Every July Fourth, I celebrate the birth of our nation with that crazy summer blockbuster "Independence Day." This movie came out in 1996, and the special effects still hold, but I think the message of this movie is what keeps me coming back: World peace is achievable. It just won't happen until aliens invade.
We start with the dramatic moon shot where the plaque from the July 1, 1969 moon landing sits, unfettered. For now. We pan across the footsteps still pressed into the moon dust. But wait. They're starting to vibrate and shift.
Cue creepy shadow drifting over the lunar landscape.
Oh, great. It's a gigantic spaceship. It's like, every summer, when we try to get the family together for our annual reunion, some kind of aliens invade. Sadly, this year, it's "Pixels" starring everyone's favorite actor, Adam Sandler. No offense, Hollywood, but I like my aliens scary.
Cut to: bored scientists playing putt-putt while R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" plays on the tape deck.
Remember, this is 1996 -- tape decks still exists. And all the data these scientists are collecting are spooling into piles of tape. Piles and piles of tape. I feel bad for anyone that has been in charge of digitizing anything from the government.
Now, before all the drama starts, we have to be introduced to POTUS Bill Pullman. As he walks down the hall with his people, trying their best to be better than "West Wing."
"They're not attacking your policies, they're attacking your age," Cable Repairman Jeff's wife says. "The message has gotten lost. It's just too much politics, too much compromise."
Oh, Roland Emmerich, look at you try to come up with witty Aaron Sorkin dialogue.
What? Another character? Now, we cut to Jeff Goldblum, cable repairman, playing chess with his cigar-smoking dad in the park. Then, when he gets back to work from his lunch break, all the TV's are a mess, the signal is distorted, the pictures are all fuzzy.
Goldblum must work for Time Warner.
Stop! I can't keep up! Drunken Randy Quaid's been introduced, stumbling like a poor actor out of his red crop duster plane. Remember, everyone, he's going to be the comic relief, in real life and in this movie, rising to be the Comedic Savior in the last few minutes of the movie.
This is going to be impossible to keep up with -- Cable Repairman Jeff has figured something out about the signal the aliens are sending out while the rest of the world is realizing that a TV series in the 2000's called "Falling Skies" is going to take place on TNT, so they're running for the hills.
Uh-oh, we just got our first set of casualties. Let's send a plane toward the spaceship as it enters the atmosphere in a fiery combustion.
File under: What not to do when aliens invade.
And POTUS Bill Pullman tells his workers, "The best thing right now is to have people stay in their homes."
Luckily, later, he changes his mind. Because later, you know...lasers, death...
Cut to spaceships as they continue to enter the atmosphere, centering around big, important buildings in big important cities. Let's just focus on the one entering New York City, for now. People have been running and screaming with their luggage and children, while, of course, the only two people to get out of New York City with ease are Cable Repairman Jeff and his cigar-smoking dad.
I need Cable Repairman Jeff right now to come over and fix our Xfinity wifi. It's been cutting out the entire time I write this. I know he's busy saving the world with his 1996 laptop, but I've got real problems here.
While I fight the wifi, like Will Smith fights the aliens, I almost miss one of the best lines of the movie: "We advise that you don't fire your weapons at the spaceship because you might inadvertently cause an interstellar war."
Uh-oh, we're going to get our next set of casualties. This time, we're going to shine a giant Lite Brite at the spaceships to see if they want to play. Luckily, they do, but the aliens only know how to play Battleship.
So, now we've got Cable Repairman Jeff talking to POTUS Bill Pullman -- you have to remember, in order for a movie to be successful, the only man that can save the world used to be married to a woman that works with POTUS Bill.
"But I don't like Time Warner Cable," POTUS said.
"It's the only way your life will be saved," Cable Repairman Jeff said.
Cut to: all the people standing right under the spaceship's center on top of a building in Los Angeles.
"They're opening up!" screams the annoying red head from "Saved by the Bell: The College Years."
Yay, you, with you're one line in this summer blockbuster movie!
Just kidding, she's got another: "It's so beautiful."
