I’m going to take a break from writing about classic European fims today to revisit this piece of pure ridiculousness, ID4: Independence Day. Don’t get me wrong, America’s made a lot of great films–this is not one of them.
If you’re one of my American readers, today you’re likely going to be ringing in the 4th going to a family get-together and drinking, or going to a friend’s BBQ and drinking, or, if you’re like me, you’re staying home with your dog who’s afraid of fireworks and drinking. Whatever the case, this is a day where people are free to drink. It doesn’t have the somnolence of other holidays. The Revolutionary War was so long in the past I don’t think we really reflect on it. So instead of celebrating our ousting of the Brits, take advantage of this opportunity and watch ID4: Independence Day, when Earth declared Independence from cantankerous aliens.
By no stretch of the imagination is this a good film. Typically, I hold Sci-Fi art to a different standard than other arts, for example, I wouldn’t call The Day the Earth Stood Still bad just because it’s not as well made as Doctor Zhivago; both are good films for different reasons. Unfortunately for ID4, I can’t hold it to a different standard because it’s not really a Sci-Fi movie. Sci-Fi is all about challenging concepts and stories that are meant to expand your imagination while entertaining you; Independence Day, like the holiday itself, is basically about blowing stuff up. That being said, it’s still a fun movie to watch–sort of in a ‘it’s-so-bad-it’s-good’ way. Unlike so many other huge Hollywood Shlockbusters, ID4 isn’t a movie that takes itself too seriously, although Bill Pullman must not have got the memo. He gives the most turgid performance in film history since General Turgidson in Doctor Strangelove.
Independence Day is produced by Roland Emmerich, a guy who must seriously have a vendetta against planet Earth. In Godzilla, Independence Day, and 2012 he insists on blowing up large chunks of it, not to mention drowning everything in The Day After Tomorrow. This fall, he’s taking on Shakespeare with the movie Anonymous; my guess is that he’s going to blow up the bard. His zeal for playing on people’s fears rivals Irwin Allen, the guy who headlined the crisis-film craze in the seventies and eighties with The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno.
Independence Day is about… well… it’s not really worth recounting. It’s about aliens blowing stuff up and humans retaliating by blowing stuff up. It doesn’t just tap into the Irwin Allen uber-disasters, it also steals much from other immensely popular films like Top Gun and Star Wars.
One reason to watch the film again is to watch for goofs, continuity errors, and plot holes. If you’re in a drinking game, take a drink every time there’s something that makes no sense. Here’s an example: when Independence Day was originally being marketed and advertised, the producers didn’t think the American gov’t would allow them to title the film after such a big holiday, so they changed it to ID4. This is supposed to be a wonky abbreviation of Independence Day, 4th of July I’m guessing, but it also suggests Independence Day 4, making you wonder if you missed three other movies. What compounds the idiocy, when they bothered asking about the title, they found out they could use Independence Day as the title, but since they’d already started advertising it as ID4, what do they do? They used both. Sometimes you’ll find it listed as Independence Day, and other times it’s ID4, and just as frequently, it’s ID4: Independence Day, making it the most nonsensical title since Rambo: First Blood Part 2.
The movie also tries too hard to seem patriotic. Instead of making it just a movie about blowing up aliens, they connect it to other wars, other big events, which is pretty asanine to people who really are war veterans. For instance, Randy Quaid’s over-the-top-crazy character is supposed to be a Vietnam vet who says he’s abducted by aliens and flies a crop duster over the wrong field. I’d like just once to see a movie about a Vietnam vet who ages into a kindly gentleman with perhaps occasional bad flashbacks. Instead, Hollywood gives us men addicted to Russian roulette, Major Dan, and Randy.Look at this picture here. I’m 99% positive they meant this to be a Sci-Fi version of Pearl Harbor. Is this really necessary? Do we have to see Japanese attackers as inhuman? This is the most reprehensible scene in the film.
In its attempt at patriotism, the movie gave us a spectacular piece of Hollywood schmaltz. Everyone remembers Bill Pullman’s speech. If you don’t, here’s part of it.
“Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom… Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution… but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live. To exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: “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!”
Even that monologue, delivered in a weird half-whisper by Pullman, is overshadowed by Randy Quaid’s line, as he kamikazis his plane into the alien ship, “In the words of my generation… Up yours!” Here’s a funny fact about that scene. In the original script, Quaid’s character wasn’t allowed to join the airforce, and so he decides to pilot his crop duster with a stolen missile to fight the aliens. This scene was cut when test audiences laughed at it. Although it was taken out, in one of the films big goofs, you can see Quaid pulling his airplane in an earlier scene behind his trailer. Then, the plane never appears again. Did he sell it to buy chewing tobacco?
Another one of the scenes that makes very little sense to me is the scene where the aliens’ intentions are made plane to Bill Pullman. In Area-51, Pullman meets the guy who plays Data on Star Trek, and Data brings in an alien to autopsy. When they cut into the alien’s head, a smaller alien comes out. Now why was this in the movie at all? From what I remember, there’s only three scenes where you see the aliens; in the rest they’re blowing up stuff in spaceships. Not only do we find out aliens are hunkering inside bigger aliens like Russian dolls, but also that they have psychic powers of some sort. Why do they only use these psychic powers in one scene, and just to talk to Pullman? Oh, so the president, through a sort of Pullman-mind-meld, finds out the aliens are here to exploit our resources. This is when the movie unintentionally gets messed up. The bad aliens want resources, so they bomb people. What empire does this remind you of? What’s the only empire that’s dropped a huge bomb on a city?
Thankfully, Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum make up for Pullman’s horrible acting. Their acting’s not phenomenal, but they add levity and fun to a movie that’s otherwise kind of morbid when you think of it. One problem I have with Will Smith: why do filmmakers so frequently follow him into the bathroom? It’s bad enough in I, Robot we’re privy to a gratuitous nude scene of him in the privy, but in ID4 we have to listen to him take a whizz? I ask you, is this necessary? The whole point is that Will Smith has to look out the window. Couldn’t he have–I don’t know–just looked out a window?
Okay, this post has gone on for far too long. I could probably create a daily blog about what’s ridiculous about ID4 and not run out of steam for months. Let me say one last thing: don’t watch the Roland Emmerich-Mel Gibson film The Patriot today just because that’s also about our Independence Day. The Patriot’s ridiculous in a way that’s not even fun. For one, it steals its plot entirely from the far, far superior film Shenandoah, starring Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne’s son Patrick Wayne, and is directed by Andrew V. MacLaglen. Shenandoah is a four-hankie weeper, while The Patriot is a four-cans-of-Febreeze-Stinker.
So watch ID4: Independence Day, but only if you have something strong to wash it down with.
P.S. I have no problem with patriotic films, it’s just that Independence Day isn’t one. Like the film Pearl Harbor, it tries to cash in on patriotism, which I find deplorable. For real patriotic films, which the delightful Preston Sturges film Hail the Conquering Hero, or the Frank Capra hit Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Also, the John Ford film Mr. Roberts is a really great tearjerker about war heroes that’s family friendly.