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The excitement is building for Independence Day: Resurgence, and in hopeful expectation I've rewatched the classic film (and reread the novel). Whatever your thoughts about the sequel, the fact remains that Independence Day is among the most dearly-loved films of science-fiction fans - but why did it work so well? Here are five crucial reasons...
1. INDEPENDENCE DAY IS A CLASSIC DISASTER FILM, TOLD WITH SKILL AND STYLE!
Although it's a science-fiction film, Independence Day really sits best alongside the 'disaster film' genre. In this kind of movie, either a single location, a country, or the entire world is ravaged by a disaster; the film charts the story of the survivors, and how they either endure or overcome the crisis. There's always been a strong overlap between disaster films and science-fiction, running all the way back to the 1951 novel Day of the Triffids and its 1962 film adaptation.
The reality is, Independence Day is a classic within that genre. On the one hand, the film is filled with powerful spectacle - the shot of the White House's destruction is commonly seen as a milestone of visual effects and a symbol of the best 1990s film-making had to offer. On the other hand, although the characters are often criticized as "cardboard cut-outs", nobody can argue they're not compelling. Every character's narrative pulls together into the classic conclusion, with Randy Quaid's Russell Casse a surprising star. (The novelisation charts the original ending to the film, where Casse steals a missile and flies on a crop-duster rather than participating in the dogfight from the start!)
2. INDEPENDENCE DAY HAS A POWERFUL, POSITIVE NARRATIVE!
Yes, we know that Bill Pullman's President Whitmore delivers a speech commonly criticized as "cheesy", but let's face facts: it works. Independence Day carries a powerful message, that together the human race can stand united against any threat that faces us. Although the film celebrates the battle on American soil, we're never under any doubt that the threat being faced is global in scale. But together, we overcome!
Independence Day is filled with a naively jingoistic sentiment that, as far as I'm concerned, makes it charming. America takes the lead, and the rest of the world seems hapless until America comes up with a plan. But what a vision of America the film presents! From Jews to Muslims, from Presidents to strippers, this is an America rich in diversity, unique in that here people pull together to save the world - whatever their background.
3. INDEPENDENCE DAY IS A FILM FILLED WITH RICH HUMOR!
Writers Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich have always been associated with strong science-fiction that has real humor. After all, Emmerich was at the head of Stargate! But here, they excel themselves. The one-liners are tremendous, the dialogue is sharp and precise, and it marries with the action and acting to create a unique film experience. Rewatching Independence Day, I found myself eagerly awaiting classic lines:
"Forget about the fat lady! You're obsessed with the fat lady!"
"Elvis has left the building!"
"In the words of my generation: up yours!"
The humor deftly disarms the tragedy inherent in a disaster film that showed entire cities obliterated in the first wave of an alien invasion. Where other films would take themselves seriously, Independence Day knows it's all about entertainment, and the humor makes us relax and enjoy the show.
4. INDEPENDENCE DAY SKILLFULLY PAYS HOMAGE TO SCIENCE-FICTION CLASSICS!
With writers like Devlin and Emmerich, it's no surprise that Independence Day borrows from science-fiction classics. It most visibly pays homage to H. G. Wells's War of the Worlds, which tells a story of an alien invasion. In Wells's tale, the aliens were finally defeated by the common cold; they had no immunity to terrestrial bacteria. In Independence Day, Jeff Goldblum's David Levinson gives the aliens' computers a "cold" (a computer virus), making them vulnerable to retaliatory strikes.
The advertising took full advantage of this homage. The radio play of War of the Worlds was famously done as a series of mock news reports, and - according to legend - people who tuned in partway through thought the reports were genuine. In a smart nod to this, the week before Independence Day's release, Fox Network aired a half-hour special on the film - a third of which was spoof news footage.
Although the film is rich in humor, there's actually a depth of symbolism that marks it as a very powerful movie. In the opening sequence, the alien ship arrives over the Moon, and the breeze it kicks up erases the footprints of humanity. It's a smart visual nod to just what the aliens will strive to do, right from the outset, and an indication of just how smart the imagery is in Independence Day.
5. INDEPENDENCE DAY'S ADVERTISING WAS POWERFUL AND TREND-SETTING!
Most massively successful blockbusters have hype behind them, and Independence Day was no different. For the time, the film was absolutely revolutionary; not only did Fox carry out smart advertising like that spoof news footage, they also tried new approaches.
For example, Fox pioneered the approach of buying a Super Bowl ad (they paid $1.3 million for it). That's right, all those Super Bowl ads we now take for granted? Independence Day tried that approach first, and the film's success was largely what made other studios follow suit. In a smart move, Fox also entered into a co-promotional deal with Apple; watch the film, and notice which computer David uses to save the world? Now that's product placement.
As you can see, Independence Day is rightly seen as a classic of disaster sci-fi. The story it tells may not be new, and the characters may not be deep, but everything about the film is done well. It's spectacular - there's all the grandeur you could ever want from a disaster film! It's deftly plotted - no scene is wasted, and everything dovetails into a perfect conclusion! Above all, though, it's fun; the kind of film you can watch again and again, laughing aloud at the humor and thrilling at the beautiful cinematography. One thing's for sure: Independence Day: Resurgence has some big shoes to fill!