Checkmate – Independence Day

23 12 2015

Independence Day (20th Century Fox - 1996)

The question of whether or not we are alone in the universe has been tossed around for decades. Since upon discovering that there was an area above the planet, many have wondered if there was life on other planets. These thoughts usually then go onto the thought processes of considering the existence of Aliens, or UFO’s. To date, these thoughts are only theories. Yes, scientist’s get a little bit too excited when patches of liquid are spotted on other planets, but as this data has yet to be connected with proof of the existence of aliens, it should be noted that even if there is life on other planets, that it is a very big sky. But let’s not forget: “The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one, but still…..they come” – Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of the War of the World’s.

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Released in 1996 by 20th Century Fox, Produced by Dean Devlin and Directed by Roland Emmerich, Independence Day is a Science Fiction Epic Disaster Movie involving the subject of a large-scale Alien Invasion on planet Earth. What is one of the most successful, inspiring, influential and most important films of the last 20 years; it helped to re-kick-start the creation, development and release of other big action disaster films, including films like Armageddon, Deep Impact, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012.

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July 2nd. Above the surface of the moon, something big, black and ominous has arrived and is moving towards the nearby planet of Earth. Down on the planet, a group of scientist’s discover its signal, but don’t know what it is. The object is investigated by Army General Grey (Robert Loggia) who is informed that it is not a meteor, as it appears to be slowing down. He contacts the Secretary of Defence Albert Nimzicki (James Rebhorn), who in turn informs the President (Bill Pullman). In New York City, David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), an MIT Graduate works for a cable company, who appear to be experiencing technical difficulties. Meanwhile out in the desert, a young family made up of Miguel (James Duval), Alicia (Lisa Jakub) and Troy (Giuseppe Andrews) have to continually contend with their drunk out of control father Russel (Randy Quaid) who supposedly was kidnapped by aliens several years ago. Back in space meanwhile, several large Flying Saucers appear out of another vessel. This is spotted on Radar and the President along with Grey, Nimzicki and Communications Director Constance Spano (Margaret Colin) are told that each one of these objects, 500km wide in diameter are now entering the atmosphere. Sightings are spotted globally, eventually hitting mainland USA. Slowly, one by one, large clouds begin to appear over the world’s major cities, clouds so big they completely shadow everything underneath them. Eventually, the clouds break and out of the come the huge flying saucers, eventually hovering over and plunging several major cities into darkness worldwide.

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In Los Angeles, air force captain, Steven Hiller (Will Smith) and his girlfriend Jasmine (Vivica A. Fox) wake up to see these things and Hiller is told to return to base, despite being given time off for the 4th. Back at work, David discovers a hidden signal and informs his boss Marty (Harvey Fierstein) that they are going to attack. He quickly rushes home to his Dad Julius (Judd Hirsch) and asks him to drive to the White House. The President asks everyone to remain calm while mass hysteria breaks out. Arriving at the White House, David contacts his former wife Constance and tells her that he needs to speak to the President – despite once punching him. He manages to talk to the president, telling him that the ships are planning a coordinated attack. Everyone at the White House rushes to evacuate, but just as they board Air-Force One, the time runs out, and all the spaceships power up their primary weapons, instantly decimating every city they are currently over. Air force one manages to get away, with Jasmine, still stuck in the city hiding in a tunnel.

July 3rd. Captain Hiller leads an air attack on one of the flying saucers near the ruins of Los Angeles. Upon firing their weapons twice, they discover the ships have a protective shield, before then launching their own fighter squadrons. These too are shielded, and slowly all the fighters are lost, except for Hiller who manages to run away. He is chased though by an alien craft, before they both crash and he knocks out the still alive alien creature. Several prime American military installations are then destroyed by alien forces. Hiller is eventually rescued by Russel Casse and an entire caravan of fleeing travellers. On Air Force one meanwhile, after David gets into an argument with the President and his advisors, Julius comes along telling them that the government were not as unprepared as they claim they were, talking about Roswell and Area 51. While everyone else dismisses the legend of Roswell and Area 51, Nimzicki has other knowledge. As a result they all go to Area 51 in Roswell New Mexico. There they meet Major Mitchell (Adam Baldwin) and scientist Dr. Okun (Brent Spiner) who reveal that there is indeed a crashed spaceship along with 3 dead aliens. Out in the remains of Los Angeles, Jasmine and her son (Ross Bagley) manage to get out of the tunnel, and using a truck finds survivors including the President’s Wife (Mary McDonnell). Hiller arrives at the base with the Alien, which Okun takes to dissect. However the Alien wakes up and attacks the scientists. Using Okun as a voice channel, The Alien reveals to the President what all they want is for humanity to Die, before psychically attacking him. The President is saved by his security detail shooting the alien Dead. He uses this as an opportunity to declare a nuclear attack on the Aliens. A nuclear strike team head to Houston Texas to attack one of the spaceships. After what appears to be a successful attack, the ship survives. At his old destroyed base, Hiller finds Jasmine and rescues her and the other survivors, however the First Lady dies, with the President comforting his Daughter (Mae Whitman) saying that she is sleeping now.

