Okay, I realize that my fellow critics are giving thumbs down to
INDEPENDENCE DAY (ID4), but I absolutely love it. Although not as
pretentious nor as good STAR WARS, which is the show it most closely
resembles, ID4 is the best action and sci-fi thriller I have seen in a
long time. It has devastation on a scale that is unmatched by any show
I have ever seen, and yet the film is so controlled that kids as young
as 7 should be able to see it and enjoy it as well as the adults.
Since we were scared by the newspaper stories of the long lines at
ID4, we went on Saturday afternoon to see PHENOMENON instead. When we
got there, the projector had broken so went over to ID4 where there
were long lines and people with umbrellas and ice chests waiting in the
heat of the parking lot. To our surprise, most of these people were
coming early to buy tickets for later. We bought tickets 10 minutes in
advance for the 5:25 show in one of the three theaters showing ID4 and
got almost our favorite seats - in the center 10 rows from the screen.
I will only setup the plot and give some of the dialog so you can
get a flavor of the show, but without giving anything away. Aliens
come in a huge planetary size home that is one quarter the diameter of
the moon. From their home they dispatch a dozen spaceships that are
fifteen miles wide. When these spaceships go overhead they are so
large they eclipse the sun forming dark ominous shadows over entire
cities. Moreover, they look like flying visions of hell complete with
fiery clouds that portend the end of the world.
Hollywood of late has two types of picture presidents. One set of
movies has presidents who are AWOL as in EXECUTIVE DECISION and BROKEN
ARROW. The other set are paeans to Bill Clinton as in THE AMERICAN
PRESIDENT. Here for a change we have ex-fighter pilot President Thomas
Whitmore (Bill Pullman from WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING and RUTHLESS
PEOPLE) who is a reserved version of Teddy Roosevelt. Although he is
about Clinton's age, pilot Whitmore is clearly not a Clinton clone as
Douglas was in THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT, and there is even a hint in the
movie that he is actually a Republican. I liked Pullman's performance.
He is believably concerned for all of his people, and although
naturally a quite type, he is not afraid to lead and make tough
Jeff Goldblum plays the nerd role of satellite engineer and chief
code cracker David Levinson. David's ex-wife Connie (Margaret Colin)
is the Chief-of-Staff to the president. Judd Hirsch is David's father
Julius. Julius is full of funny homilies as when he tells his son to
calm down on the drive to the capital, "What's the rush? You think
we'll get to Washington, and it won't be there?" Working in the TV
station with David is Marty Gilbert (Harvey Fierstein). When he learns
that the aliens are on the way, he advises David as he is running to
the bomb shelter, "There is no shame in hiding," and then reflects, "I
better call my mother."
California is not treated with much respect in the movie. As
Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith) and his girlfriend Jasmine Dubrow
(Vivica Fox) are waking up, an alien ship is passing overhead which
makes their bed shake. Steve asks, "Is that an earthquake?" Jasmine
reassures him with, "not even a four pointer. Go back to sleep."
After this is one of many great comedic scenes in the picture. Steve
walks outside and looks right noticing his neighbor is leaving and then
as he looks all around he gets wide eyed realizing that everybody is
leaving. When he figures out what is going on, he tries to reassure
Jasmine with, "Look, I don't think that they flew 90 billion
light-years here to start a fight."
The people in LA are excited about the aliens coming. This is
their kind of event. One undulates in rapture, "Oh god, I hope they
bring back Elvis." A California teenager uses the come-on line to a
girl in his pickup truck, "This may be your last night on earth. Do
you want it to be as a virgin?"
The serious lines are given to the president. He holds a news
conference to proclaim, "the question of whether we are alone in the
universe has been answered." The answer, of course, is troubling.
Later he tells the world that, "we can't be consumed by our petty
Even more than the funny script by Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich
and the precise and energetic direction by Roland Emmerich, what makes
the show burst with excitement are the special effects. The power and
the scale of the effects outdoes the death star in STAR WARS and the
tornadoes in TWISTER. Actually the picture has aspects of these shows,
plus many others (TESTAMENT, TOP GUN, BLADE RUNNER, DR. STRANGELOVE,
etc.), but is never derivative. Everything here fills fresh, and yet
at its heart this is a classic sci-fi tale from the 50s.
Okay, now is the time to address the plausibility issue. If a
film is good enough, you can ignore a lot of unlikely material. Up
until the solution is found to combat the alien invasion, I found the
story reasonably believable. After that it became a bit tougher to
suspend disbelieve, but, hey, this is not a National Geographic special
The hellish colors that cinematographer Karl Walter Lindenlaub
comes up with work great. The score by David Arnold is dramatic, and
it is probably worth buying the CD of it.
My favorite actors in the show are Will Smith and Bill Pullman.
The first is hilarious and smart, and the second wise and brave. For a
great little quirky character Randy Quaid plays crop duster Russell
Casse who claims to have been captured by aliens ten years earlier.
Watch how the writers tie that in with the rest of the story. Many
other good minor characters including Robert Loggia as General Grey,
Mary McDonnell as First Lady Marilyn Whitmore, Brent Spiner as mad Dr.
Okun, and James Rebhorn as Secretary of Defense Nimziki. Finally, the
ending is phenomenal.
INDEPENDENCE DAY runs 2:22, and I am glad they did not trim it
down to make more money. It is rated PG-13. The amazing thing to me
was that I could have safely taken my 7 year old son Jeffrey to see it.
There is violence, but it is all of the non-threatening sci-fi variety.
If your kids can handle balls of flames and cars blowing up and if they
are not frightened at all by Star Wars, they are probably old enough to
see INDEPENDENCE DAY. My guess is that most kids 7 and up will love it
as I did. There is no sex, nudity, or bad language that I can
remember. I give this enjoyable and incredible film my strongest
recommendation and top rating of ****. I don't care what the other
critics that I respect say. This is a great film, and I am happy to be
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes