“Look, I really don’t think they flew 90 billion light years to come down here and start a fight. Get all rowdy.” – Captain Steven Hiller
Independence Day (1996), also known as ID4, is one of the iconic science fiction, B level, action films from my childhood during the 1990s. I have lost count of how many times I have watched this movie. I saw it in the movie theater once, a bunch of times on VHS, and countless more instances in college when I had 7 HBOs and would flip to ID4 a lot when it was on one of those 7 channels. Ranking it among the alien invasion movies I have seen, it is by far the best. The movie works as a fun summer blockbuster for a variety of reasons. First, it has a great cast. Bill Pullman, previously best known to science fiction fans as Lone Starr in Spaceballs (1987), plays President Thomas J. Whitmore who has to grapple with difficult decisions in response to the alien invasion. Will Smith plays the fun and charismatic fighter pilot, Captain Steve Hiller. Smith became a television star in the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air during the late 1980s. He showed his skills could translate to the big screen in movies like Six Degrees of Separation (1993) and Bad Boys (1995). Nevertheless, Independence Day is his biggest breakout moment in feature films because it showed he could play a lead in a high grossing summer blockbuster. Coming off the tremendous success of Jurassic Park in 1993, Jeff Goldblum is probably the most high profile actor in this movie at the time of its release. He portrays brilliant satellite technician [super cable repairman], David Levinson, who makes a horrifying discovery about the alien visitors and is tasked with finding a way to combat their advanced technology. These main actors are complemented by a good supporting cast that includes Vivica A. Fox and Harry Connick Jr. The film also does a great job depicting how the world would react if aliens arrive. There would be enthusiasm and excitement from astronomers and scientists who have been searching for extraterrestrial life. The military would be absolutely concerned about the aliens as a hostile threat. Of course, the general public would be overcome with total panic and pandemonium out of fear. I enjoy that ID4 has an excellent balance between the seriousness and gravity of an unrelenting alien invasion with enough comical moments, exhilarating action scenes, and a tad bit of cheesiness to keep it fun. The special effects achievements were groundbreaking in 1996. The terrifying images of the destruction caused by the aliens and amazing aerial battles remain impressive re-watching the movie today. I thoroughly enjoy watching fighter jets in action and the scenes from ID4 continue to be my favorite in any film. In addition, it is very difficult for the filmmakers to decide on how much superior the alien technology is to our technology. If it is not strong enough, the aliens will not be scary enough and the film will not have enough drama. If they are too strong, then the human race will not have a real chance to win. In my opinion, the disparity is perfect and the solution to close the gap is at least possible although still improbable. For all these reasons, ID4 is one my most beloved movies from my childhood.
As President Whitmore, Bill Pullman plays the character who is burdened with the impossible decisions on how to respond to the arrival and subsequent attack by extraterrestrial beings. Whitmore is a war hero who was a fighter pilot during the Persian Gulf War. As such, he was elected as the President off of that popularity. Naturally, the Presidency is a completely different and extremely challenging job. Many of the pundits attack his age and inexperience as a political leader. Accordingly, Whitmore is still trying get his feet under him as the President of the United States when aliens suddenly and shockingly arrive. Obviously, panic and chaos ensues around the world when alien ships breach the atmosphere and become visible in the skies. They settle over some of the major capitals and cities in the world (e.g. London, Moscow, Paris, etc.). In the United States, they arrive at New York, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles. In response, Whitmore wants to lead by example by staying at the White House instead of evacuating. If the aliens have come in peace, many people could be lost in the mad scramble to flee the cities for no reason. While he remains strong publicly, he is also not reckless. He orders the Vice President, Cabinet, and Joint Chiefs to be taken to a secured location. Moreover, he pleads with his wife, Marilyn Whitmore, to leave Los Angeles immediately even though she is adamant about completing her business there before evacuating. As viewers, we know it is an alien invasion movie. As such, it is the wrong decision to not evacuate as many people from the cities and as quickly as possible. Regardless, the rationale is sound. As the leader of the country, he should not add onto public hysteria when he has no basis to judge the intentions of the extraterrestrials. From his perspective, it is best if people just stay in their homes. If they leave, he asks and hopes it will be in an orderly and civil fashion although we know there is no chance of it happening. As President, Whitmore obviously has key advisors. Margaret Colin plays his White House Communications Director, Constance Spano. She is one of his most trusted, loyal, and supportive confidants who has been with him since his presidential campaign. When his presidency is criticized by the media, she is much more upset than he is and ready to fight and defend him. General William Grey (Robert Loggia) is the head of US Space Command and another loyal confidant. He is a wise military mind who provides a level headed opinion the President can rely on. Albert Nimzicki (James Rebhorn) is the Secretary of Defense and the former Director of the CIA. He is a war hawk and a bit of a weasel. He is an antagonizing figure within the President’s counsel. Grey is an adviser who provides his insight and advice so that the President can make an informed decision. Nimzicki usually has a pre-determined conclusion in regards to a course of action and tries to dictate his opinion onto the President. As one could predict, Grey, Nimzicki, and their styles clash during the movie. Bill Pullman does an excellent job portraying Whitmore throughout the film. At the beginning, he is an inexperienced and indecisive President who laments his mistakes and doubts himself. In one scene with Constance, he notes “That’s the advantage of being a fighter pilot. In the Gulf War, we knew what we had to do. It’s just not that simple anymore. A lot of people did today. How many didn’t have to?” As the story progresses, he becomes more confident and channels his experience as a warrior to lead and inspire the counterattack against the alien invaders.