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July 4th. After a drunken stress out, David is inspired by his father who talks about getting a cold. That morning; David presents his idea to fight back against the aliens using a computer virus, and reveals that such a virus can bring down the alien shields. The only way of doing this though is flying the old ship into the Mother ship, something that Hiller steps up to do.  The President and his men manage to communicate with all the remaining fighter squadrons around the world, and plan to organise a counter offensive. With pilots low however, pilots have to be recruited from among survivors and refugees, to which end Russell steps up. As night falls, Hiller and David fly into Space and are pulled into the Mother Ship, spotting the large number of aliens inside it. Managing to hide themselves from the aliens, David implants the virus, which in turn brings down the Alien shields, allowing all weapons to penetrate. Flying at the front of the Squadron, The President joins in with the attack, piloting a fighter. They are able to do some damage to the ship, but are then attacked by the smaller alien fighters. With very little damage done to the big ship, it begins to circle over Area 51, planning to fire its primary weapon. With little ammo left, Russell flies in with the only remaining unfired missile, ready to disable the weapon. When the missile jams however, he decided to fly straight into the alien weapon, blowing it up instantly. The ship now destroyed internally, it begins to disintegrate. Inside the Mothership, Hiller and David launch a Nuclear Weapon strapped to the ship, and escape just as an invasion fleet is being launched. Successfully escaping, the Mother ship blows up from inside. The two men crash-land in the desert, as the disintegrated mothership streams into the atmosphere.

If I were to ask someone you to sum up Independence Day in one word, I highly doubt that the word you would reply with would be Tame (not unless you are doing it just for a laugh). It is not a tame film, in reality I can’t find a single word for Independence Day, but I can think of several. It’s Surprising, Hard Hitting, Enormous, Unstoppable, Redeeming, I could go on, but I will finish this bit with the word Fantastic. It’s a big film and does things in a big way, but why shouldn’t it, why should it conform or do things done before when that is not the point of this film. Not in its conception, not in its delivery, nothing about this film is small in any way, but it was designed to be as such. The idea originated with Emmerich’s fascination as to why Aliens fly through space for thousands of Light Years only to arrive at Earth and stay hidden. This knowledge sprouted the idea for a Large Scale Alien Attack, and as much became the case in future films from Emmerich, Nothing is kept down to a small-scale. It’s go big or go home; and everything in this film is big; Big scenes, big action, big surprises, big battles, big alien spaceships and an even bigger mothership. Independence Day delivers all of these things at an incredibly high standard that surpasses its own challengers and competitors. It’s a film with character, but also on that it is a film with a lot of characters.

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Independence Day tells a story, it tells a story of an Alien Invasion and what it could happen if Aliens with large amounts of firepower came to earth and set about wreaking havoc on it. But the destruction of cities and a way of life only for the heroes to find a way to overcome it is only one side to the telling of the tale. The other side is through what the characters are experiencing and how this either drives them apart or brings them closer together; Independence Day for the most part does the latter, but also reveals what drove them apart in the first place. Independence Day therefore contains a lot of subtext. These points are less subplot; and are more background details of characters, but it’s told with such passion and energy that you cannot hope to ignore them. Most of this is shown through the films top billing and the characters supporting them in particular. The President for instance is a hardworking man trying to do the right thing and lead in a rough situation, but at the same time he has a daughter and wife to think about. On top of this though he has past experience and animosity towards someone who rides in on a white horse and eventually helps save the world twice. This coming in the form of David. David is also a hardworking man who loves his job; he however though has a previous divorce with Constance which comes back up to haunt him, and somewhere in the past believing she was having an affair with someone, walked into the white house and punched him, although then he wasn’t the president. Then next to this we have yet a similar position with Captain Hiller. He however though has a girlfriend with a child; he loves them both dearly, and loves his new life, but finds this torn away from him due to current events. These events though ironically help him to find his family plus make a difference by bringing in his own skill set and knowledge. He is something of an outcast to this trio, but without him nothing could be done in the end. It’s a sort of three little pigs who all decide to stand up to the big bad wolf in their own ways; even though they are not pigs but humans, and the big bad wolf is a fleet of Alien Ships.

