Director: Roland Emmerich
Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Randy Quaid, Vivica A. Fox, Judd Hirsch, Mary McDonnell, Robert Loggia, James Rebhorn, Harry Connick Jr., Mae Whitman
Released: July 3, 1996
Best Visual Effects (won)
Best Sound (lost to The English Patient)
I remember all the hype that surrounded this movie when it came out in the summer of '96. I don't actually remember seeing any commercials for it on TV or any trailers for it on the big screen, but I have no doubt that I must have seen many of them because I was super excited to see this movie when it came out. I had bought into all of the hype. It was a big summer blockbuster about aliens coming to destroy Earth and the only people who could stop them were the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park! And the guy from While You Were Sleeping was the President! Yeah! And let's not forget Cousin Eddie! (Though I don't think I knew he was in the movie until I saw it). And everybody else, I don't think I knew who they were.
If memory serves right, I saw this film on opening day. If not opening day, it was at least the second day, but I'm pretty sure it was opening day. I was 15 and saw it with two of my friends. It was a packed theater (I mean, obviously, it was opening day for a huge blockbuster!) It was a lot of fun and the whole audience got into it and I loved it, naturally. I laughed at all of Will Smith's one liners, I pumped my fist at Bill Pullman's awesome speech (well, I didn't literally do that), I jumped at all the alien jump scare scenes, I was in awe of the White House exploding effect, and I cheered when the aliens were defeated (well, I cheered inside).
I've seen this movie a handful of times and each time I watch it, it seems to lose a little bit of its initial luster. I think I was just wrapped up in all the hype; I was an impressionable teen, after all. There are still things I enjoy, but I wouldn't go out of my way to recommend it to anyone. If I were to recommend a '90s action blockbuster that came out over the Fourth of July holiday, I would tell them to see Terminator 2. That is by far the superior film. And if we were to get even more specific and I had to recommend a Roland Emmerich movie that was rife with American patriotism, I would tell them to watch The Patriot, which is my favorite Emmerich movie and I prefer it over ID4.
At two hours and forty minutes, this film is so dang long! And it doesn't need to be at all! There are quite a few scenes that seem to drag. It's probably so long because there must be as many characters as a season of Game of Thrones! We are introduced to David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum - he's pretty much playing Ian Malcolm 2.0), a computer scientist who is trying to figure out a way to stop the aliens. We then meet President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman) who has a young daughter, Patricia (a super young Mae Whitman) and we learn the First Lady (Mary McDonnell) is in Los Angeles. Then we are introduced to Russell Casse (Randy Quaid) who is a crop duster. He pretty much plays Cousin Eddie in this. Everyone thinks he's a whack-o because he claims to have been abducted by aliens in the past (and the government officials never think to interview him about that, because clearly he was right about being abducted by aliens!) He has three children and his oldest son looks and sounds like Keanu Reeves (it wasn't, though) with the long hair and surfer dude speech. I assume we will next be introduced to Will Smith, but no, we get another scene with David and we meet his father, Julius (Judd Hirsh). Then we get another scene with the President and meet some of his staff which include the White House Communications Director (played by Blair's mom from Gossip Girl) who also just so happens to be David's ex-wife, Robert Loggia as a General, and James Rebhorn as the Secretary of Defense. Then we get another scene with Russell and his kids. Will Smith isn't introduced until twenty minutes into the film. He plays Steven Hiller, a fighter pilot. He lives near Los Angeles with his girlfriend, Jasmine (Vivica A. Fox) and her young son, Dylan.
It is July 2 when the aliens start to arrive. The Mother Ship has sent 36 of the huge fifteen mile wide spaceships (you know, the ones fighter pilot Steven Hiller apparently can't see!) to hover around the largest cities in the world. The ones shown prominently in the movie are over Washington D.C., New York, and Los Angeles. David is the one to find out the aliens are coordinating an attack and are not here on a friendly visit. Because of who his ex-wife is, he is able to get to the President and warn him and everyone else to evacuate the White House. I didn't understand why the President was in the Oval Office when he was briefed about the ordeal. Shouldn't that have taken place in the Situation Room? I did laugh when he goes on TV and tells people if they must leave, then do so in an orderly fashion and it cuts to pure chaos in New York. I also laughed when a newscaster says, "LAPD is asking Los Angelenos not to fire their guns at the visitor spacecraft. You may inadvertently trigger an interstellar war." I don't even understand why the word "visitor" is even in that sentence!