ID4 will always be synonymous with Will Smith. It is when he becomes a big name movie star. Smith plays Captain Steve Hiller who is a cocky ace pilot with swagger that makes the film a lot of fun. At the start of the film, he is dating stripper Jasmine Dubrow (Vivica A. Fox) and is a father figure to her son Dylan (Ross Bagley). ID4 is Fox’s most prominent role and she is stunningly beautiful in it. While her character is a stripper, she predictably does the job to provide a comfortable lifestyle for her son. When the aliens arrive, he is ordered to return to his air force base, El Toro. Naturally, she wants him to stay because he is supposed to be on leave for the Fourth of July and she is scared. In order to allay her fears, he tells her she can join him at the base after her shift at work. More importantly, he demonstrates his charm and swagger when she asks if he minds them staying with him: “Naw. I’ll just tell my other girlfriends they can’t come over tonight”. In response, she smiles, kisses him, and notes “You know, you’re not as charming as you think you are.” In addition, he is very sweet with her son and promises they will light up fireworks when he returns. Interestingly, Bagley plays his nephew, Nicky, in the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, so they already have good chemistry acting together. When he returns to base, he is greeted by his best friend and wingman, Captain Jimmy Wilder (Harry Connick, Jr.). There is a clear bromance between the two men. Fittingly, Steve’s dream is to fly a shuttle into space for NASA. Unfortunately, he opens a letter from NASA rejecting him again. At the same time, a ring falls out of his locker. There is a funny scene where Jimmy kneels to pick up the ring and remains on his knees while holding out the ring to ask his friend about it. Another pilot hilariously misunderstands the situation, has a surprised look, and walks away. As close as Steve and Jimmy are, it is an easy mistake for the other pilot to make. In regards to the ring, Steve plans to propose to Jasmine. However, Jimmy points out Steve will never fly for NASA if he marries a stripper. In addition, the two friends are always goofing around. Jimmy calls Steve “Big Daddy”. They also sport victory cigars and make plenty of references about the “fat lady” [not singing until it is over].
Another key character is David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum). Fittingly, his first scene shows him playing chess with his father Julius Levinson (Judd Hirsch) since David makes a lot of chess analogies during the movie. Jeff Goldblum delivers his typical performance as a neurotic character who often staggers and repeats the same words in his speech: “Yes, yes. Yes. Without the ‘oops’. That a way.” As a character, David is a very clean cut and honest person. Unlike his father, he does not smoke. He is also a recycling nut who aggressively reminds others to recycle if they do not. In addition, David is a recent divorcee. Nevertheless, he is a loving person who is not willing to let go of his love for his ex-wife, Constance, who works for the President. He still wears his wedding ring and refuses to sign the divorce papers. He is also a MIT graduate that works as a cable repairman. As one could conclude, he lacks ambition. It is a reason for his divorce since she is more work driven and motivated to make a difference in the world. In his jealousy, he had mistakenly assumed she was having an affair with Whitmore before he was President thus punches him in the face. As a result, it creates a tense and awkward relationship when the two characters interact in the film. When the aliens arrive, it causes satellite problems and thus cable issues. As David attempts to troubleshoot the problem, he finds a signal embedded in the satellites with a countdown. Consistent with his character, he is deep in thought with the issue so he is completely aloof to the outside world and the newscasts showing the arrival of alien ships. For this reason, he initially believes the anomaly is recycling itself and will go away when the countdown ends. However, he makes a petrifying realization when he is alerted to the arrival of the aliens. When he scampers to the roof to see the arrival of the ship above New York City, he deduces that the aliens are positioning their pieces [in this case ships] strategically around the world above the major cities before “Checkmate” and they attack. Upon becoming aware of the situation, he can only blurt out “My God”. Of course, he also fears for the life of his ex-wife, Constance, who is with the President in the White House. Although he desperately calls her and incoherently attempts to convince her to flee, she is obviously not receptive since she dismisses it as the paranoia she witnessed during their marriage. Consequently, David goes to his father who has a car and persuades him to drive to Washington D.C. to save her. On a regular day in New York, the traffic can be brutal with bumper to bumper traffic. During a chaotic exodus out of the city, I question how they could even drive out of New York. Forget trying to make it to D.C. in time. However, it is a minor plot hole. David’s intelligence also becomes critical later in the film as the President hopes he can find a flaw in the alien technology that humankind can exploit.
