On Independence Day

Independence Day is one of my favorite Sci-Fi films ever. I remember watching it again, and again, and again, because it struck a chord with it’s Sci-Fi elements. According to Roger Ebert:

The best shot in “Independence Day” is one of the first ones, of a vast shadow falling across the lunar surface. Visitors have arrived from beyond the solar system, and soon their presence is detected in our skies. Their ship is pretty big: “One- fourth the size of the moon!” a scientist gasps, and although an object that size in near-Earth orbit might be expected to cause tidal waves, this is not a movie that slows down for the small details.

As the president of the United States and an assortment of other stock movies types look on, the mother ship dispatches smaller saucers (only 15 miles across) to hover menacingly above Earth’s cities.

Do they come in peace? Don’t make me laugh. As David (Jeff Goldblum), a broadcast technician and computer whiz, soon discovers, they are using our own satellite system to time an attack.

How does he know that? Because his laptop receives the signal and displays it as a digital readout. As the hours and minutes tick down toward Armageddon, I had only one question: Why are the aliens using hours and minutes? Does their home planet have exactly the same length of day and year as ours? How very nice.

“Independence Day” is not just an inheritor of the 1950s flying saucer genre, it’s a virtual retread–right down to the panic in the streets, as terrified extras flee toward the camera and the skyscrapers frame a horrible sight behind them. Like those old B movies, the alien threat is intercut with lots of little stories involving colorful characters, who are chosen for their ethnic, occupational and sexual diversity. Representing the human race here are not only David the tech head and the president, but also assorted blacks, Jews, Arabs, Brits, exotic dancers, homosexuals, cute kids, generals, drunken crop dusters, tight-lipped defense secretaries and “The McLaughlin Group. “There is not a single character in the movie who doesn’t wear an invisible label.

Although the special effects in “Independence Day” are elaborate and pervasive, they aren’t outstanding. The giant saucers area dark, looming presence at the top of a lot of shots, big but dull, and the smaller “fighter” saucers used by the aliens are a disappointment–clunky, squat little gray jobs that look recycled out of ancient Rocket Men of Mars adventures.

When the aliens attack, there are shots of the White House and the Empire State Building getting blowed up real good, but if these creatures can field a spaceship a fourth the size of the moon, why do they bother engaging in aerial dogfights with the U.S. Air Force? And why don’t they blow up everything at once? Or knock out the Internet with a neutron bomb, instead of simply causing snow and static on TV screens? And why don’t the humans react more? At one point, the news comes that New York, Washington and Los Angeles have been destroyed, and is there grief? Despair? Anguish? Speculation about what that will mean for professional sports? Not a bit–the characters nod and hurry on to the next scene.

We’re not supposed to ask such questions, I know. We’re supposed to get wrapped up in the story, and there are some neat ideas in the movie–especially the revelation that Area 51, the government’s “secret” base north of Las Vegas, actually does harbor that alien spaceship everybody believes the feds captured in New Mexico in 1948.

The spaceship and some embalmed aliens are guarded far below the earth, and the underground lab is run by the long- haired Dr. Okun (played by none other than Brent Spiner, who is Data on “Star Trek: The Next Generation”). Okun is your classic mad-scientist type, complaining, “They don’t let us out much,” and telling the president, “Guess you’d like to see the big tamale, eh?” As the president readies Earth’s response, it is clear much will depend on a jerry-built solution by David, whom Goldblum plays as a hemming and hawing genius. His plan, after he devises it, depends on fighter ace Steven Hiller (Will Smith) for its delivery. But what Goldblum comes up with, I cannot reveal. No, I insist. I only observe that it is a wonder these aliens have traveled across uncounted light-years of space and yet have never thought of a computer virus protection program. (My theory is that any aliens who could be taken in by this particular plan probably arrived here after peddling across space on bicycles.) For all of its huge budget, “Independence Day” is a timid movie when it comes to imagination. The aliens, when we finally seethe, are a serious disappointment; couldn’t they think of anything more interesting than octopus men? If an alien species ever does visit Earth, I for one hope they have something interesting to share with us. Or, if they must kill us, I hope they do it with something we haven’t seen before, instead of with cornball ray-beams that look designed by the same artists who painted the covers of Amazing Stories magazine in the 1940s.

Still, “Independence Day” is in the tradition of silly summer fun, and on that level I kind of liked it, as, indeed, I kind of like any movie with the courage to use the line, “It’s the end of the world as we know it.”

Additionally, a sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence, is set to come out this year. Like the first, it is directed by Roland Emmerich, and produced and writte by Dea Devlin (Stargate). Will Smith will not be appearing in the film. According to the Den of Geek article, “The potential plot problems with an Independence Day sequel“:

Back in July 2012, we wrote about the long-discussed Independence Day sequel, a film we now learn has been formally greenlit. It’s going to arrive in cinemas in July 2016, but it faces a challenge: there are a surprising number of issues that must be tackled during the creative process, long before we even get to casting or filming.