So are jellyfish, Ginger. So. Are. Jellyfish.
As the timer on Cable Repairman Jeff's computers strikes zero, all those "beautiful" blue lights standing above all the major cities go kablewy, which leads to one of the more suspenseful shots during the first one-hundredth of the movie -- the plane POTUS Bill Pullman and his crew are on just barely make it out of the DC area as tongues of fire lick the tail of the plane.
All the while, Cable Repairman Jeff (luckily on the plane, too) has flashbacks during this flight out of hell remembering that one time the T-Rex was chasing his Jeep Wrangler.
I lied, there's another suspenseful scene, this one featuring our very own Indiana-born Vivica A. Fox, best known for her time spent on "Celebrity Apprentice." Of course she makes it to the concrete storage room under the bridge, while the fire from the spaceship's blast eats away L.A., that's not the suspenseful part. It's whether her labrador retriever, Boomer, makes it, too. In a movie with such high stakes, it's not the human actors we care about. It's the animals.
And here endeth Act 1.
Randy Quaid is driving his RV with his step-kids, and he's all proud about how "for ten years, I've been sayin' it!" about them aliens and their heinous attack (he believes he was abducted, figured they'd come back), but the real mystery is Miguel, one of his kids. You see, Miguel's older brother, earlier in the film, was all angry at Randy Quaid about Miguel's medicine and how sick Miguel is. As they drive through the desert, Miguel is drenched in sweat. "Pull over, I don't feel so good," he mutters.
I want to care about Miguel and his strange sickness, but I don't even know what Miguel has. How can I care? Is it diabetes? Is he pretending to be sick from his vaccines?
A sequel to this movie is in the works (dramatic sigh), and I believe that Miguel, as well as his siblings, are aliens that have disguised themselves. Randy Quaid's character believe's he's was abducted about 10 years ago, I believe he truly was abducted.
You see, Randy Quaid married one of the aliens. She and her children were on a stakeout mission, abducted Randy and chose him to keep them safe.
(In a scene that didn't make the final cut of the movie but was put in a re-release, Randy Quaid talks to Miguel about how his mother didn't have the medicine once and she was alright. Something tells me that mother and Miguel, as well as the kids, are aliens and need the medicine to handle Earth's atmosphere.)
The children will have an awakening, soon, because they think they're human right now, but Miguel is the first to break. Years later, the others will, too.
They'll call their alien people, and that will be how the sequel will start.
Protists on some planet in another galaxy have yet to create the tools needed to fly interstellar to come and get us.
In the following scene, Harry Connick, Jr. stops playing the piano and coaching young people on "American Idol" long enough to stick a cigar in his mouth and fly a jet, alongside his gal-pal Will Smith.
Another great scene, alert! Another great scene alert! Will Smith lands from parachuting out of his spazzing jet, approaches the alien jet he shot down. The hatch pops open, and Will Smith leans in and punches the squiggling alien right in the face and shouts, "Welcome to Earth!"
Heroes aren't made, people. They are born.
Meanwhile, on Air Force One, before Harrison Ford told the terrorist to "get off my plane," we've got everyone arguing about whether or not nuclear force should be used against the aliens. This is Roland Emmerich's chance to write in his social commentary about nuclear weapons. If you didn't catch it, he uses Cable Repairman Jeff to state his stance: they're bad.
But a major plot point comes out of this argument when Cable Repairman Jeff's father shouts, "What about Area 51! You knew then!"
So, I guess we all know where Air Force One is headed.
Down on the ground, amidst the destruction in Los Angeles, Vivica A. Fox finds the First Lady, and that's all fine, and all, but the best part is when we cut to Will Smith dragging the alien he punched, in the parachute, screaming about its smell, and its heavy dreadlocks and bemoans, "I could've been at a barbecue!"
And the refrain goes: Heroes aren't made, they're born.
And it just so happens that a bunch of character storylines are going to intersect at Area 51. You can't write this stuff! I mean, er...