The film also does a good job including supporting characters who provide comic relief. One of these characters is Julius Levinson, David’s father mentioned above. He is very blunt, sarcastic, and hilarious. Judd Hirsch does a wonderful job with the character and personifies the stereotype New Yorker with all the mannerisms, diction, and accent. When he plays chess with David, he is impatient and tries to goad his son to make a move: ““My social security will expire, you’ll still be sitting there.” Although he definitely loves his son, he has no reservations about constantly ribbing his son for graduating from M.I.T. but only working as a cable repair guy. On the drive down to D.C., he points out that the President definitely knows anything David knows but will call him if he needs HBO. When Julius accompanies David into the White House, he comments “If I had known I was gonna meet the president, I would’ve worn a tie. I mean, look at me. I look like a schlemiel.” At the climactic battle in the film, Julius also leads a prayer. When Nimzicki joins but notes he is not Jewish, Julius only chuckles and responds “Nobody’s perfect”. He has plenty of other hysterical, snarky lines throughout the film. On the other hand, he also provides a steady hand that David can lean on. When the President initialy sees David again, he is obviously angry. However, Julius breaks the tension by introducing himself and reaching out to shake the President’s hand. Accordingly, he has plenty of tact and wisdom that he contributes throughout the film. Another character included for comical relief is Russell Casse (Randy Quiad). He is a former Vietnam War fighter pilot who is suffering from PTSD. For this reason, he has become an alcoholic. He works as a crop duster. At the start of the film, he is drunk, shows up late for work late, and dusts the wrong field. As such, he is fired. His redeeming quality is his unconditional love for his children. A funny side story is Russell’s claims that he was abducted by aliens. Accordingly, the guys at the bar make fun of him. When the aliens arrive, Russell is arrested for dropping leaflets alarming people that the aliens are there to kill them all. When news reporters show up at the bar to ask the patrons about Russell, they make provocative suggestions that Russell has said he was sexually abused by the aliens. Of course, the audience still gets the sense that Russell is probably a bit nuts because of PTSD. However, he may not be entirely off his rocker based on current events and the confirmation of alien life.
As an alien invasion movie, ID4 does an awesome job depicting how the world would react at the appearance of aliens. First, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) is overly enthusiastic about the discovery. When SETI hears the alien signal, a technician immediately calls his supervisor who is obviously shocked. Once they perform their due diligence that it is not a “Russian spy job” and “skies are clear”, the technician joyously declares “It’s the real thing. A radio signal from another world”. As much as SETI is excited, the Pentagon is naturally concerned. Space Command quickly updates General Grey on the situation. The anomaly is one fourth the size of the moon. They also know it is not a meteor because it is slowing down. Of course, President Whitmore and Secretary of Defense Nimziki are quickly brought up to speed on the matter to decide on a course of action. One advisor hopes the anomaly passes the Earth by. Nimziki is extremely hawkish and wants to launch ICBMs to blow up the object. On the other hand, Grey is more cognizant of the consequences when he points out that doing so could cause one falling object to become many. When the President brings up the option of upgrading to DEFCON 3 for discussion, Nimziki completely jumps the gun and decides the President’s question is a command. Again, Grey dissents from Nimziki. He calls him out for not hearing correctly and brings up the fact that the troops are on leave for the Fourth of July so it is not very easy to do. Obviously, Nimziki’s reckless tendency to act before thinking and Grey’s thorough and thoughtful approach conflict throughout the film. In addition, it is a good scene that shows the possible actions and reservations the military and the President would have in a situation that a massive, unidentified object is nearing Earth. In ID4, the scenario quickly takes form when three dozen pieces, ships, each 15 miles in diameter break off and begin to enter the atmosphere. Accordingly, the President and his advisers realize they are dealing with alien ships. As the ships breach the atmosphere, they burn up and appear as fireballs over the skies. Naturally, hysteria runs rampant when the general public see the ships. On the news, it is reported that panic and chaos have gripped the streets. Again, the individual ships head to a number of major cities throughout the world which include New York, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C.. As such, the film shows the stunned reactions of the people in those cities. In New York, the sight of the ships causes “10,000 fender benders” when drivers become fixated on the large space ships rather than pay attention to driving and the road. For example, a NYPD police officer suddenly walks out of his car to confirm what he sees and a truck immediately comes by to smash and total the police car. Naturally, people immediately start fleeing. In each city, they pack everything they can as soon as possible and leave. However, not all reactions are fear based. Some enthusiasts of extraterrestrials gather at the top of the US Bank Tower in Los Angeles and hoist signs welcoming the aliens. One of the enthusiasts even go as far as noting she hopes they release Elvis. Another funny reaction is from Steve and Jasmine. As the ships approach each city, they cause the ground to shake. At the time, Steve and Jasmine are sleeping. Since they are in Los Angeles, they assume it is a minor earthquake and go back to sleep. Later, they get up and Steve notices the neighbors scrambling to gather their stuff and flee. He is unaware of recent developments and just assumes they have had enough of earthquakes. When goes out to get the newspaper and looks up, he is stunned by the appearance of a massive space ship above Los Angeles and frozen in place. In my opinion, all the above reactions are realistic of what would occur in the event aliens arrived on Earth. Consequently, it is a strong way to setup the plot of the movie.
Of course, movie watchers know that the aliens will attack. The film does a good job creating drama and desperate urgency leading up to and during the attack. David eventually makes it to the White House shortly before the attack is initiated. He cleverly triangulates Constance’s position in the White House via her mobile phone so that she sees him as soon as she looks out the window in order to get her attention. After hearing what David knows, she pulls the President out of the meeting. Obviously, he is not excited to see David as he thinks it is another personal quarrel. After the initial awkward tension subsides, David gets the opportunity to explain why there is satellite problem. The Earth is a natural obstruction of line of sight. Consequently, the alien Mother Ship is unable to send a direct signal to its smaller ships. For this reason, it needs to use Earth’s satellites to relay its signal. David found the signal and it is a countdown to the alien’s first strike. Upon this realization, President Whitmore immediately orders the evacuation of the cities. In addition, it is a mad scramble to secure the President and his staff for departure on Air Force One. At the same time, welcome helicopters flash lights at one of the alien ships in an attempt to make contact and communicate. Since the mission is broadcast live, the world watches in horror on television as a light opens up from the ship and then blasts are unleashed to destroy the helicopters. The Earth now knows the aliens are hostile. The destruction caused by the alien ships is frighteningly epic. The special effects of the film are groundbreaking in 1996 and still impressive today. The bottom of the ships open up in the middle, a targeting beam is aimed, and an energy weapon charges up before firing down at each city. The Empire State Building in New York, US Bank Tower in Los Angeles, and White House in Washington D.C. are shown totally exploding as the blasts rips right through them, hits the ground, then expands to destroy entire cities. Accordingly, the alien ships are later named the “City Destroyers”. In the scene, people are seen fruitlessly trying to run away from the blast before being consumed by it. In Los Angeles, Jasmine is stuck in traffic inside a tunnel when she sees the blast in her rearview mirror. She quickly gets out of her car, grabs her son, and kicks in a door to a room in the tunnel to narrowly escape death. She even has time to call for her dog who finds sanctuary with them just in the nick of time. In Washington D.C., the President and his entourage, which now includes David and Julius, barely flies away as the blast obliterates Washington D.C. and is only moments from engulfing Air Force One too. Unfortunately, the First Lady’s helicopter in Los Angeles is caught in the blast. The aftermath of the devastation is chilling when we see the remains of Los Angeles and New York. In particular, the skeleton of the Twin Towers are haunting especially watching the film in retrospect after experiencing the real life tragedy of 9/11. Moreover, the destroyed Statue of Liberty lying on its side in the New York harbor is another disturbing sight. These images are a defining aspect of this film. One of the enduring legacies of ID4 is starting the trend of blockbuster movies destroying prominent landmarks and buildings in spectacular fashion.
