The twenty years between the release of Independence Day and it’s sequel should have numbed audiences to the landmark destroying special effects which seem to be a staple of summer blockbuster season. Even though it was back in 1996, there is still something chilling about the huge blast of energy ripping through the iconic American landmarks and the destruction that is left in the wake of that first alien attack. Of course, this isn’t the only aspect of Independence Day which still manages to resonate.
Unlike many modern blockbusters, Independence Day actually takes some time to build and develop characters. The five or six principle characters all get some time to actually have their own stories, from Jeff Goldblum’s David and his reconciliation with an estranged wife to President Bill Pullman who is trying desperately to keep everything together. Even smaller, inconsequential characters have some backstory, particularly the always reliable Randy Quaid who comes into his own in the finale but constantly steals each scene he is included in.
Independence Day belongs to one actor and one actor alone and that is Will Smith. This was Smith’s star-making turn and he doesn’t disappoint. He manages to balance humour, tragedy and action perfectly, giving the audience the perfect introduction to the terrifying aliens while also adding a touch of style to the quieter, calmer moments too. It is no wonder that Smith became a mega-star after his role here.
People don’t watch Independence Day for the characters and drama though. This was a summer blockbuster in the traditional sense and delivered on that promise in spades. It has a huge set-piece in the center of the movie, the main marketing campaign that excited audiences that summer, but also delivered in the rest of the film too.
It is easy to remember the large moments but there are tense, smaller scenes which also deliver on the action front. The first “contact” with the aliens which shocks the onlooking world, the attempts to nuke the aliens and the Air Force One flight to safety are all tense, well-crafted scenes.
The film is built upon utter destruction but it never feels like explosion for the sake of it and instead builds to a decent conclusion. The utter helplessness, particularly of the excellent Goldblum as he tries to “destroy the planet” so the aliens won’t want it, plays into the desperation but also the importance of the moment the final attempt at salvation is discovered.
The finale of Independence Day has been widely mocked in the twenty years since but when watching the film the logic is sound and the fact our fate is in the hands of Will Smith means that any plot-absurdity is over-looked. Add to this the movies greatest moment; the Independence Day speech.
Bill Pullman has never made the impact he could have on Hollywood, playing the consummate supporting actor but here is is excellent. The words of the speech he delivers to a watching, unprepared airfield are rousing enough but his manner, the intonation and the way he builds to those final two words is enough to raise goosebumps just thinking about it.
Overall, Independence Day harks back to the old fashioned, original summer blockbusters and does better for it. It is a movie where the explosions matter, the characters resonate and the action has impact and consequences. It managed to launch the career of Will Smith but mostly shock the world with the destruction of those landmarks!
Rating – 5!
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)