When I went to see Independence Day: Resurgence recently I couldn’t help but be disappointed with the film. It lacks so much of what made the original Independence Day so great. That film still resonates today for many good reasons.
Independence Day had something for everyone. It was a true epic that was funny, suspenseful, exciting and full of drama. But most importantly the original film had a simple core message about how we all had to come together and put aside our petty differences. All these elements were packed together in one movie and it meshed well. This all went to how Roland Emmerich and his partner Dean Devlin came up with the inspired idea for Independence Day.
Shortly after the success of their film Stargate, Emmerich was asked about alien life and he stated that if alien spaceships would suddenly show up he would be paralyzed with fear. This got the two filmmakers thinking about an idea that would become Independence Day.
Alien invasion movies have been around since the 1950s and they wanted to try something different. They melded that genre with the tired one of the disaster film, which had their heyday back in the 1970s. What they did was very smart, they took two distinct genres to make one great film that had the best elements of both genres. For instance, let’s look at the cast. The two main stars of Independence Day were Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum. Emmerich and Devlin filled the cast with lots of terrific character actors like Robert Loggia, Judd Hirsch, Margaret Colin, Mary McDonnell and Vivica A. Fox. That was something directly inspired by the all-star casts of those old epic disaster films like The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake and The Towering Inferno.
Another element they took from the disaster film genre which is related to the diverse cast is having several different characters with their own distinct stories and backgrounds that were scattered across the country. Their stories were actually interesting, especially Smith’s character who had to battle the aliens and was concerned about his girlfriend.
Meanwhile, she and the First Lady, who were completely different were reduced to equal terms as they struggled to survive the alien attack. The arc of Goldblum’s character was great also since he played the likeable nerd who saved the day in the end. Another story that worked was the one with Randy Quaid’s character who was seen as a kook by his family and society, but is redeemed by his heroic sacrifice.
The film made a point that these characters with their own strengths and flaws couldn’t defeat the aliens on their own. But when they finally converged, they pooled their efforts and beat the aliens.
As for the aliens themselves, they were among the most stunning movie aliens ever created. Originally, Emmerich wanted to use the standard grey aliens with the big heads but add something different to the look. Creature designer Patrick Tatopoulos came up with two different concepts, one of them was putting a new spin on the traditional grey aliens and one that was gigantic. Emmerich liked both concepts and so he decided to use both of them. This is how we got the small alien in the living exo-suit with the tentacles.
What is really amazing is that the aliens, like the rest of the film’s effects, were done largely with practical effects. In fact, Independence Day is the last, big-budget epic to use practical effects with models and puppets. Very little CG was used for the film unlike Independence Day: Resurgence and every other blockbuster these days. What the special effects and production team accomplished is incredible being that what they did largely holds up today, twenty years after the movie was released.
Thinking about Independence Day’s success is that it wasn’t done by Lucas, Spielberg or Disney. Yet this film holds its own even now twenty years later, which is something that cannot be said for Independence Day: Resurgence. Some snobby critics have argued that the movie appealed to the lowest common denominator but seriously who cares? The bottom line for me is that I leave the theater happy and satisfied. Independence Day did that for me and that is all that matters. What added to that feeling of joy was the triumphant score by David Arnold that was the best John Williams soundtrack he never made.
Independence Day had so many great ingredients that were salutes to other films like War of the Worlds, with the virus that defeats the aliens being a computer virus, the final battle echoing a Star Wars space battle and the final triumphant scene in the desert that was taken from the Chuck Yeager moments in The Right Stuff. But most of all Independence Day resonated because of its simple message of mutual cooperation to defeat a powerful threat. That message is still valid today and will carry on for a very long time .
Walter L. Stevenson