Naturally, President Whitmore greatly laments not ordering the evacuation of the cities that could have been completed hours before the attack. Seeing and perceiving the events from his perspective is an important element of the film. Of course, he does not have much time to reflect as he needs to oversee and command the counterattack against the City Destroyers. Another interesting point of view the movie provides is the battle from the vantage point of Steve and his squadron, the Black Knights, and their mission to attack the City Destroyer in Los Angeles while other squadrons attack the ships in New York and Washington D.C. Of course, the Black Knights are itching to engage the aliens and get some payback. As a viewer, you also want to see them teach the aliens a lesson. During a briefing, Jimmy jokingly leans on Steve’s shoulder and asks him to “Hold me”. Accordingly, the Lieutenant leading the briefing notices and sarcastically asks them if they have anything to add. Steve has the perfect answer when he notes “No, sir, just a little anxious to get up there and whoop E.T.’s ass, that’s all.” As they fly towards the enemy ship in their F-18s, they fly over the remains of Los Angeles. When Steve looks down, he regrets leaving Jasmine and fears that she was killed in the blast. In order to console his friend and provide some more comic relief to loosen up the anxious squadron before the battle, Jimmy says “Don’t worry about it, Big Man. I’m sure she got out before it happened. Or, as the Good Reverend would say: Why we are on this particular mission, we’ll never know. But I do know, here today, that the Black Knights will emerge victorious once again.” As the City Destroyer becomes visible, Jimmy quickly changes his tone and can only react “Holy God” at the overwhelming size of it. When the squadron fires off the first volley of missiles, the ship’s shields prevent it from getting hit. They also attempt to fly closer and use sidewinder missiles with no effect. Shortly after, smaller “Attacker” alien spacecraft are deployed and intercept the squadron. Although the fight will be a complete disaster, Steve and Jimmy provide the entertainment and fun in the scene. One of the Attackers chase Steve and fires green energy blasts at him. In response, he hilariously shouts “Oh no. You did not shoot that green shit at me”. Once the President realizes his pilots have no chance, he orders a failed retreat. Steve and Jimmy quickly hit the deck and flee towards the desert. One Attacker pursues Steve while the other chases after Jimmy. Eventually, Jimmy is killed when he tries a desperate maneuver. The last Attacker continues the pursuit of Steve into the Grand Canyon where he performs a number of daring and death defying maneuvers in attempts to lose it. It is arguably the best aerial scene in the entire movie. In the end, Steve begins to run out of fuel. He ejects a parachute into the dashboard of the Attacker to obstruct its vision. He also ejects himself and guides his plane into a canyon wall. The explosion causes the alien ship to crash onto the desert floor. As Steve lands on the floor with his parachute, he boasts, “That’s right! That’s right! That’s what you get! Look at you, ship all banged up! Who’s the man? Huh? Who’s the man? Wait till I get another plane! I’m-a line all your friends up right beside you!” Next, he runs up to the ship, opens the door, and knocks out the alien pilot presumably killing it while declaring “Welcome to Earth”. Finally, he smokes a cigar and notes “Now, that’s what I call a close encounter.” The entire scene is a great example of how Will Smith’s Steve Hiller makes this film fun with his swagger and humor. Nevertheless, it also shows how impossibly outmatched the human race is against the alien invaders. The counterattacking F-18s are completed annihilated. As reported by newscasts, the same battle is replicated around the world with the same bleak results. Afterwards, Attackers bomb and completely destroy El Toro and other military bases around the world. NORAD, where the Vice President and Joint Chiefs were secured, and NATO installations are the first targets to be taken out. Consequently, military forces are pulled away from bases and go into hiding. As one could tell, the odds are not looking good for the survival of the human race at this point. However, it would not be a good movie if the alien forces are not ominous.
Against the unprecedented and seemingly unstoppable threat of alien invaders, the use of nuclear weapons is not an unreasonable option. In fact, I really appreciate that the film delves into the considerations and reservations of unleashing nuclear weapons, The invaders have basically used their nuclear option by unleashing weapons of mass destruction on cities around the world. In addition, conventional weapons are completely useless against their shields. Accordingly, the use of a much higher magnitude of firepower to try to penetrate the shields is a natural progression in the use of force. Not surprisingly, Nimziki pushes the President to launch nuclear weapons and notes the Joint Chiefs agreed with him before they were killed at NORAD. He makes a valid point that there may not be much of an America left if they do not act quickly. Consistent with his characterization as a snake, he also makes an appeal to the President’s regret when he adds that a failure to launch could prove costlier than the decision to not evacuate the cities. Nevertheless, the President is shocked at the suggestion because the destruction and subsequent radioactive fallout from nuclear blasts would be over American soil. As David walks around Air Force One, he overhears the conversation and bursts in with his objection: “This is insanity! You’ll kill us and them at the same time.” Of course, the use of nuclear weapons is unthinkable in the real world. Even in the story of ID4, they should be a last resort. However, the situation is rapidly deteriorating to that point as Nimziki’s position suggests. When David intervenes, General Grey reminds him he is only a guest. Nimziki flat out tells him to shut up. At this moment, Julius comes in to stick up for his son by reminding them they would all be dead if it were not for David. Moreover, he lambasts them for not doing anything to prevent the attack. In addition, he brings up Roswell and Area 51 which is a popular conspiracy theory and taboo about aliens crash landing and being housed in a top secret base. Since the President is not aware of anything special about Area 51 as he assumes he would have surely been briefed, he chuckles and reassures Julius that there is no Area 51 or alien spacecraft recovered by the government. Even David dismisses the conspiracy theory as nonsense. On the other hand, Nimziki maintains his serious look and eventually relents that “Uh, excuse me Mr. President, but that’s not entirely accurate”. Upon the revelation, the President, General Grey, and David are in complete shock. As Grey rightly points out later, Nimziki should have briefed them on the base as soon as the aliens arrived. At worst, they should have been given all available information before they launched a counterattack that costs the lives of hundreds of invaluable American pilots. It is another example that shows Nimziki as untrustworthy. Nevertheless, it is a very clever decision for the film to utilize the lore of the mysterious Area 51 and make it a central part of an alien invasion film. I am no conspiracy theorist but Area 51 definitely sparks my imagination.
