They destroyed landmarks. The White House being obliterated right before our eyes, the fire shooting through windows before the explosion sent shards towards the camera is imagery that put INDEPENDENCE DAY into a new class of film. The CGI was some of the best ever created when dealing with objects on that scale. But those eye-popping visuals weren’t what made ID4 a film worthy of a sequel 20 years later.
The film succeeds because it focuses on the people. Even as the landmarks are being destroyed, the focus is on the characters, and there were plenty worth remembering.
Will Smith in his prime, dishing out the one-liners as a Marine pilot. His role gains considerable depth by the fact that he had dreams of being an astronaut but was turned down by NASA. Vivica A. Fox helped round him out, giving him heart and giving us another reason to care about his survival.
Randy Quaid in my second-favorite performance of his, ever, as a Vietnam War pilot who becomes an alcoholic crop duster after becoming widowed… and having no one believe he had been abducted by aliens.
Bill Pullman felt very Presidential in his role as the Commander In Chief, and felt like someone who had once served as a wartime fighter pilot. His speech near the end was more powerful than the written dialogue warranted. Robert Loggia had great presence as a General in charge of Space Command, strengthening the authority figures of the Earth defense.
Jeff Goldblum yet again hops into the role as a smart guy who is on the side of nature, following up what he did a couple years prior with Juraassic Park. He’s a great side-kick to Will Smith’s character, balancing him out in a number of ways. Judd Hirsch was great as Goldblum’s on-screen father, giving not only depth to the character, but helping us understand how Goldblum grew into the person he is, and adding an emotional hook.
Brent Spiner even worked well as a crazy scientist at Area 51.
The ending to ID4 has come under some criticism for its believability in terms of Earth’s ability to affect the alien technology, but what people should remember is how entertaining Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum are together, and the role Randy Quaid plays in defeating the aliens is heart-warming.
Whether it’s the visuals, the focus on the characters having depth and emotional hooks, or the mixing of humor into the dialogue, INDEPENDENCE DAY is a far more enjoyable film than it’s remembered to be.
My Rating: 83 out of 100