Randy Quaid's RV crew, as they drive across the desert, meet up with Hero Will Smith, and with their powers combined, decide to head to Area 51, just as Air Force One lands.
Now that we're in Area 51 (it's a lot smaller than I thought it would be, and it's lit like an IKEA), we learn that a spaceship landed in the 1960's, and here we have Roland Emmerich using the famous Area-51-weather-balloon storyline. It works, Roland Emmerich, this time, but you've got a lot of explaining to do with that sequel coming out.
Now that we're all comfy-cozy in Area 51, one of the scientists (he played Data on "Star Trek: Next Generation) geeks out with Cable Repairman Jeff and gives a tour of the spaceship they recovered back in the 60's. Cable Repairman Jeff is so smart that he already knows more about the spaceship and he just looked at it. You have to remember, Cable Repairman Jeff went to MIT, but was lured by Time Warner to work with them. Cable Repairman Jeff has already hooked up his mid-90's laptop running Windows 96 to the spaceship.
New York City shouldn't have had any cable problems with Cable Repairman Jeff in the vicinity. The things he can do!
While Cable Repairman Jeff plays science fair with the spaceship, POTUS Bill Pullman finds out what we already knew, the aliens haven't come to just blow up a few major cities. They're here to blow up all the cities. Speaking of POTUS, his lady was rescued by Vivica A. Fox in her roaring semi that still works after the alien --
Oh, who cares...we're at one of the more frightening scenes in the movie: the alien dissection.
Remember how Hero Will Smith dragged that alien in the parachute? Well, it's been playing possum, waiting for the right moment to attack. "I've been biding my time, humans," it whines. "Biding. My. Time."
In a scene reminiscent of Willow Smith's first hit, the alien whips its hair back and forth, whips its hair back and forth, and then takes them dreads, grabs the scientist we've all grown to love, and slams his five o'clock shadow against the glass.
The scientist's arms and legs are sprawled out against the glass like those cat posters. You know the ones. "Hang in there!"
Willow Smith, er, I mean the alien turns the scientist into a puppet and hoarsely whispers to POTUS Bill Pullman and his buddies that they're all going to die.
"Do we need a reason?" it asks in a hiss.
"Yes!" POTUS Bill Pullman said.
"Well, you're not my mom," it shrieks, and then too bad for the alien because the glass isn't bulletproof and, we find out, neither is the alien.
All this dreadlock-and-shooting drama is happening as Hero Will Smith steals a helicopter because, well, he can.
A fellow soldier raises a gun to Smith's head, not realizing who he's up against.
Smith says, "Do you really want to use that? I need to save my wife that will appear on 'Celebrity Apprentice' someday."
The soldier is so starstruck that he trembles as he lowers the gun. Hero Will Smith is off to save Vivica A. Fox from the smoldering ruins of her career, I mean, the base they were supposed to meet.
Meanwhile, POTUS Bill Pullman allows for the deployment of a nuclear missile against the aliens, even though we already know how Roland Emmerich feels about them. At first, we think it's successful, but then we remember the title of the movie is "Independence Day," and this is only July third.
Here endeth Act 2.
Cable Repairman Jeff has started celebrating the Fourth of July a little too early.
"It's five o'clock somewhere," he mumbles, stumbling around with a half-bottle of booze, kicking trashcans and slapping white boards, when his father's all, "Get your act together you louse, or you'll catch a cold."
"You're totes brill," C.R. Jeff says, grabbing his father's face in his hands.
Moments later, C.R. Jeff is somehow sober enough to shoot a gun aimed at a can sitting on the spaceship.
Don't forget that, in just a couple of days, C.R. Jeff has not only repaired all of New York's cable, but has also figured out how to give the alien's computer system a virus using the sophisticated Windows 96. How this works is news to me because have you seen the screens on the spaceship's computer system? The spaceship screen doesn't even showcase numbers or letters. The spaceship's screen looks like the Matrix with green lines of code scrolling up and down.
This plan is crazy, but even crazier? When some skeptic cries out, "Who will fly this thing?"