The multiple storylines of the film converge at Area 51. When Air Force One lands at Area 51, the President and his party are greeted by Major Mitchell (Adam Baldwin) and Dr. Brackish Okun (Brent Spiner) who run the base. Okun is one of the more memorable characters in ID4. He is excitable and socially awkward: “Mr. President! Wow! This is… what a pleasure. As you can imagine, they… they don’t let us out much.” As he gives a tour of the facility to the President, he shows him the spaceship that was recovered during the 1950s. When Okun explains that the ship has only turned on upon the arrival of the aliens, he uses a poor choice of words by saying the “last 24 hours have been very exciting”. In response, the President lambasts him “People are dying out there. I don’t think ‘exciting’ is the word I’d choose to describe it”. Okun’s interaction with the President is a great example of how entertainingly weird he is. As they complete the tour, he also shows the group the deceased bodies of alien pilots. They are typical looking aliens similar to other depictions in fiction. They are organic lifeforms and can be killed. Okun concludes it is probably why they are interested in Earth. Unfortunately, their technology is far more advanced. At this point, President Whitmore also asks David to work with the scientists at Area 51 to try to find a way to overcome the technological disparity. He also takes a not so subtle jab when he says they hope David is as smart as they need him to be. Steve also makes his way to the base. Russell Casse and a caravan of mobile homes spot Steve in the desert and give him a ride to Area 51. Steve also takes the body of the alien pilot he downed. When the guards at Area 51 ask him for clearance, he shows the alien and they quickly allow him to pass. After the President personally congratulates Steve for a job well done, Steve later takes a helicopter to El Toro. He knows that Jasmine will be there if she survived. After she survives the destruction, she finds a firetruck that she uses to transport other survivors of the Los Angeles attack. One of the survivors is the First Lady, Marilyn Whitmore. As such, Steve rescues all these survivors and fly them back to Area 51. Back at the base, Okun and his team begin to dissect the alien brought in by Steve. Unbeknownst to them, the alien is still alive. Unfortunately, it kills everyone in the room and telepathically takes control of Okun to speak to the President and his advisers. He demands that they let him go and that there will be no peace. They just want human beings to die. When they do not meet its demands, it uses its telepathy to attack the President’s mind. In response, the Secret Service have no choice but to shoot and kill the alien. However, the President could see images from the alien’s mind: “They’re like locusts. They’re moving from planet to planet… their whole civilization. After they’ve consumed every natural resource they move on… and we’re next.” With the additional insight about the invaders, Whitmore finally makes the decision to use nuclear weapons. Although I would like to be idealistic and say it is the wrong decision, it kind of makes sense to me. I also think it is an important part of the film since it shows how strong the alien shields and technology truly is. Nevertheless, Whitmore is hesitant to give the final command to deploy the first nuclear missile at the City Destroyer above Houston till the very last moment. Even then, he asks “May our children forgive us”. Even with the full force of a nuclear weapon, the alien shields completely deflect the blast with no effect on the City Destroyer. Although Nimziki wants to try with other City Destroyers, the President wisely aborts. He knows the shields are impervious to even nuclear weapons so using them will only destroy American cities. Shortly after the failed nuclear attack, he also learns that his wife is dying from internal bleeding. Accordingly, all these setbacks sets up the dire, hopeless situation leading into the climax of the film.
