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1996, dir. Roland Emmerich
145 min. Rated PG-13.
Starring: Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Randy Quaid, Jeff Goldblum.

Review by Noel Wood
Somehow, in the many years since I started reviewing films for shits and giggles, which eventually led to me reviewing movies for a website that lent itself to a dozen readers a month, to the fairly well-read site that you see here today, I somehow managed to never get around to reviewing the greatest B-movie ever made: 1996's INDEPENDENCE DAY.

It's hard for me to believe that it's been seven years since I initially saw INDEPENDENCE DAY (or ID4, as some marketing genius decided it would be a good idea to abbreviate it as, even when if you think about it, ID4 is really a pretty stupid name that means absolutely nothing unless this is the fourth in a series of movies that use an "ID" abbreviation.) I remember the buzz around its release. This was supposed to be the next STAR WARS. Well, it didn't quite live up to that hype, but it is the one of the most carefully constructed blockbuster films ever to be made. It's riddled with cliches and stereotypes, and that's why I love it so.

I recently was given the opportunity to rewatch this film for the first time in a few years. Not-so-coincidentally, it was on Independence day itself that I was able to see it. Even better, I got a chance to witness the ID4 SPECIAL EDITION, the newly restored version that contains nine whole extra minutes of footage. Oh, how I forgot what a gem this thing is. To fully understand the joy of this movie, let us first introduce you to our cast of ethnically diverse characters. I know this won't translate very well to the written word, but try imagining Michael Buffer's voice bellowing over 2Unlimited's "Get Ready for This" as I introduce you to our players:

Rrrrrepresenting the Caucasians, your president of the United States of Americaaaaa, Thomas J. Whitmore, portrayed by Billll Pullllmannnn!!!

Rrrrrrrrrepresenting the Jewish contingent, Ladies and Gentlemen, Jeff Goldblum as computer whiz Daaaavid Lllllevinsonnnn!!!

Rrrrrrepresenting the African-American Population, Fighter pilot Steven Hilllller, played by the Fresh Prince himself, Willllll Smiiiiiith!!!

Rrrrrrepresenting the sterotypically drunken Vietnam Veteran population, It's Rrrrrrandy Quaid as Rrrrrusselll Caaaaaaaase!!!

And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, for the few reading this site, and the millions who paid to see the movie, Lllllllllllllet's get ready to Rrrrrrrrrrumbllllllllle!!!!!!

Remind me to never do the Michael Buffer thing again.

But yeah, the four primary characters in the film are listed above, each representing a different ethnic background. Under them are other characters of varying degrees of diversity, including a gayer-than usual Harvey Fierstein. And together, they band together to save the world from a new, politically correct enemy: Alien invaders. You see, ID4 came out at the height of the PC-90's, when it was pretty much a no-no to make an enemy out of any race other than White Anglo-saxon Protestants. In a post-9/11 world, that element has reared its head again, but never was it more apparent than around the time ID4 was released. So rather than worry about the Japs invading Pearl Harbor or Arabs blowing things up, they implemented a group that would guarantee that nobody in the audience would be offended: Extra-Terrestrials. And these ain't no Spielberg-designed long-necked glowing hearted friends, either.

It's July 2. A giant monolithic spacecraft has appeared from out of nowhere and has entered Earth's orbit. Satellite feeds are being disrupted, people are running around saying it's the end of the world, dogs and cats are living together, it's just madness. After this, giant discs fifteen miles wide descend over major cities all over the world. Of course, all of our action takes place here in the good ol' USA, because, as we all know, London and Paris and them other foreign cities aren't as important as New York, Los Angeles, and Washington DC. Some people do what's expected and get the fuck out of dodge, while others decide to welcome the invaders with open arms. Whatever. I'd be with group A and on the first train to Chattanooga.

It's now July 3. Well, actually, as I write this, it's July 5, but you know what I mean. They've hidden all the important people in the US away in Norad, except for the everyman president who doesn't want to create a national panic. Suddenly, the cable installer who tinkers with his laptop way too often figures out that the code he's intercepted from the aliens is a countdown, and employs his father to drive him to DC to warn the president. Conveniently, he has a liason to do so, because his ex-wife just so happens to be the Press Secretary, and he once had a fight with the Prez over suspicion of infidelity. Prez Pullman finds out the news just a moment too late, and a bunch of Helicopters that prove that the U.S. Government has watched CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND one too many times get blown out of the sky by the pesky invaders.

Finally, the President and his posse wise up and gets the hell out of D.C., right before the aliens start blowing the shit out of everyone. President Pullman loads up Air Force One, and they head toward Norad, which should only be about a three hour flight (a threeee hour flight) but they seem to be up in the air for the next half a day or so. Meanwhile, Will Smith's gone off to fight for his planet, while his stripper girlfriend and her son (creepily played by the same kid who was Smith's nephew on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) and the family dog (who seems to have gained the ability to leap incredible distances) narrowly escape certain death by hiding in a cinderblock supply closet in a tunnel. Meanwhile, the rest of Los Angeles incenerates all around them. I need to get me a hold of some of them cinderblocks.

