Movie Review

Independence Day

We've always believed we weren't alone. On July 4th, we'll wish we were.
Independence Day Movie Poster

US Release Date: 07-03-1996

Directed by: Roland Emmerich


  • Will Smith
  • Captain Steven Hiller
  • Bill Pullman
  • President Thomas J. Whitmore
  • Jeff Goldblum
  • David Levinson
  • Mary McDonnell
  • First Lady Marilyn Whitmore
  • Judd Hirsch
  • Julius Levinson
  • Robert Loggia
  • General William Grey
  • Randy Quaid
  • Russell Casse
  • Margaret Colin
  • Constance Spano
  • Vivica A. Fox
  • Jasmine Dubrow
  • James Rebhorn
  • Albert Nimziki
  • Harvey Fierstein
  • Marty Gilbert
  • Adam Baldwin
  • Major Mitchell
  • Brent Spiner
  • Dr. Brakish Okun
  • James Duval
  • Miguel
  • Lisa Jakub
  • Alicia
  • Giuseppe Andrews
  • Troy
  • Ross Bagley
  • Dylan
  • Bill Smitrovich
  • Captain Watson
  • Mae Whitman
  • Patricia Whitmore
  • Harry Connick Jr.
  • Captain Jimmy Wilder
  • Kiersten Warren
  • Tiffany
  • John Storey
  • Dr. Isaacs
  • Frank Novak
  • Teddy
  • Devon Gummersall
  • Philip
  • John McLaughlin
  • Himself
  • Julie Moran
  • Herself
Reviewed on: June 26th, 2016
Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum in Independence Day.

Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum in Independence Day.

Independence Day is loud, implausible, often hokey, but also entertaining despite its flaws. It's like a catchy pop song, or a fast food meal. It's not high art and there's nothing below the surface, but it's still an enjoyable experience.

Not having seen it since its theatrical release, 20 years ago, I'd either forgotten or never realized how similar it is to the disaster films of the 1970s, only on a global scale. Like those movies, it features a large cast of recognizable actors that are introduced in the film's first 20 minutes before the disaster strikes. This time the disaster arrives in the form of huge, city destroying, alien ships. What's left of the American government ends up at Area 51, and the rest of the film's protagonists are soon congregating there as well where they hope to come up with a plan to fight back against the alien invaders before it's too late.

The film's three main protagonists are played by Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, and Bill Pullman. Smith is top billed, but actually has less screentime than the other two. He plays a brash young fighter pilot. Smith's movie career was just beginning to skyrocket at this point and the success of this movie cemented his position as an A-list movie star. While his character was a crowd pleaser at the time of release, watched now, he's not particularly convincing in the role. Half the time he's playing it straight, while too often he slips into his Fresh Prince persona to make a snarky quip. Goldblum is the film's real star, playing the quirky, brainy guy that he plays so well, while Pullman plays the young, inexperienced, but brave, former fighter pilot, President of the United States who gets to make the rousing speech so often quoted in the film's trailers.

Produced when CGI was just beginning to take over special effects in films, Independence Day is one of the last blockbusters to use models for the majority of its special effects. More than twice as many models were used on this film than on any other film before or since. A record it seems likely to hold forever. The White House that is destroyed in the film's most iconic scene was a 10 foot model, that was blown up by 40 separate explosive charges, while being filmed by 7 different cameras.  A 30 foot model was built of one of the alien's ships, and the ship captured in Roswell and stored in Area 51 was built to scale. Although the filming techniques are outdated now, it's because of them that the special effects hold up better today than films made entirely with CGI just a few years later when CGI was still in its infancy.

Of course all the special effects and explosions in the world can't cover up the film's plot holes. The worst being how Goldblum's character is able to write a computer virus and somehow upload it to the alien's computers that will shut everything down. I guess it's a good thing the alien ship had a USB port. Another glossed over story point is the ending when every single alien ship is destroyed. It turns out that like the Death Star, there's a spot on the alien ships that if you shoot it, the entire ship will explode. However, that spot is only vulnerable when the aliens open the main weapon for firing. But why every single alien ship had their main weapon open, when they only use that to destroy cities, is never explained. Nor is mention made of the the seemingly thousands of alien fighter ships that were flying outside of the main ship. I guess we're just supposed to assume all of those were destroyed as well.

Honestly though, while those sorts of questions may nag at you after the credits have rolled, while the action is happening it's fairly easy to ignore them. I had a harder time ignoring Randy Quaid's character and the melodramatic climax to his storyline than I did the plot holes.

If you sit back and relax and just try not to think too much, there's still plenty to enjoy about this film. And with a sequel being released, now is the perfect time to revisit the biggest box office hit of 1996.

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