A bunch of morons with welcome signs are gathered on top of the U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles in hopes that the aliens will take them with them. This includes one of Jasmine's friends who tells her not to go, but she joins the "Party of the century" as Julie Moran from Entertainment Tonight deems the event. Seriously, why is E.T. acting like this is some kind of movie premiere? Speaking of E.T. (the OTHER E.T.), Hiller and the other fighter pilots (including his friend, Jimmy (Harry Connick Jr.)) are getting instructions on how they're going to go after the spaceships and he tells everyone that he wants to "kick E.T.'s ass."
Jimmy is the Goose to Hiller's Maverick because he dies while they are fighting the aliens in their fighter planes. (Spoilers for Top Gun!) After a high speed chase through the Grand Canyon, Hiller and an alien space pod crash and he greets the alien by saying, "Welcome to Earth!" and punching it. A moment I loved when I was 15, and okay, still kind of love it today. He somehow meets up with the President and David who will soon meet up with Jasmine and the First Lady.
Jasmine is in her car with her son and dog in a tunnel when the U.S. Bank Tower has exploded and when she sees the huge fireball coming towards, she grabs Dylan and takes him to a utility closet or something in the tunnel, which I thought was a really smart thing to do. She yells at Boomer, the dog, to run to them and he jumps over a car and makes it inside the closet so she can close the door right before the fireball goes past them. She later finds a truck that still works and picks up any survivors. This includes the First Lady who was in a helicopter that crashed, but she's still alive, but not for long because she will die from internal bleeding. At least she gets to say goodbye to her husband and daughter.
The President and his crew are taken to Area 51 where he meets an eccentric scientist (who clearly dies in this movie, but just so happens to be in the sequel?) who has been studying alien life and has this huge spacecraft that's been just sitting around since the 50s. IDK, honestly this is around the time I kind of check out. Hiller has also arrived with his new alien friend and this is when it kills the scientist, but somehow Whitmore can read its mind. Again, IDK.
Okay, so now it's July 4 and the Americans are planning an attack on the aliens and they have told the other countries their plan of attack. I laughed when a group of British soldiers are reading a telegram and one says "The Americans are proposing a counter attack. It's about bloody time!" Of course, this is when we also get the best speech in the history of movies. I'm talking, of course, about President Whitmore's, "This is the day when we celebrate our Independence Day!" speech and everyone cheers. I did love the guy that gives that super intense salute. Oh, man, I laughed so hard at that. But seriously, how great was that speech? Still gives me chills.
For some reason, they let the President of the United States fly a jet to fight the aliens. Um, that would never happen. They would never let the President in any danger. They would get his ass in a bunker or something. But no, he is a noble President and wants to fight alongside his fellow countrymen. It's Quaid who saves the day when he sacrifices himself by somehow making a whole spaceship explode...still not sure how he did that, but he sure did make his children proud.
In the meantime, David has learned that they need to upload a computer virus to the mother ship, which is located in outer space so he and Hiller take the spaceship, which just so happens to work fine even though it hasn't been used for 50 years, to outer space....okay, my brain is starting to hurt. This movie is so stupid, isn't it? Anyway, they save the day. Obviously. All the spaceships have crashed and we see these huge eyesores in the grasslands of Africa, in the Sydney Harbour, and among the Pyramids. I wonder how they're going to clean up that mess? No, seriously, how are they going to get rid of 36 fifteen-mile wide spaceships (that must have destroyed the cities they fell on!) You think it would have made more sense to have them blow up, then disintegrate in the air.