The damage is done. Cities are destroyed. And now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their planet. Will Smith takes to the air with his wingman, played by crooner Harry Connick Jr., who might as well have had a sign on his forehead that said "I'm gonna die". And sure enough, as if he were Biggs or Goose, he gets blow'd up while Hiller looks on. Then Hiller dukes it out with one of the alien baddies and drags him across the desert, uttering lots of catchy one-liners in the process, until he runs in to Russel Case and his posse of RV dwellers. Case, by the way, has it in for the aliens because he claims that a decade ago they abducted him and performed experiments on him.

Meanwhile, the Prez has learned of the existence of the legendary Area 51, and Air Force One, which has been in the air (with civilians on board, mind you) for something like eight hours now, heads that way, which will likely take another four or five hours. Somehow David and his dad were able to drive from New York to DC, in panicked highway situations, with an elderly man at the wheel, within an hour or so, but the most important jet in the country takes half a day to travel across country. Oh, and at the same time, Hiller also happens to let Case know about Area 51, something that apparently only the Secretary of Defense and Will Smith know the existence of. And thankfully, the guards protecting the top secret classified installment decide, in a situation of national emergency, to let about 150 RVs right through the gate. On top of all that, the security guys led by Animal Mother (aka Adam the non-Baldwin Baldwin) at the door stressing to the Prez about how important it is to keep the area secure and clean just go ahead and let Judd Hirsch's dirty ass right through. Pushovers.

Some stuff happens, and the President gets to communicate with one of the aliens via it using Data from Star Trek as a vessel, and then it makes a high-pitched noise not unlike that of a cicada on a hot summer night. So Animal Mother kills the bastard. And Jeff Goldblum's David, a staunch environmentalist, gets drunk and decides he's going to singlehandedly trash the Earth to make it unappealing to the aliens. News Flash, Mr. Goldblum: They're incinerating cities, I don't think they're hanging with Woodsy Owl over here. Anyway, in a fit of brilliance, David's father gives him an idea to send the aliens a computer virus.

It's now July 4th. "Today", says President Pullman, "We celebrate our Independence Day". He then gives a rousing speech to everyone, basically reflecting the idea that even though Independence Day is an American holiday, it's time to unite all the other countries in the world to the American way, and what a great way to pull this off, using an attack from aliens as an excuse to do so! That's Imperialism for you. Along the way, Hiller and his lovely stripper girlfriend get hitched in Area 51, David and his estranged ex-wife find solace in one anothers' arms, and the First Lady dies. And then, the asskicking begins. The Fresh Prince and the Last Action Hebrew fly up to the mothership and, not being able to locate George Clinton, they upload a virus into the alien craft's CPU (thank God they were using a compatible Operating System, and too bad for them that they didn't have their Norton Virus Definitions current) with a laptop that's kind enough to show a status bar that says "Virus uploading" and then launch a nuke into the spacecraft. Then General Calrissian and Nein Nunb Hiller and David, narrowly escape the Death Star Alien Mothership before it blows up and rains debris all over the Earth. Meanwhile, Clark Griswold's Cousin Eddie flies into the Timex Indiglo™ portal at the base of the flying saucer and blows it up too. And soon after, people all over the world are celebrating as the alien menace is put to pasture. Now, they'll only need a few hundred years to rebuild civilization to an acceptable level. At least there was a guilt-free method of eliminating that pesky population problem.

INDEPENDENCE DAY is one of the finest films ever produced, especially considering what a horrible film it really is. It's as if Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich combed through thousands of hours of blockbuster movies and borrowed all the best cliches, then presented them all to test audiences of all different nationalities, races, and sexual orientations to determine just exactly what the most appealing result was. It is so well-crafted to be a crowd pleaser, and while the end result is a film that has nary an ounce of artistic merit, it is one of the most amazing thrill rides ever to be captured on celluloid. It's flawlessly horrible. Beautifully abhorrent. This is the popcorn movie. And if anyone out there says they didn't enjoy it, then they either are lying or have something cumbersome shoved up their butt (which means they probably enjoy Merchant Ivory films). This movie is aesthetically designed to be a crowdpleaser. It is ergonomically built to form fit to every human being's sense of enjoyment. No person with a soul and/or a pulse can possibly not find enjoyment in ID4.

ID4 relies on amazing special effects and pure escapism. Yes, the events in the film are absolutely implausible. That's half the fun. This is an homage to 1950's B-Movies, modern sci-fi like Star Wars, and event movies in general. It knows its influences. It's absolutely the most intelligent stupid movie ever made.

Devlin and Emmerich, as you may recall, are also responsible for the films STARGATE and GODZILLA. Emmerich is the one who directs these films, Devlin produces and writes. In a sense, they're sort of a poor man's Bruckheimer/Simpson, except that one of them's not dead yet. Since then, Emmerich has gone on to try and make an Oscarbait historical drama in THE PATRIOT, but if there's any justice in the world, he'll pull together Pullman, Smith, and Goldblum for a sequel one day. I dunno if they would call it ID42 or ID5 or ID8, but whatever it is, I'd be in line opening day.


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