The concerns with a sequel to Independence Day are not what you might call typical. The original movie’s story was massive, involving the whole world and destruction on a planet-wide scale. Issues with artistic license aside – like the infamous alien computer system being Apple System 7 compatible – there are an awful lot of plot elements that will need to be addressed for a worthwhile sequel.

In the 1996 movie, we are told that “at least 15” city-sized spacecraft separated from the mother ship. And we saw just how huge these smaller spacecraft were when one ominously descended over the New York area, covering Manhattan, Brooklyn and New Jersey in its shadow.

The first issue is the so-called defeat of the alien invaders. In the original movie, a simultaneous, globally-synchronised airstrike is organised using good old-fashioned Morse code. This comes as a result of the Americans discovering a way to disable the aliens’ defense shields.

However, being able to “bring those sons of bitches down” depends entirely on the larger craft having their primary weapon engaged. Again, these ships were truly enormous, and we saw that even when one had been brought crashing to Earth, it was still roughly 50 per cent intact, which means it’s not unreasonable to think that a distress call would have been made warning other alien ships that their shields were down, ship-wide systems seemed to be malfunctioning and all contact with the orbiting mother ship had been lost. Plus, of course, a warning about engaging their primary weapon.

So, would all 15 spacecraft have been destroyed? Without one single ship plotting an emergency evasive course to get the hell out of Earth’s atmosphere? Which then leads to the potential of calling reinforcements. A nice plot element to consider for the sequel.  Or, how about another race – that had also previously been savaged – contacting Earth after the attack to join forces? Another potential story line.

But we have so much still to consider. If a sequel were set within the lifespan of the principal characters, we would have to see the state of the Earth after the attack.

Almost all of the major cities around the world have been destroyed. How long would it take to rebuild New York, or London or Los Angeles or Tokyo? A long time. Would they be rebuilt in the same way, or totally different? Society as a whole would have changed completely as well. We now know, beyond any doubt, that we are not alone in the universe. What are the religious implications?

We also now know that there are extremely hostile forces in the universe and we must rebuild with an aim to be able to defend our fragile little planet.

It is also entirely possible that the war, so to speak, would be far from over. We can only speculate how many crew members might be on one of these huge spacecraft, but it must be assumed that a great many would make it out of the burning wreckage alive. So now we have a situation not unlike Battle Los Angeles,or Falling Skies, or even the second series of V.

Struggles between human and alien forces would rage on. These creatures were pretty intent on leaving nothing left of our poor planet, so we can assume it’s unlikely they’d simply give up. The remains of the world’s armed forces would be engaged in day-to-day combat, as would human resistance groups.

What would the aliens try to achieve during this ground war? Perhaps re-establishing communications with any remaining ships to call for reinforcements. Or perhaps simply a relentless, to-the-death struggle to still try and wipe humans from the face of the planet. This could make a great TV series…oh, damn.

And what of the wreckage that is burning? That much smoke will undoubtedly have the same effect as many volcanoes belching their ash into the atmosphere. It might sound far-fetched, but depending on how many ships were brought down, they would burn for a long time, generating a lot of smoke.

Materials and technology from the shot-down ships would also find its way into day-to-day life, from cool, new kitchen appliances to weapons and defense. Even building materials, possibly affecting how the new New York might look. These ships – once they were safe to enter from dug-in, defending aliens protecting their technology – would take many, many years to shift, forming a longstanding reminder until they could be completely disposed of.

How would the people of Earth react in the long term to all of this? Would every petty squabble between races be resolved in favour of turning our unified attention to the stars? In Star Trek history, this more or less happens after World War III, when the Vulcans introduce themselves on April 5, 2063. Poverty, war, famine, disease are all gone. “It unites humanity in a way no one thought possible,” Deanna Troy explains.

After all, human life on Earth has nearly been wiped out at the end of Independence Day, so a long-term projection could easily fit the profile of a Roddenberry-inspired future – that is, once all the remaining alien soldiers had been killed, and Earth had been rebuilt. Fingers crossed they didn’t get a last minute call off to the rest of the alien fleet.

Alternatively, poorer nations that had been largely ignored by the aliens during the initial extermination phase might rise up to seize their opportunity in the post-apocalyptic nightmare. Western nations, on their knees, are in thrall to them because their infrastructure no longer exists. World order changes totally. Unity should have been the result, but instead the people of Earth are even more fractured than they were before.

So what road could a sequel take? What new stories could be focused on, and what could be achieved within the world that was created in the aftermath of the original movie?

We can only wait and see.

 

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