Bill Pullman, Jef Goldblum and Will Smith

Something that I continue to discover with Emmerich films is how enjoyable secondary and tertiary characters are. While these characters at no point in any of his films share the grand stage with the top billing, they provide so much enjoyment that it feels like they are as important as the top billing even if they don’t share this podium. Russel case’s family shares very little scenes as compared to everyone else, however they produce an important point of view on what these situations and events are to standard civilians, whereas most of the rest of the cast are actively involved in the understanding and activity of the event itself. What we have here is a solid family unit with Miguel having to be a father figure to his brother and sister while their father is not around. Troy and Alicia are at best supporting characters to this, but are involved in some interesting scenes including the cliché of Alicia wanting some love and intimate relationship before the supposed end of the world scenario; with Troy looking on. It’s a nice little addition to the cast while also representing a very important point of view; especially seeing as the rest of that point of view is represented in mass hysteria, and people thinking all these aliens are worth dressing up in ridiculous costumes all for the benefit of a night out (a lot like people who go to watch the Darts live). A lot of work has gone in to include a child cast in this film, but not have them in the background but as important editions. The President’s daughter and Jasmine’s son show much stronger understandings to the situation more than most adults. Add to this the level of emotion they show to the ones they love; it shows a much deeper level of understanding a stronger response to situations from a completely miss-understood point of view. Next to this we also have some interesting additions in the military with characters like officers and commanders. Some of these range from Air Force and Submarine captains, to their aides, plus the level and amount of military officers too. One person who needs mentioning of course is Major Mitchell. A strong caring and understanding character, but still maintains a serious tone. He is supportive of everyone around him and always persists to do the right thing. Easily one of the most enjoyable characters.

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What’s always important in high concept disaster moves like this is a sense of light relief in order to retain a level of humanity. So, bring in the clowns, of which there are a lot of in this film. From people like the Joke secretary of defence Nimzicki, to Mad Scientist Dr. Okun (not forgetting of course David’s boss; Marty). But next to that you have characters who start out as something of an off the cuff clown, but grow into very important and serious characters, while also maintaining their bright side. To this end we have the wonderful Judd Hirsch playing David’s father. He is not a clown as such, more someone who has his moments. He is a misunderstanding father to David, and throughout the first third of the film provides moments of laughter as to how a hysterical point of view of the situation is seen. There is another side to him though, a very admirable, and respectable side, one that creates incredibly powerful on-screen moments in the middle of tough, hot situations. Scenes like demanding that the people on Air Force one should be more grateful towards David for saving their lives, or when David is about to go into space. He is a very caring father and a very strong character; less of a clown, but one of the several strong emotional anchors throughout this film.

