Independence Day (1996) Directed by Roland Emmerich. With Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Randy Quaid, Mary McDonnell, Robert Loggia, Judd Hirsch, Vivica A Fox, James Rebhorn and Brent Spiner.
The 1990’s were a transitional decade for the blockbuster. Spielberg and Lucas pretty much boxed off the ’70’s and ’80’s, and with the arrival of CGI, a new era in special effects tent-pole releases was upon us. One of the most enduring and stand-out films of this time was Roland Emmerich’s love letter to 1950’s alien invasion films, Independence Day, or ID4 as it also became know.
Boasting an all-star cast, headed up by Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith, ID4 was as entertaining as it was ridiculous, but in surrendering to its flag-waving, broad strokes of macho posturing and the kind of dialogue that could make the cheesiest cheese cringe, there’s bags of fun to be had.
Making a tick-list of things wrong with ID4 would be easy. It would also make for a very long list, with a lot of ticks. Many of the things that are wrong are inherently what make it so much fun – although I could happily draw the line at Randy Quaid’s eccentric alien abductee caricature. We witness the alien invasion unfold through cuts to the White House, newsrooms and military positions like aircraft and submarines, as well as the civilian perspective. It’s broad. People say things like “Go to DEFCON3”. For the first 30 minutes, the edits are fast and the scenes are pleasingly energetic and busy and the film seems to be doing everything you’d hope it might. As an introduction, it plays like a modern-day upscaling of The Day the Earth Stood Still. Moreover, Independence Day can be viewed as an indirect sequel to Robert Wise’s 1951 classic.
In casting two likeable, but poles apart actors like Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum together, the film elevates above just raw spectacle and while President Bill Pullman’s July 4th address might have you wincing yourself some new facial lines, he too carves out a fun turn as the man charged with saving us all from our impending doom. From a performance and presence standpoint, though, the film belongs to Goldblum; an actor who always manages to find something unique between the cracks of any script, irrespective of its inherent quality or lack thereof. In that sense, he is a huge catch for the film. His unique acting approach helps us swallow the stomach-turning patriotism that comes increasingly thick and fast towards the finale. Like he showed in Jurassic Park, there is a dry, mocking tone in Goldblum’s delivery that suggests he’s subliminally saying “Can you believe this shit!?“. It helps.
In the end, ID4 is a success. It somehow gets away with being consistently stupid, but in accepting its many flaws and making the most of its impressive spectacle and scope, you’re doing yourself a favour in the long run. Far too shallow to be considered one of the definitive blockbusters of all-time, but most certainly one of the 1990’s best offerings. 4/5