Independence Day emerged on July 3, 1996, with more hype than any other film that year, including Twister, Mission: Impossible, and The Rock. And while plenty of arguments could be made as to why ID4 pales in comparison to its competition, make no mistake, Roland Emmerich’s sci-fi adventure is a genuine blockbuster and certainly an enjoyable piece of good ole fashioned 90s era pop culture. (Why did it take 20 years to make a sequel?)
Of course, there are certain elements to ID4 that continue to stand out more than others — here are a few:
The Cast, But Mostly Will Smith
One of ID4’s more defining traits, aside from those cool teaser trailers and those mock news reports, is its stellar cast led by the immensely charismatic Will Smith, fresh off the success of 1995’s Bad Boys and a certain Fresh Prince TV show. ID4 would further propel Smith to the limelight, leading to the very popular Men in Black the following summer and Enemy of the State in 1998, and rightfully so, as the man damn near carries the production on his back!
Still, the supporting cast is equally terrific — Jeff Goldblum (in peak Goldblum form in-between Jurassic Park features), Bill Pullman, Vivica A. Fox, Mary McDonnell, Randy Quaid, Judd Hirsch, Robert Loggia, and James Rebhorn all have a blast more or less playing disaster- movie caricatures, though its Pullman as the President of the United States who gets the most impactful scene:
The Big Scene
Despite witnessing the big cataclysmic aliens-destroy-every-major-American-landmark bit during the course of ID4’s wall-to-wall marketing campaign, viewing the special FX-driven sequence on the big screen — during which structures such as (reads Google) the First Interstate Bank World Center, the White House, the U.S. Capitol Building and the Statue of Liberty are all destroyed — still packed quite the punch in 1996.
Admittedly, after that terrific first act culminates with the destruction of the world, ID4 struggles to do anything as interesting for the rest of its rather bloated 145-minute runtime.
Cousin Eddie Saves the Day
Randy Quaid does a bang-up job playing Russell Cassey, a crazy conspiracy theorist who may or may not have been abducted by aliens at some point in his life. Yet, despite the scene’s outlandishness, Russell’s kamikaze death ranks up there as a classic hero moment for the ages.
In case you didn’t know, Russell’s death was actually a little, um, more absurd than what you saw in the theatrical cut:
Data Shows Up as a Looney Scientist
At the time, I had no idea why the audience suddenly started laughing at the appearance of grizzled Dr. Brackish Okun until someone pointed out that the actor was Brent Spiner, aka Data from Star Trek. His cameo is incredibly random but does lead to one of the film’s more memorable moments — or, the Bill Pullman-wigs-out-scene:
Escaping the Mothership
By the finale, if you’re still on board, there’s a great bit where Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum, ahem, upload a virus into the aliens’ computer system (a clever take on War of the Worlds’ climax) and must escape the mothership ASAP. Sure, the scene raises more questions than it answers — such as whether a 90s Mac would have the ability to “hack” into an advanced aliens ship without knowing the extra-terrestrials’ wi-fi password (DestroyAllHumans123); and why more bad guys weren’t deployed to go after Smith and Goldblum’s ship — but doing so means you’re missing out on 85% of what makes these types of films fun in the first place.
David Arnold’s Score
David Arnold brings his A-game to the B- movie with thrilling results. His music to ID4 practically carries the film, especially in the sluggish latter half, and adds a lot of energy to the big action scenes. And while the composer has certainly been better — Casino Royale and Hot Fuzz, for example — his work on ID4 stands out as one of the better 90s’ era blockbuster scores.
Yeah, this kind of falls in line with The Big Scene, but the first act of ID4 is undeniably amazing. Everything from the way Emmerich leans on our anticipation for the actual invasion (he literally uses a countdown clock) slowly ratchets up the tension to the way he introduces his colorful cast of characters is damn near perfect.
Harry Connick Jr.’s Random Cameo
At some point during production, somebody told Emmerich that Will Smith’s character needed a buddy who could die. Enter renowned singer Harry Connick Jr., who pops into ID4 for about 10 minutes and bites the dust in dramatic fashion. I suppose the point is to warn audiences, “If Harry Connick Jr. can die … all bets are off!” even though the resulting effect is probably more distracting than the filmmakers intended. Plus, it’s weird that Smith reacts in such a way that makes you think Harry’s death will carry some meaning later in the film … nope. He’s never mentioned again. Now, that’s what I call a bait and switch.
The Dog Scene
Finally, there’s not much in the history of cinema that can top ID4’s famous “Dog Scene.” As millions upon millions of people die, Emmerich chooses to focus on the thrilling survival of Vivica A. Fox’s Labrador Boomer, who rises to the challenge like a bonafide superhero. If, at this point, you’re thinking, “Oh no,” then ID4 is clearly not the movie for you.
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