Naturally, the aliens would be too powerful if the people of Earth do not find a way to overcome or neutralize the alien technology. It would not be a very good action movie if the aliens just dominated and won. The character who figures out the loophole is David. After the decision to use nuclear weapons is made, David begins to drink to deal with his anger. At this point, Constance tries to console her ex-husband. They also discuss their failed marriage. Although she notes that she just wanted to fulfill her career aspirations and be part of something special by working for the President, he notes he was part of something special [their marriage]. His love for Constance is unwavering and obvious throughout the film. He risked his life to ensure that she did not lose hers. He is a very sweet and touching individual. In addition to his importance in the main events of the film, his personal story of reconciling with his ex-wife is a good subplot. Afterwards, his father Julius also tries to cheer up his son. During their conversation, Julius mentions that he wants his son to get up and get some rest so he does not catch a cold. The thought triggers an epiphany for David. He comes up with the idea to utilize a computer virus to infect the alien ships and disable their shields. ID4 has been described as a modern day War of the Worlds. In the original War of the Worlds story, the events are set in the late 1890s. As such, the human militaries counterattack with more primitive weapons (e.g. cannonballs) against aliens in mechanized tripods. Obviously, modern weapons would easily destroy such contraptions, The alien ships and their shields in ID4 are needed to give the alien invaders a significant technological advantage. In War of the Worlds, the aliens eventually succumbed to the biological viruses and bacteria in the Earth’s atmosphere as their bodies never developed an immunity that humans did over time. Accordingly, the use of a computer virus in ID4 is another modern parallel to the War of the Worlds. I also appreciate that the ID4 aliens do not just drop dead because of biological illnesses After the destruction they caused up to this point, they deserve a good ass kicking from Earth. When David comes up with his plan, he calls everyone in for the presentation of his plan. He wants to fly the repaired alien spacecraft in Area 51 to the Mother Ship and infect it with a computer virus. The virus will tag on to the enemy signal then infect the City Destroyers and smaller Attackers. Afterwards, he wants to destroy the Mother Ship to further disorient the alien forces on Earth. For this purpose, the alien spacecraft will be given a tactical nuclear missile with a 30 second timer. Of course, the plan is farfetched. Regardless, at least it is something that is conceptually possible. Ironically, Nimziki is skeptical and voices his displeasure as opposed to the past when he favored acting before thinking. However, General Grey and the President realize it may be there only plausible shot at defeating the invaders. As such, they greenlight the operation.
Since Steve has seen the alien Attackers in action, he volunteers to fly the alien craft since he is the only one qualified. Obviously, it is an extremely dangerous mission so both men say their goodbyes just in case. Steve marries Jasmine in an impromptu ceremony and wishes he did it earlier. David says farewell to his father and Constance. Since Julius knows David gets nauseous when he flies, he gives him barf bags as a gift just in case. In return, he gives him his Torah and a yamaka. After the death of Julius’s wife, he turned his back on his religion. As a result, it is a fitting gift heading into the climactic battle for the planet. In addition, David’s decision to risk his life is an important part of his character development. At the beginning of the film, he is an underachiever who lacks ambition. By the end, he comes out of his shell and shows the courage and confidence to save the world Accordingly, both Constance and Julius are very proud of him. The mission also provides an opportunity to watch the contrast in styles of Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum as their characters team up. In terms of an entertaining relationship to watch in a movie, Smith and Goldblum are gold. The interaction between Smith’s brash, confident attitude and Goldblum’s nervous energy and uptight demeanor is hilarious. There is good chemistry between the two actors. Immediately after they both agree to the mission, David asks Steve “You really think you can fly that thing?” In response, Steve asks “You really think you can do all that bullshit you just said?” While David is totally afraid of flying, Steve is a pilot whose dream has been to fly into space. As a result, he is excited for the chance to go into space as fulfillment of his life’s goal. Much to the chagrin of David, Steve does a barrel roll and a couple other tricks as they leave the atmosphere. On the other hand, David quickly gets some immediate revenge when the Mother Ship locks on to their craft and pulls them in, as he expected but failed to inform Steve. In response, David says “oops” with a smirk. As Steve points out, they need to “work on our communication”. The dynamic between the two actors and their respective characters is great theater.