Hero Will Smith steps forward and says, "I can." Hero Will Smith, who was rejected by NASA, finally gets his swan song into space.
So let it be written, so let it be done.
Now that we have finally figured out a way to possibly bring down the aliens, by working around their defenses, we cut to different scenes from around the world, using morse code, telling every other nation what the plan is. A British man stands up and says, "It's about bloody time."
That's Roland Emmerich telling the audience "of course the world is waiting for America to come up with the plan to save the Earth."
So, while we get all set up and recruit random pilots (including Drunken Randy Quaid), POTUS Bill Pullman, who also used to be a pilot, stands atop a truck and delivers the speech that needs to be delivered when aliens do invade. We, as a world, must finally come together to defeat them, giving us, for the first time ever, one common enemy.
Now we wait.
And as we do, let me take a moment to relate this to a show on TV right now. If any of you have watched "Falling Skies" on TNT, this part of the movie is very reminiscent to season four's ending when Noah Wyle and his half-alien daughter fly one of the spaceships to the moon to destroy the alien power source.
Hero Will Smith and C.R. Jeff have loaded the spacecraft and have successfully flown it into the mother ship. My question is this: The aliens wear these slimy body suits with dreadlocks, and the inside of the spacecraft looks very, oh, I don't know, easily accessible to humans.
These things have tentacles. How do we know they didn't hang themselves from the roof of the craft to fly it? When the aliens stand, in their slimy suits of armor, they are huge, but C.R. Jeff and Hero Will Smith fit snuggly in the cockpit chairs.
While I sit and quietly debate this, POTUS Bill Pullman and his entourage fly toward one of the many flying saucers, shooting missiles at it.
That spaceship is massive. It's like throwing specks of sand at an elephant. Once one of the missiles makes it past the force field, we know the virus has worked, even though I'm not convinced the alien system would allow a laptop running Windows 96 to sync up with it.
Did these people have access to USB C already? I can't remember if Bluetooth was a thing in 1996...
With the planes swarming around the spacecraft, and Hero Will Smith and C.R. Jeff sending a virus to the mothership, these aliens are getting P.O'd. They're about to take out Area 51, when Drunken Randy Quaid finally flies out of nowhere, ready to shoot a missile up the spaceship's butt. Of course it jams, making Drunken Randy Quaid question his lot in life.
"Do me a favor, tell my children I love them very much."
And up he flies, screaming, "Up yours!" filling his role as the Comedic Savior.
The spaceship crashes into the desert mountains in a fiery burst of orange and yellow.
Now that all the spaceships on Earth have been taken care of, we have to take care of one last piece of business -- the mothership. Somehow C.R. Jeff and Hero Will Smith, along with whoever helped them, have attached a nuclear missile on the spaceship. It's so convenient that the alien technology and the human technology can work together so well. While smoking their "When the Fat Lady Sings" cigars, they press the "send" button.
Once the "package has been delivered," C.R. Jeff and Hero Will Smith try to fly out of the mother ship, and as they do, the doors start to close, leaving the smallest space for the spaceship to slip through. This suspense device was also used recently in "Jurassic World" when Chris Pratt was trying to run out of one of the cages that was closing. I shall write an essay about this suspense device and the movies that have employed it.
As you all know, they both make it safely back to Earth, and they're greeted by all the main cast members out in the desert. They smile and joke about how they promised each other fireworks as they look up at the destruction of the space ship burning up the mountains, as well as debris from the nuclear space explosion raining down through the atmosphere.
I think the real danger has just begun: putting out those fires and all that radiation from the nuclear space explosion.
As I watched the ending for the umpteenth time, a little piece of movie magic died for me. As they all stood and looked up at sky in joy, the green screen effect was evident. When I first saw the movie, I thought they all were really out in the desert, and the spaceship in the mountains was superimposed or whatever it's called. I blame HD TV and the evils it has wrought watching older films using special effects.
Oh well. I will leave you with one final thought as we conclude another Fourth of July.
When I first saw this movie back when I was 14, I remember thinking: How are they going to clean up all those spaceships?
What. A. Mess.