Embracing the Antiquated, Long-Lost World of ‘Independence Day’

Independence Day was the most hotly anticipated summer film in 1996. And it wasn’t even close. Fifteen-year old me, along with the rest of the teenage world in the mid 90s, salivated as the previews showed the White House exploding. It was a groundbreaking and awe-inspiring moment in cinema at the time, and despite any other previews that may have come out leading up to the film’s release, that shot of the White House exploding was all we needed to be there opening day.

Seeing it now, fifteen years on the other side of 9/11, Independence Day has aged more rapidly than Robin Williams in Jack. The destruction is antiquated and characterizations hokey and broad. When the aliens eventually attack and wipe out landmarks everywhere, what’s left is a fairly standard military action film where all the stars (and the dog, gotta save the dog) live and heroes prevail, but it’s adventurous and light. The entire thing is airy and, because of that, a welcome change from all these types of films which mimicked this plot in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Embrace the seemingly ancient existence of Independence Day, because we won’t ever have this sort of guiltless world destruction film ever again. Even Independence Day: Resurgence will bring with it the weight of global unrest and the new millennium desires for self-serious narratives. Everything has to be a dour and morose allegory these days, even a fantastical tale of aliens invading our planet.

At the time, the effects of destruction were groundbreaking. Sure, they’ve aged a little, but not as much as the overarching tone of the whole movie. We have reached a point in CGI where these sort of world destruction pictures have become weightless because not only are the alien ships and explosions built on a computer screen, the entire thing is a glossy CGI rendering of cityscapes or monuments. Here, the fireballs and UFOs are superimposed on actual cities. That White House is a model. It works, because it gives the destruction weight and consequence. There’s texture to the action. Say what you will about the advancements of CGI technology, Independence Day has something in it we won’t ever see again.

Despite the massive destruction, Independence Day brings a light adventurous spirit. One liners dominate the screenplay, and effervescent characters – from Will Smith to pre-insane Randy Quaid – allow the film to bounce from one narrative to the next without losing any steam.

Though Jeff Goldblum is back for Resurgence, the absence of Will Smith will be felt. Captain Hiller was a brash 90s archetype and having the character killed off (because, I don’t know, Will Smith had a ton of other things to do? I know there’s Suicide Squad, but the guy used to dominate the box office) in between films feels cheap. At least President Whoitmore – played heroically by Bill Pullman – is back. And bearded and a little crazy, and he probably dies early on. But he’s back.

Independence Day broke major ground in 1996, and like anything else from 1996 it has aged considerably. And Roland Emmerich’s insane destruction porn career has weakened in the last two decades. But think about the music you were listening to in 1996, the clothes you were wearing. You don’t still like it all (those backpack purses aren’t hot items anymore), but you do have fond memories of some of it. Beck’s Odelay is antiquated too, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still fun to listen to in 2016.

Larry Taylor - Managing Editor
Larry Taylor - Managing Editor
Larry is the managing editor for Monkeys Fighting Robots. The Dalai Lama once told him when he dies he will receive total consciousness. So he's got that going for him... Which is nice.