Independence Day review

[Harvesters]—dead! —slain by the [malware] and [computer viruses] against which their systems were unprepared; slain as the [firewalls] [were] being slain; slain, after all man’s devices had failed, by the humblest things that [hackers], in [their] wisdom, [had] put upon this [internet].

I have seen this movie probably close to a hundred times and this rather obvious, probably intentional parallel is only just now occurring to me.

There may not be a movie that’s more straightforward about its three act structure. It’s literally divided into three days, which are signposted with title cards. Appropriately, my appreciation of this movie has had three distinct acts as well.

Act 1

I’m 11. I’m seeing this movie in theaters for the first time. My level of understanding of politics is getting bullied two years later because I cried when President Clinton announced we were bombing Iraq. (So like, secretly pretty good actually.) I don’t particularly notice the Gulf War being mentioned in the movie.

Back then, liking movies is basically preordained. I have toy spaceships and an action figure of one of the aliens before the movie has even come out. The alien action figure is of a “science officer” not seen in the movie. Its biomechanical suit is blue, unlike the yellowish white soldier suits we see in the movie. It came with a floppy disc that had a glorified minigame on it. Supposedly if you collected all of them it forms a coherent single game? I find that difficult to believe in retrospect.

Or I’m 12. I own this movie on VHS. It came with a lenticular motion cover that I peeled off to reveal the regular cover beneath so it would match the rest of my VHS collection better. Like I do with most movies at the time, I watch it so many times I can still quote it basically verbatim today. (My two nesting partners can attest to this.)

All I needed this movie to be was a lighthearted 90s action blockbuster where aliens blow up several recognizable landmarks as seen in literally every trailer, and it is absolutely that. I loved Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park and am excited to see him again. I fall in love with Will Smith hard. I love all the different cool alien ship designs. Between this and The X-Files (which gets a shout-out in the movie!) I go through a bit of an Obsessed With Aliens phase. I had that phase with a lot of things as a kid.

Probably this was one of my favorite movies for a good long time, but I don’t really think about it too hard? It fits right in on the shelf next to the likes of Jurassic Park and Men in Black. I honestly still have no small amount of nostalgia for this era of 90s blockbusters.

Act 1 of the movie ended with three major U.S. cities being blown up in a very crowd-pleasing practical effects extravaganza, but I’m afraid I don’t have something similarly dramatic to end on. I just really liked this movie.

Act 2

I’m 29. A movie YouTuber I really like at the time has just released a video about how Independence Day is actually a really good movie. The YouTuber in question is very liberal. After largely preferring more genuinely leftist politics later in college, I’ve largely been intellectually bullied into liberalism by my abuser by this stage of young adulthood. There’s an election on the horizon that’s going to shove my face back into all the reasons I found liberalism untenable in the first place. It’s going to be one of the many cracks that forms in the cage my abuser has, up until then, kept me in with very little trouble.

This was also very much during the period of time when I thought I wanted to be, and could be, a Serious Movie Reviewer. I could put my English degree to good use, damn it. I could discover the Right Way to consume media, and write stirring things about it. Heck, I was already very occasionally getting retweeted by Real Movie Critics. Oh yeah, this was also a time in my life when I was even more Very Online than ever before, and I would say a majority of my social life was happening via social media. Because, you know, I had moved across the country to live near (not with, near) my abuser and I had no local friends and my life was literally just working and desperately trying to find things to fill up my free time with to ignore how intolerable the situation I was in was.

So, yeah, having someone come along and say that Actually, this silly disaster movie about aliens blowing up recognizable landmarks and very conventionally attractive movie stars saving the day was Genuinely Good and Had Things To Say was a pill I was more than happy to swallow, leading to a re-viewing and a long since deleted concurring review where I concluded that, yeah! The writing might be silly and obvious, but the central thrust of the narrative is the whole international community coming together to tackle a problem that no single country could solve on their own.

Look, I used to like The West Wing, I’ve had stupider takes.

Although this period wouldn’t see all the obsessive rewatches that my childhood had seen (at this time I tended to always pursue first watches so I could make the number of films I’d seen at the top of my Letterboxd profile grow faster), it was nevertheless a marked difference in my experience of the film. But not one that would last for nearly as long.

Act 2 of the film ends with the president ordering an ill-fated nuclear strike on the aliens, an option he had thus far resisted as being deeply immoral. He crosses that line, and it doesn’t even work. At the risk of being melodramatic, the parallels to my flirtation with liberalism are impossible to ignore.

Act 3

I’m 36. I’m a socialist. I even actively organized with a socialist party for a time, before realizing I just didn’t have the capacity to do that work. (I still wish there were ways to contribute in smaller ways, but it seems like most parties don’t have a lot of in-between between just kind of showing up to events and full-time membership.) So, yeah. I have some Opinions about this movie’s politics now. Also of note is that I’m barely on social media anymore and WOW has that ever been a lifechanging improvement.

Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect upon revisiting this but I should have. The central theme of my post-“I can be a Serious Movie Reviewer!” phase has been the gradual realization that I had way better opinions about media when I was 12.

There’s something self-soothing about watching a movie you’ve seen so many times you can quote it verbatim, for one thing. And what was it I said earlier? “All I needed this movie to be was a lighthearted 90s action blockbuster where aliens blow up several recognizable landmarks as seen in literally every trailer, and it is absolutely that”? Yeah, that’ll still about do.

The politics are… oof. At one point President Bill Pullman says, “That’s the advantage of being a fighter pilot. In the Gulf War, we knew what we had to do. It’s just… not simple anymore.” And like… really? Blowing up brown people because Bush I said so was simple, my dude? But the rest of the movie’s politics are so disarmingly naive, it’s just thankfully kind of hard to get too invested in critiquing them. It’s just kind of uncomfortably hilarious in retrospect that when I was more of a liberal I bought another liberal’s argument that this movie had a surprisingly profound message about politics on offer. Nowadays, my approach to politics in Hollywood blockbusters is more like “it’s gonna be either outright propaganda or just kinda dumb, call it out and move on.”

You know what really jumped out at me a whole lot more on this rewatch, though? The big draw for me in the past was always Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, and even to an extent Bill Pullman. But this time I just couldn’t get over the sheer amount of ass Vivica A. Fox’s character was kicking! Just extended scenes of a sex worker and badass mother Getting Shit Done, grabbing a truck and saving everyone she can find on her way. I’m really not sure why this part of the movie never really grabbed me before, but she is just absolutely a force of nature and probably the most straightforwardly heroic character of the entire damn movie.

But, yeah! Independence Day. Still a very straightforwardly entertaining movie about aliens blowing shit up and then getting blown up, it turns out.



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