It’s over an astounding 15 years since giant shadows cascaded across our cinema screens and Independence Day was unleashed upon the world. In that time it’s been easy to deride this sci-fi epic but as alien invasions go they have never looked so stunning. In fact, it’s fair to say that any alien invasion movie since (or before for that matter) cannot fail to be compared.
Essentially it’s very much War of the Worlds meets Irvin Allen-esque menagerie of characters – mostly cardboard – but played by a host of recognisable actors. So far so Earthquake or The Towering Inferno with aliens, and like those films the main leads are oh so engaging, in this case Bill, Will and Jeff (essentially the same character as he played in Jurassic Park). But, to be fair, as witty as we find Mr Smith exclaiming he is going to “whoop ETs ass”, what we’ve really paid our money for is to see the wanton death and destruction.
And boy, does it deliver that in spades, especially with perhaps the most iconic shot of 90s cinema, the obliteration of the White House. Of course, shots such as that and the destruction of several other buildings take on a whole new meaning in this post 9/11 world.
ID4 was uber American gung ho. It was a different time with a different President. Post Iraq and post 9/11 it’s a world that, rather ironically, looks completely alien. It’s as if it was a much simpler time ‘back then’. And although some of the dialogue (thank you Mr Smith) was trite in places you can’t deny the power and force of the President’s speech before the final (Star Wars-esque) run at one of the saucers.
Sure, we had seen giant saucers before, most notably in V some 12 years earlier, but never with such foreboding and with such aplomb, what with the giant clouds and those introductory shadows, Emmerich doing for UFOs what Spielberg did for sharks and not showing the audience until he absolutely had to, ramping up that alien fear factor to 11. The music is a bravo score by David Arnold, in his pre Bond days and hot off scoring duties from another Emmerich sci-fi epic, Stargate.
Just like those 70s disaster movies that it so perfectly emulates, the film also has that nice old skool Hollywood feel to it as the special effects were still very much in the early days of digital effects so many of the memorable moments, such as the White House exploding and fire raging through the city were done as practical effects so look real because, well, they were.
Far from a perfect film, with its clichés galore and film lore of dog evading certain death (that leap in the tunnel is great though) it is pretty much the perfect example of a summer blockbuster. It’s dumb, but dumb with style, but plenty of fun. Certainly compared to some of the efforts we’ve seen in recent years it could even be argued it’s not even that dumb.
Some of the characters are weak in places but there are so many of them, or they are snuffed out so soon, that it doesn’t really matter. Some of the jumps in logic defy, well logic, but it all works together, it all gels and above all else it makes you come out of a screening feeling that little bit more alive. No pun intended, but even after all these years, and numerous films filled with digital pokery, the film is still, rather fittingly, a huge visual feast of a blast that provides plenty of bang(s) for your buck.
Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich tried pretty much the same trick with Godzilla a couple of years later, but this time round the lightning in the bottle just couldn’t be recaptured, so it was certainly more than about hurling cash at the screen in the form of impressive special effects.
The marketing campaign was also something of a masterstroke, almost preparing us as if there were an actual alien invasion, with great posters and trailer campaign (with great use of Hans Zimmer’s score from Crimson Tide), complete with the destruction of the White House first being unleashed on an unsuspecting audience during the Super Bowl. Now, that’s how to grab attention!
There’s long been a mooted ID42 and post Iraq, post 9/11, post Transformers and Emmerich’s other disaster epics, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, it would certainly be interesting to see what they did next and if any of the original characters were involved. Certainly it would need a return from Smith, Paxton (as President obviously now retired) and Goldblum.
The sequel might not be invading theatres anytime soon but the 3D version of Independence Day (duck at that fire truck rolling through the air) is scheduled to set the world – along with box office tills – on fire sometime next year. Technically that’s ID43D then!