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Straight after that we have a string of Secondary characters; however some of these I fell are a bit hit and miss. Their part in the story being one of them, and I just feel like it’s more their story rather than themselves that help to make them stand out a bit more.  Jasmine for instance is much like Judd Hirsch’s character in that she is very strong and caring, but her determination proves to be her survival, and her love for Captain Hiller helps to bring them back together. Her attitude mixed with her caring side make her not a clown, but one of those strong characters, another anchor if you will that helps to keep your head in the situation in a situation such as this. The first lady is a weird one; I don’t see how her role is applicable in this film other than being another thing for the President to worry about. That’s not to say she is bad or unneeded, just relatively confusing.  Sort of reminds me of The Raid, where Rama has reason to get out of the building alive, but I think in this instance it just doesn’t really work as well. Mary McDonnell’s performance though is still pretty good. Constance on the other hand is a rather interesting character and helps deliver one of the major, if several subplots; that of the former relationship with David, and an uneasy relationship between David and the President. Constance is a much trusted advisor for the President, and speaks like a voice of calm reasoning in a tense situation. She does though also sport some relative attitude and does not keep herself back in such situations. Her relationship with David is a nice and slow addition providing room for the audience to take a breath for a moment, eventually leading to situations where she tries to keep David back or explain to him certain situations, but in the end is rather futile, all leading to a moment where you realise she is a more a career woman than a lover. While she does present herself as a really strong, warm character, it is hard to keep it up, and eventually she needs to redeem herself in this light. Then there is of course the films accidental hero. Russel Casse spends most of the first third of this film as a drunk crazed lunatic talking about being abducted by aliens. While this is the tale of many others and whether or not this is true, it turns out for the sake of this films plot that it is. He tries to be a good father to his children, but equally fails in this respect too. For the while he remains a clown, but as the film reaches its climax, he completely redeems himself. This could be either for what he believes in or vengeance, but deciding to sacrifice himself commits the ultimate defeat on the aliens by sacrificing himself, but at the same time, notes that he is doing it for his kids too. Thus he becomes not really an accidental hero, but the films real hero, similar in some sense to the ultimate fate of Toshiro Mifune’s character in Seven Samurai. Finally there is the fantastic General Grey. I love this role and character so much. He is played by an excellent, believable and likeable actor in Robert Loggia. He presents the General as a highly experienced and respectable character. He shows real calm and emotion but does not hold back his aggression for when he needs it to be, retaining his stance as a leader.  On the more common occasion though, he becomes and remains one of the Presidents most trusted men and along with Constance a sort of voice for reason. A real treat throughout this film. I don’t know how much more I can say about him other than just say how enjoyable a character he is.

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While not cast members themselves, to be fair The Aliens are characters too. They share some very interesting characteristics about themselves, and a lot of time has been taken in creating them and their ships, but as stated above, in Independence Day its go Big or go home. The looks of these aliens are very stereotypical like, with really thin bodies and really big heads. Shiny eyes, and no moving mouth, however, the detail of such creatures look less Science Fiction like and more Horror like. They are freakish and scary close up, and they are meant to be. They’re first appearance has to look scary as up till that point, only their ships have been seen. So there is no going overboard. We don’t know what aliens look like and it’s important for their first moment to be right, but also freaky and haunting. The big fight in the hospital room which leads to the scary conversation between it and the president is as equally chilling with small scenes of a moving arm, running, screaming, tentacles flying, and close up of the legs and inner bodies. While for the rest of it the aliens don’t show themselves like this except for in the mothership (where I can see a scene that looks either like an alien Call Centre, or the NSA HQ in The Simpsons Movie), their appearance here is enough to get us more involved, and take a brief pause from mass disaster to personal horror.

A lot of work has gone into this film regarding themes. There is a large selection of them. One of the most used themes is the large amount of evidence suggested and supported into the existence of alien life. These are mentioned periodically throughout, thanks in a way to Russell Casse consistently mentioning how he was abducted by aliens, plus people’s views and theories suggested around this. But the one that is used more than most is of course the mention of a crashed spaceship in Roswell and how it is being hidden inside Area 51. It’s a nice little touch which goes on to divert the story in a direction for the heroes to find a way out of the situation and rise up against their space oppressors. There are a couple of additional themes too in the forms of Extinction and Survival also. The theme of extinction is rife in this film. On the first day alone in the film’s narrative, within 20 minutes, an outside force arrives on earth, and soon destroys most of it. You look around the cities, being covered by this unstoppable black cloud, to which reveals a huge flying saucer. Huge cities with massive buildings and people everywhere and in one fell swoop, something much bigger and more impressive shows up (rather slowly to ramp up the tension) and by nightfall destroys 36 cities worldwide. In one day, a load of aliens show up in one ship, immediately separate into several and bring down a civilization that had spent so long fighting each other, rather than helping each other. Then however the theme of Survival begins to grow and come to light. With everyone now facing extinction together, they immediately pull together to help survive as a species than fight as one instead of several nations. It is a strong theme, and though while to begin with this film shows how selfish and weak humanity is not to work together but build to dominancy, it also shows how eventually they will come together to fight a common enemy.

