The image that probably put millions of people in theater seats this month 25 years ago was an alien ship hovering over the White House firing a laser down on it blowing it to smithereens.
Who wouldn’t want to see that? I went with my brother and one of his friends and his brother to go see it on a summer night at a movie theater in Rome, Georgia and the theater was packed. There were even having multiple showings, something I hadn’t seen before. I was 17. And the teens in front of me almost freaked out when the clerk asked which showing, thinking it had been sold out.
Independence Day didn’t have a Steven Spielberg or Tim Burton as director. It didn’t have any big-time celebrities. Will Smith was still just a TV actor and singer who had a few supporting roles in movies in the 1990s. His only lead role had been Bad Boys.
Jeff Goldblum had been around since the 1970s and he was just three years away from his role in the big blockbuster Jurassic Park, but people didn’t show up to see Goldblum even though his sweaty shirtless chest in a recumbent pose would become one of the most iconic scenes in the movie. No, they were coming to see dinosaurs.
And people were coming to see Independence Day to see an alien invasion action thriller. Bill Pullman who plays President Whitmore in the movie was being referred to by moviegoers as “Casper’s Dad.” He had appeared in the Casper movie in 1995 as well as alongside Sandra Bullock in While You Were Sleeping. If you were a fan of Spaceballs, you knew him as Lone Star.
And for some reason, people were confusing him with Bill Paxton, who had the good fortune to appear in his own summer blockbuster that year, Twister. And I was a big fan of Paxton, but people weren’t going to a theater to see him in Twister.
The summer had already produced two flops. The first was Flipper, the big-screen adaptation of the popular TV show starring Elijah Wood and Paul Hogan. There was just one popular. Its target audience wasn’t even alive when the original show aired. I may or may not have seen the movie. I don’t remember.
The other flop was The Cable Guy, a movie that has polarized audiences for 25 years with some now commenting saying it is a brilliant dark comedy. Jim Carrey was reportedly paid $20 million for his role and it was all the news. Yes, it was a change of pace for Carrey and no, I didn’t think highly of it then, but I see what Carrey and Ben Stiller were trying to achieve.
So, Independence Day or ID4, as it was known, realized that it could use that extra money spent on a big name and put it toward special effects.
And this movie does have a lot of special effects, including the simultaneous destruction of New York City, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., in a sequence that we knew was coming but it still looks thrilling now.
As for the aliens themselves, they’re somewhat of a letdown. Taking a page from Spielberg’s directing, you don’t introduce the aliens early. But we see less of the aliens than of the shark in Jaws. We see alien ships flying and destruction. But I guess it’s pointless to use that money on multiple alien when all you really got to do is explain they want to destroy Earth.
Why? Who knows? Who cares?
People are wanting to see aerial stunt flying of ships and jets. They want to see massive explosions. They want to see cool special effects.
And that’s where some of the movie’s critics came in. Siskel and Ebert weren’t fans. And director Roland Emmerich and writer Dean Devlin mocked them in their next movie, Godzilla, even though the late Roger Ebert said they should’ve had been squashed by the giant lizard.
And Chris Carter who had a hit TV show with The X-Files has David Duchovny’s Fox Mulder pissing on posters hanging on a building in an alley in the 1998 movie.
The images of ships hovering over major cities didn’t impress Kenneth Johnson, who had done the same thing in his ground-breaking alien invasion miniseries V. Maybe it was an homage, but the aliens’ intention in V was known.
But even though the aliens’ intention doesn’t make sense, the movie is still enjoyable. I never understand why aliens would travel so far to Earth just to destroy it. I guess you could say, the aliens are representatives of the colonization that began with July 4, but I’m not sure either Emmerich or Devlin intended for any political overtones. There’s not even a mention of whether Whitmore is a Republican or a Democrat.
ID4 is two and a half hours of entertainment. You want a thinking person’s movie, look elsewhere. As far as summer blockbusters goes, it helped changed the dynamic, even though seeing major cities repeatedly destroyed became repetitive in movies.
In 1998, the above mentioned Godzilla had him rampaging through NYC. Then in Deep Impact, released at the same time, a huge wave destroyed the Big Apple and then huge meteorites caused destruction in Armageddon. The City That Never Sleeps took a rough beating in just under two months.
After 9/11, I don’t think movies like ID4 would’ve worked and Emmerich and Devlin took criticism over The Day After Tomorrow released in 2004 for images of NYC again being pummeled by big water waves.
Other critics took to Whitmore’s inspirational speech before leading the air strike on a ship. Some people love it. Others don’t.
But what everyone is universal on is how the sequel wasn’t as good. ID4 made Will Smith an A-lister and it’s a shame he didn’t return. Also, setting a sequel 20 years later and just giving the audience the same as before was a problem.
Maybe it didn’t need a sequel. Lightning can’t strike twice.
But many July 4 for the past 25 years, I’m sure many people watch ID4. I know I still pop the old VHS copy in every now and again.