Wednesday, July 13, 2016


“Welcome to Earth!”

This month marks the 20th anniversary of Roland Emmerich’s INDEPENDENCE DAY.

INDEPENDENCE DAY, commonly referred to as ID4, was very much done in the spirit of the alien-invasion flicks of the 1950’s, sharing a lot of DNA with WAR OF THE WORLDS or THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. With a simple plot of aliens arriving at Earth with giant spaceships and eventually attacking, only to be fought off by the efforts of human beings from all walks of life bonding together, it was classic storytelling of good vs. evil done with a big budget and bold decisions.

The first idea for ID4 came by director Roland Emmerich during a press tour for his 1994 film STARGATE, when a question from the press had him questioning his own beliefs about life in outer space. The original idea was to have the aliens arrive on Earth and in secret, but Emmerich eventually asked the question, that if you were arriving from another planet, “would you hide on a farm or would you make a big entrance”? Emmerich and his producing partner Dean Devlin wrote the screenplay with such a beginning in mind, and the project was greenlit by 20th Century Fox.

ID4 was a visual effects heavy film, but it was still character-driven which meant casting would be crucial. One of the boldest moves was casting rapper Will Smith in the important role of Capt. Steven Hiller, a cocky yet born-leader-type fighter pilot. The role was only Smith’s 5th film credit, with his work in the drama SIX DEGREES OF SEPERATION (1993) earning him the attention for ID4. Jeff Goldblum was cast as David Levinson, a satellite technician would play an important role in defeating the aliens, and the rest of the strong cast included Bill Pullman (fresh off another galactic adventure, SPACEBALLS), Judd Hirsch, Vivica Fox, Margaret Colin, Mary McDonnell, Randy Quaid, Adam Baldwin, Brent Spiner, Harry Connick Jr., and the late great Robert Loggia and James Rebhorn.

ID4 would be one of the first films to rely heavily on computer-generated graphics, but the filmmakers still had a reliance on the old-school model-making ways. The iconic shot of the White House being destroyed by a laser blast was actually a large model, and thousands of model buildings, jet fighters, and alien ships were built and destroyed on film. Despite sticking to the old way of visual effects, the leaps in CGI that ID4 made would help usher in the CGI era and change filmmaking forever.

The impact that ID4 would have on the industry began even before the film was released. It was the first film to market itself during the Super Bowl, and the now-historic trailer would set a trend which continues to this day. As the film got closer to release, commercials were aired under the guise of an actual news broadcast of aliens arriving; marking the beginning of viral marketing years before the term would become a household name.

The approach worked. ID4 was the highest grossing film of 1996, and for a time was the 2nd highest grossing film of all time, second only to Steven Spielberg’s JURASSIC PARK (1993). Today, it sits as the 51st highest grosser of all time, and in 1996 TIME Magazine featured the film on its cover, saying that science fiction had finally become a legitimate genre in movies again. ID4 was nominated for two Oscars, winning one for Best Visual Effects. David Arnold’s patriotic score would win a Grammy.


INDEPENDENCE DAY is a fully-functional thriller of a film. It is exciting and tragic, funny and devastating, and loaded with spectacle while never losing sight of its characters. The story structure, which often references a chess-game in which all pieces are put in the right place, can easily be a taught in any film or screenwriting 101 class. ID4 made history in the way it was conceived, made, and marketed…and is certainly responsible for bringing the modern summer blockbuster model to where it is today. This Blogger fondly remembers watching ID4 in the theatre in the summer of 1996, being blown away by the visuals, and also wondering just how exactly the good guys were going to win against such massive odds. It was an emotional roller-coaster of a film, and once Bill Pullman’s character of the U.S. President gave his rousing and iconic speech, something akin to the St. Crispin’s Day Speech or Quint’s calm-before-the-storm monologue from JAWS, there seemed to be hope…and that was part of the great storytelling by Emmerich and Devlin. By the time the film wrapped and David Arnold’s magnificent bravado score kicked in, it sent this Blogger and his friends flying out of the theatre, ready to take on the world. Today, this Blogger watches INDEPENDENCE DAY once a year, always on or around the 4th of July, as the film has become part of the holiday just as much as our fireworks.

“Today, we celebrate our Independence Day!”


This Blogger was pleased to be a guest on the Hi-5 Podcast celebrating the 20th anniversary of INDEPENDENCE DAY. You can listen to it HERE.

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