In the decade since I last saw Independence Day a lot has changed about how I watch movies. I have become more perceptive, more cynical, and less forgiving. Yet, through it all, watching Independence Day now is not all that different from watching it when I was 12.
For instance, I may have been spooked out when I was younger during the movie’s opening moments, but now I am able to explain that the film sets its tone successfully with wordless images, demonstrating the enormous scope of the incoming spacecraft.
At 12, I also would have thought that Will Smith was the coolest thing to have ever happened. Now, that appreciation extends beyond (although still including Smith), to include Jeff Goldblum’s incredible awkwardness, as well as Judd Hirsch and Harvey Fierstein’s unflappable stereotypes.
I remember being excited at the idea of everyone rising up together to take on a common enemy. Now, that feeling is a bit more jaded. Starting with the opening shot of the American flag on the moon being cast into shadow, the movie, despite its international implications, is unquestionably Americentric. Sure, at first, we see people of all races and nations gazing on in fear of the impending alien threat, but it is the American government, in its hobbled state, that tries to communicate with the aliens, tries to blow them up, organizes an assault, and eventually discovers the trick to destroying them. There are 194 other countries in the world, and they have all, apparently, been sitting on their hands, waiting for permission to do something about these worldwide attacks. Hell, before the final battle, one foreign military person, when hearing that the Americans have a plan says something along the lines of “well, it’s about time,” suggesting that every nation of the world assumes that when the alien apocalypse comes to town, America (f**k yeah) will be there to bail them out.
I remember being terribly excited about the exploding buildings. Now, I still love the chaos, and enormous destruction, but I have an even better appreciation for the finesse with which the aliens attack Earth. Not only are they able to recognize, locate, and destroy important social and financial buildings, they destroy them with an artistic precision. The movie’s posters and box art tell us that the image of the White House being destroyed is a memorable one. These aliens are not just trying to cripple us, they are wreaking psychological warfare, blowing important stuff up in a way that we will not be able to forget. Even if there were survivors to the attack, most people would be seriously disinclined to rebel after seeing monuments to their species’ achievements blowed right up.
There is one thing that has definitely changed about how I saw this movie. In my youth, one of my favourite things in the movie was the relationship between Russell (Randy Quaid) and his son, Miguel. Now, I have come to realize (and resent) the fact that every scene with Randy Quaid in it only exists for the purpose of setting up his valiant sacrifice at the end. There is about 15 minutes worth of movie that doesn’t need to exist, as it could have just as easily been the President going all kamikaze on the alien ship. But no, instead we have extra scenes with Quaid over-acting and Miguel being downright terrible.
Sure, this movie has its flaws. But I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to watch Will Smith dragging an alien body through a desert without feeling like a 12-year-old boy again.