It may seem odd that the most iconic image from a film called “Independence Day” is the White House getting blown to smithereens. But when their movie opened on the eve of Independence Day 1996, director Roland Emmerich and his co-writer Dean Devlin set the bar incredibly high for sci-fi action adventure blockbusters.
Emmerich never came close to duplicating the film’s creative success with later sci-fi efforts like “Godzilla,” “The Day After Tomorrow,” or “2012.” Only the special effects remained. But the wit, grit and memorable characters that made “Independence Day” so good have not been seen in his work since.
There are many reasons why this rousing tale of aliens invading the earth — and humans fighting back — is so much fun:
Despite Bill Pullman’s heroic President, and scores of white military types, the world is saved by a brainy Jew (Jeff Goldblum) and a smart-ass black guy (Will Smith).
Pullman and Mary McDonnell do a fine job channeling Bill and Hillary Clinton.
The colorful supporting cast includes a frantic drama queen (Harvey Fierstein), a nut-job crop duster (Randy Quaid), a kvetchy old Jew (Judd Hirsch), and a mad scientist (Brent Spiner). Oh, and Will Smith’s virtuous wife (Viveca A. Fox) is a stripper.
One of many clever in-jokes is the opening song: R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.”
The epic special effects are cataclysmically beautiful, and the scenes of mass panic are both realistic and witty: New York cabs rear-ending each other, and wide-eyed L.A. wackos welcoming the aliens with open arms.
The film’s snappy dialogue and memorable quotes come fast and furious:
“You’re never going to get to fly the space shuttle if you marry a stripper.”
“This could be our last night on Earth. You don’t want to die a virgin, do you?”
“Everyone’s trying to get out of Washington and we’re the only shmucks trying to get in.”
Will Smith’s gung-ho Captain Steven Hiller gets the lion’s share of wisecracks, including: “I’m just a little anxious to get up there and whoop ET’s ass,” or after punching out a downed alien: “Now that’s what I call a close encounter.”
But it’s Randy Quaid’s gonzo pilot who has the honor of saying: “All right, you alien assholes! In the words of my generation: Up Yours!”