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Independence Day Boasts some of the best Special Effects used in Cinema history to date. It’s been nearly 20 years since it was first released, but the effects produced back then were made to such a great standard, that two decades later they don’t look like they have aged a day. They look as sharp and crisp now as they did then. A lot of hard work has gone into produce such great effects and have as such created some terrific moments and scenes. While it is an Alien Invasion film, the Action Directing style of Emmerich reveals itself more than once, showing scenes of wonder amazement as well as terror and tension. Scenes that are common in action movies like the plane fleeing from the circle of fire, the missiles hitting the alien ship at the end, people running away in mass hysteria (which today would be a lot different as most people would probably take videos, selfies and upload them to twitter way before thinking about running away) as well as the launching of the Nuclear Missile half-way through. Add to this you also have the big near Top Gun like air battles between the planes and the small alien fighters, one of the film’s first surprising moments. However, don’t forget about the great detail and design that went into the spacecraft and how well it was delivered to the big screen. The big city sized vessels are amazing things to look at, especially in their earlier moments in space, and of course hovering coldly over the city. Two images in particular I love include them breaking out of the clouds, and one hovering ominously over New York as David looks on. Then into this, we get the brilliant scene of the weapons powering up. It’s an interesting seen that just speaks “WOW!” This bright light that suddenly appears all over a city plunged into darkness. Like the idea of how Moths are attracted to light, or a bug zapper entices a bug to its death, this long moment of a revel of pure green light, and how it attracts everyone to look, but then too late. Like the Death Star preparing to fire; it builds up and then everyone nearby simply gets destroyed by the Aliens true intentions and power. Then as the counter attack begins early on, the wonderment at how powerful the aliens are and even have a defence which makes them nearly indestructible and can fight back any enemy, no matter how big or small they are. The aliens in this film are Dangerous, and that’s a fact, but as the film carries on, of course they need to be defeated, and so with the defences down, they finally get their comeuppance in a barrage of missiles strikes on their hull. Big, destructive, but so is the ships. Eventually though, they get destroyed at their weakest point, their main weapon systems. But don’t forget, there are other ships worldwide, and that brings us onto the Mothership. Now while the mother ship could look smallish alone in space, don’t forget this thing houses millions if not billions of aliens, plus the city sized spaceships. This ship itself, while not flat like the city ships; is still pretty black and ominous, hidden in space. All this together alone creates an amazing look to this film that still stands out to this day, and let’s not forget the destruction of the cities, particularly the iconic view of the White House getting blown up.

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With all this detail and eye candy on the large amount of special effects, it’s easy to forget about the level of charm Independence carries also. Several scenes with the human interactions, and just moments like images of Air Force One arriving at Area 51, or the world discovering the arriving alien force, there are so many nice scenes that nearly get forgotten about, but are still fun to watch. What helps these additionally is the wonderful score composed by David Arnold. Independence Day has a great mix of pieces, from sounds of incoming death, destruction, big battles and victory, to sounds of remorse, emotion, curiosity, the lot. The music is very Americanised and patriotic in its sound, this includes pieces like the President’s speech, the beginning of the end credits, and when the air force starts winning in combat. These though are reserved more towards the end, and to begin with, instead of a high level of mystery as to what is going on, instead a more serious tone begins almost immediately as the film starts. For example the ominous scary tone as the Mothership arrives and reveals itself. As the discovery stage commences you get a wave of Military style tunes as events unfold all over the place. These tunes don’t stop when the city is initially destroyed, but continue throughout the second act, then developing into the patriotic music to end with. But for me, the real soundtrack is when the aliens arrive over the city.

This sound of terrifying magnificence, deadly wonder and impending doom is just fantastic. It mostly takes the form of something building up, but then, when the ship comes to light, breaking the clouds and hovering over the scared people, backed up with sounds of something roaring just creates another simply “WOW!” moment that gets me every time. The opening credits feature similar dark sounds plus this music does return briefly in the end credits.

Alltogether, Independence Day is a Fantastic film. I love it to bits. It comes packed with action scenes as well as scenes of disaster emotion and moments that just make you want to shout out “WOW” and is backed up with so many brilliant characters and a stellar cast to play them all to back it all. Plus, let’s not forget the terrific soundtrack and beautiful special effects. I am not kidding when I say how much I like this film; it takes the idea of an Alien Invasion and puts it in the here and now, in a very believable setting. To me, I prefer this to Star Wars, I think it’s better than all 6, no 7 (seventh had not been released at time of writing) films put together, I will go on record for saying that…..no wait, better: “This is Better than Star Wars!” it’s a big claim, but I wouldn’t be saying that if I didn’t feel that.

GENEPOOL

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