The mobilization of military forces and setup of the final act in the film is done well. In order to man the aerial counterattack on the City Destroyers after the shields are down, the military, specifically Major Mitchell, needs to recruit more pilots since so many were lost in the first disaster of a counterattack. Accordingly, they look for anyone with flight experience. For this reason, even Russell Casse gets a chance to fly a fighter jet. During introductions, Casse cannot resist mentioning his abduction by aliens and is ready for some payback. Even in the current predicament, Major Mitchell and his second command cannot stop from giving each other a disturbed look and wondering if they should keep Casse away from a plane. Nevertheless, desperate times call for desperate measures. Moreover, the military utilizes Morse code to contact hidden forces around the world to launch a global air campaign. It is the feel good moment of the film as the people of Earth unite. British forces are seen with Arab and Israeli fighters, who have finally put aside their differences. The Russians and Japanese are also shown on screen ready for the fight as well as many other squadrons shown on a map. Many times throughout history, rivals and sworn enemies have united against a common enemy. For this reason, I can buy that a global catastrophe against an alien invasion might be the only way all these conflicting interests would be set aside for the survival of the human race. As the film goes into its final act, President Whitmore also becomes a more decisive leader. After greenlighting the mission and subsequent counterattack, he quickly fires Nimziki as his Secretary of Defense when he continues his opposition to the operation and even brings up the President’s dead wife as a reason for his compromised judgment. The timeline of the film is July 2 when the aliens arrive and attack, July 3 when the Earth’s various counterattacks fail miserably, and July 4 when the final battle occurs [Hence the name Independence Day]. In one of the most memorable scenes in the movie, President Whitmore gives a speech to inspire his pilots before battle: “Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. ‘Mankind.’ That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom… Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution… but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live. To exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: ‘We will not go quietly into the night!’ We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today we celebrate our ‘Independence Day!’ Of course, there is a little cheesiness to the moment because it is in a film. Nevertheless, it is a pretty good speech. I was definitely pumped when I was younger watching the movie for the first time. Moreover, Whitmore also decides to fly a plane and lead the attack personally. Of course, General Grey objects because he does not want the President to endanger his life. Nonetheless, it is a desperate situation and every man is needed. More importantly, it is natural for Whitmore. As much as he is unsure of himself as President earlier in the film, he has complete clarity and trusts his instincts in the air as a fighter pilot.
The final battle is a satisfying, thrilling, and action packed conclusion to the film. When the virus is uploaded, Whitmore fires the first missile to test whether the shields are down. Unfortunately, they are still up. Despite Grey’s advice to leave, Whitmore takes one more shot because it may be their last opportunity to fight back. Naturally, the second missile hits the hull as the shields are finally down. A monster aerial battle and dogfight ensues between the alien Attackers and the squadron of F-18s. At the same time, there is a scramble to get the refugees above ground into the Area 51 complex as Attackers shoot at them. As the fight progresses, the F-18s are running out of missiles and are not inflicting enough damage on the City Destroyer. To make matters worse, the Destroyer is preparing to fire its primary weapon on Area 51. Accordingly, the President and his wingmen try to shoot their remaining missiles at the primary weapon to disable it. Unfortunately, the President’s missile does not destroy it and his wingmen are taken out. As such, the film ends with a bit of a goofy but good moment. Russell Casse comes to the rescue. Although he has one remaining missile, it jams. At this point, he knows his children and everyone else in Area 51 will die if he does nothing and retreats. For this reason, he makes the conscious and selfless decision to kamikaze into the primary weapon instead. In my opinion, it is the perfect conclusion for Casse’s story. Although he still shows his odd eccentricities due to his PTSD, he unconditionally loves his children and will do anything for them. As such, he is ultimately a hero despite all his flaws. HIs decision reflects every aspect of the character. He has the most epic and funny death in the movie as he shouts “In the words on my generation, up yours” and “Hi boys. I’m back!” before flying right into the weapon, destroying it, and causing a chain reaction that completely destroys the City Destroyer. It is another great example how ID4 is able to have a fun balance of the seriousness and gravity of an alien invasion with enough levity, entertainment, and laughs. Afterwards, the weakness of the City Destroyers is communicated to all squadrons around the world who are able to take them down. Meanwhile, Steve and David are stuck in the Mother Ship as they are attached to a port. Accordingly, David makes a final chess reference when he says “Checkmate” as they realize they cannot escape and just need to fire of the nuclear missile to save everyone else. However, they are detached after the missile cuts through the port. In a thrilling and fun mad scramble to flee the ship before the nuke goes off with enemy Attackers chasing them, Steve flies while enduring annoying back seat driving from David. There are also plenty of “Fat lady”, Elvis references, and other funny lines as they escape in exhilarating fashion.
The final scene of the movie is a fitting ending. After Steve and David crash land, the President brings a convoy, including most of the main characters of the film, to greet and congratulate them. Jasmine and Constance run to hug them. Obviously, Whitmore and David have put an end to their grievances as they willingly and affectionately shake hands. As everyone else embrace, fireworks are fired above the destroyed City Destroyer to celebrate Independence Day. ID4 has everything you could want in an alien invasion movie. It features a great cast, a realistic and horrifying depiction of an alien attack, and plenty of spectacular action and fun.
About Pat Wong
Patrick is a contributor for Rookerville. He is an avid sports fan. Before joining Rookerville, he was part of a defunct New York Yankees message board, NYYankeefans, where he was its top poster and was inducted in its Hall of Fame for his contributions. Patrick is also a passionate fan of movies. He has enjoyed reading movie reviews over the years and is excited about the opportunity to review movies. Patrick is also a passionate foodie. He is Yelp Elite for three years in a row and shares his great finds in New York and his travels.