Welcome to Earth!
The third part in this contest brings me to my guilty pleasure genre: disaster movies! Disaster movies, if done well, are a combination of various different genres. They’re mostly action based, they always attempt drama (they don’t always get there), and they’re generally science fiction. Usually corny and dumb, but mostly lots of fun. Today’s movie exemplifies the genre, at least in my mind. If the movie doesn’t exemplify the genre, the director certainly does. Almost every movie I can think of that this guy has done has been a disaster movie. And I’ve actually liked the majority of them, dumb and cheesy though they may be. And so, as the biggest and the most fun in the genre, and the movie that best exemplifies the genre for me, I had no choice but to give my favorite disaster movie to Independence Day, written by Dean Devlin, written and directed by Roland Emmerich, and starring Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Randy Quaid, Vivica A. Fox, Harry Connick Jr., Margaret Colin, Judd Hirsch, Harvey Fierstein, Robert Loggia, Mary McDonnell, Mae Whitman, James Rebhorn, Adam Baldwin, Brent Spiner, James Duval, and Frank Welker.
On July 2nd, a signal appears in outer space, between the Earth and the moon. Spirits are lifted temporarily when the giant curiosity slows down and stops before hitting Earth, but then it gets more curious when it “splits” into smaller pieces and enters the Earth’s atmosphere, first appearing as strange clouds that seem like they’re on fire, but changing to reveal that they are massive alien spaceships that then settle over the Earth’s major cities. David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) discovers a transmission in the satellite signal that he first thinks is just going to go away, but soon realizes that it’s a countdown to an attack. He collects his father, Julius (Judd Hirsch), and rushes to Washington to warn his ex-wife, Constance (Margaret Colin), who is the Communications Director at the White House. With the president, Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman), they barely manage to escape. Also going on, a drunken crop duster named Russell Casse (Randy Quaid) escapes with his broken family, Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith) takes part in an aerial assault on the aliens that he alone survives, and we go to Area 51 where scientists like Dr. Brackish Okun (Brent Spiner) have been studying these aliens in secret since some of them crashed here in 1947.
Roland Emmerich has got to be one of the best directors in the big dumb action category. The story is pretty basic alien invasion fare that’s been going down pretty much since movies were invented, but it does it so well and makes it so fun that I can’t help but love the thing. How can you not get behind the heroes of the movie when these fuckin’ aliens come down here and get all rowdy for no reason, laying siege to the biggest cities in the world? It’s the easy way to get the audience invested in the movie, and it works on me. Of course, I don’t know how much the other countries of the world will be invested near the end. I mean, they all get involved in taking down the aliens, but it was all America’s idea. FUCK YEAH! It’s certainly not the brightest of movies, but I doubt it was trying to be. From what I’ve read, they spent 4 weeks working on the script and 13 months on the production. They knew what they were doing. But I’m not like most film critics. A movie doesn’t have to have a message or intelligence or something important about it; it just needs to be entertaining. That’s what entertainment is supposed to do. And how could you say Independence Day wasn’t entertaining?! It’s impossible! It’s at least impossible to finish that sentence before I slap you in the mouth. As corny as it is, how can you not get amped by the “Today we celebrate our Independence Day!” speech? Watching it again almost inspired me to drive to the airport, steal a jet, and fly it up the butthole of an alien spacecraft. And the ending is entirely satisfying. Obviously, there are stupid things that happen in this movie, but none so stupid that they ruin the experience. I would say it was probably in bad taste for the president to joke that he was in bed with a young brunette to his wife. Not because adultery is bad (he is the president, what do you expect?), but because the young brunette was his nine year old daughter. I don’t get behind the idea that the super advanced aliens wearing the biomechanical armor can be knocked unconscious for several hours by one punch from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Probably not as much as I wouldn’t get behind the idea of letting the drunken guy who can’t even formulate the sentence, “I’m a pilot. I can fly,” without stumbling into the driver’s seat of a jet fighter. Also, early on in the movie, it’s a little on the nose to have one of the scientists playing the R.E.M. song “End of the World”.
The performances did exactly what they were supposed to in this movie. You probably couldn’t say that any of them impressed, but they all performed adequately. It’s kind of hard to say who the main character in this movie is though because they have about 4 main characters in separate stories that come together at the end. You have Will Smith’s story, Bill Pullman’s story, Jeff Goldblum’s story, and Randy Quaid’s story. Will Smith was just becoming a superstar around this point, but he show’s what makes him a superstar in this movie. Both charming and funny in his role, he makes for a very likeable character. I had problems with other people in his story though. First, Vivica A. Fox. She’s pretty and dances in a bikini at one point, but I had already gotten fairly mad at her for her reaction to Smith getting called to the base when the aliens showed up. Bitch, you want to marry a guy that’s in the military! What do you think’s going to happen when a threat to America shows up? Also, Harry Connick Jr. was usually really annoying, definitely not funny, and possibly gay. Something about the way he kept calling Will Smith “Big Daddy” – in a post BioShock world – seems gay to me. Pullman was strange to me in this movie. He didn’t do a bad job, but he’s got this smug raspiness to every line delivery, making ever sentence end with a smug sounding “uh”. His wife also made me mad because she was so naïve that, when Vivica A. Fox said that she was “a dancer”, this bitch automatically goes to ballet. Yeah, ‘cause that’s a common occupation in America. Also, his daughter was Mae Whitman, who was in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. That’s all I have to say about her. Goldblum acted just like Goldblum, but he was good at it. His dad was a little weird. I don’t know if this is how Judd Hirsch always acts in movies, but I couldn’t help but wonder if Jackie Mason was unavailable. Quaid plays a good drunk, but I hated pretty much everyone in his family. His younger son was a pussy and his daughter was a whore. Well, she never had sex with anyone in the movie, but she did fall in love with and try to have sex with about three different guys through the course of the movie, and usually within 5 minutes of meeting them. I also assume that James Duval (who played Miguel Casse, the oldest son) never really got famous because the world already has one Keanu Reeves and doesn’t require another.
Independence Day still stands up as the shining example of how to get past the limitations of your story with fantastic special effects, spectacle, and all around fun factor. Even after all these years, it still stands up as the most fun disaster movie that I was able to think of. It’s what Roland Emmerich does best. I probably don’t need to recommend this movie as I have a hard time believing that anyone has managed to not see it by the point in their life where they could be reading this. If you haven’t, do it. Independence Day gets “You Don’t Actually Think They Spend $20,000 on a Hammer, $30,000 on a Toilet Seat, Do You?” out of “Yes yes. Without the ‘oops’.”
Congratulations goes to my sister, Katie, for not only guessing my favorite disaster movie, but also guessing my runner up disaster movie, Armageddon. That just proves that she’s Country Strong.
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It does actually have an all-star cast that at the time was pretty relevant and popular and does start the career of Will Smith on a better path than the Fresh Prince would have. Actually a pioneer of modern movie career launching…like Orlando Bloom in Pirates of the Caribbean.
I do love this movie and even still feel inspired by the Independence Day speech. It’s a great annual movie for the 4th of July just like Christmas Story or It’s a Wonderful Life at Christmas. After watching the movie, I feel just as much like lighting up an alien mothership as I do lighting up the BBQ.