Last night, while trying to get over a dose of hay fever such as I haven’t had in many moons, I watched Independence Day. I hadn’t seen it since it was on at the movies, and though I’d forgotten some of it, most of it had stuck in my visual memory. Which isn’t somewhat unusual. While some films are eminently forgettable, Independence Day, it turns out, wasn’t.As soon as a character appeared, I remembered what happened to him or her. Pretty much. Which is intriguing, because ID is full of cliches, hackneyed moments, tripe, and gooey-eyed children. It’s part sci-fi, part boy’s own adventure. It has some romance, but not enough to get in the way of the action. It has some emotional moments: the big St Crispin’s Day type of speech the President makes late in the film is actually quite moving - probably because it’s based on a very good theatrical model.
It has some wonderful disaster stuff: the destruction of Los Angeles (or was it New York - where it was was hardly important), with cars flying through the air, and Will Smith’s girlfriend’s dog making it to safety at the last moment. It has a host of good actors who take hold of their roles and chew them to bits, the ones with the humorous lines even more so. Who can forget Will Smith kicking ass (literally) out in the desert? Or Judd Hirsch’s over-the-top Jewish father? Or his genius of a son, Jeff Goldblum, and his dry one-liners? Or Randy Quaid doing a full-out I-was-abducted-by-aliens maniac - with his lookalike scene from Dr Strangelove at the end. Or Harry Connick Jr (I think it was) doing a slightly out-of-the-ordinary buddy part with Will Smith, a slightly too friendly buddy, in fact. Okay, maybe you can forget them. I think they’re fun; they take the seriousness out of a film that might have been so full of its own importance, and keep it well and truly alive.
Yes, dead bodies abound: several of the major US cities are wiped off the map. Dozens of fighter pilots are blown up. Mad scientists meet their just deserts. The President’s wife has a schmaltzy death scene. But it’s all so unreal, because we know that in the end the earthlings will overcome these nasty locusts from outer space, and will put them in their place.
And anyway, the aliens are so ridiculous - as ridiculous and absurd as those funny men wandering around in sticky suits in M. Night Shyamalan's Signs. There’s no way they could be intelligent with all those octopus arms. That gives the game away from the beginning.
When you read the reviews from the time the film first came out, you find a host of people disliking it. Tired ideas, weak characterizations etc - even James Berardinelli can't find anything good in it. Well, well. Ten years or so on, and with 9/11 behind us, the film has one thing that is good: it undercuts those people who think the end of the world and the invasion of aliens and all the nasty stuff that's been going on is serious; it tells us that the way to combat an awful lot of it is with humour.