in the form of Chinese pilot Rain Lao, however I am using the term “love interest” very loosely. Charlie seems to feel like Rain owes him a relationship and is very quick to suggest that they “get a drink, maybe fall in love” which is not how you should talk to someone you just met. He comes across as obsessed and Rain makes it clear that she has no interest, but at the end of the film she agrees to date him anyway. Women are not some prize to be won and I don’t see how Emmerich felt okay adding this sub-plot.

I adore the original Independence Day and I’ve revisited it every July 4th for over a decade, despite being British. I have a soft spot for this sequel and have taken to also watching it every July 4th. Sometimes I wonder how much more I’d enjoy the latter if they’d just let gays be gay, but perhaps that was something the three-quel would’ve explored. Sadly that third film never arrived to this film being considered a box office failure and now, with the acquisition of Fox by Disney, I suppose it will never happen. That sucks.

The Independence Day franchise is a peculiar thing. The original exists and is loved on it’s own merits but the sequel can’t exist without being compared to that original phenomenon. The sequel is something that creator Roland Emmerich worked on for a long time but the version he envisioned wasn’t what we ended up getting. Remakes and sequels were definitely gaining more notice in the 2010’s so I can see why it would get approval from the studio at this time but, realistically, it probably needed more time. The original managed to capture lightning in a bottle and I think, with a bit of work, it could have been done again. It’s now been several years and, whilst Emmerich has reiterated his interest in a three-quel, it has not appeared. Disney continues to sit on one of it’s largest IP’s and, if they continue to do nothing with it, I hope we can at least get a conclusion in the form of a novel or graphic novel. I feel like every story deserves to have its conclusion told, regardless of quality, and I’m getting real sick of companies not allowing that to happen.

I will continue to watch this duology year after year and I’m sure that many others will too. I will continue to enjoy them, despite several flaws, because they continue to entertain me. It will be really interesting to see how this franchise is viewed going forward because, if Star Wars has taught me anything, audiences are willing to forgive. I guess watching these films year after year has convinced me that humanity is inherently co-operational. 

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

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