For one, I’d like to complain to the TV people that not one channel is playing Independence Day. However, Turner Classic Movies is playing 1776 and Yankee Doodle Dandy tonight. Also a short subject from 1938 called Declaration of Independence about the deciding vote cast to give King George the finger, which won an Oscar for best short subject. So that will have to do.
I hated “ID4” as it was called, when it first came out, but it has grown on me. Roland Emmerich is probably the most god-awful blockbuster director working today, but this is his best and most enjoyable movie; it’s also one of Will Smith’s best action movies. My co-worker The Mouth from the South says Jeff Goldblum ruins any movie he’s in and used this as an example; he was a little annoying, playing his Ian Malcolm science douche from Jurassic Park again, but he doesn’t ruin the movie any more than anyone else does. Roland Emmerich is just incapable of subtlety, and it pained me to look at his IMDb page and see that he’s directing 2012, in which the Mayan calendar ending must signify the coming of androgynous alien Egyptian leaders to tell us global warming is bad. And also a remake of Fantastic Voyage, in which androgynous aliens and ignorance of global warming is causing someone heart disease, so we have to shrink ourselves down and preach about it from inside their left ventricle.
But Independence Day is pretty good. It’s essentially a remake of The War of the Worlds– the great George Pal one from 1953, which is still great cheesy fun today, with delightfully garish colors. Even Spielberg’s boring remake is inferior except for the special effects. ID4 just updates the plot and uses huge saucers instead of tripods, and instead of bacteria killing them, it’s a virus of another kind, a computer virus. Sure, you could be a nitpicking nerd and complain about how a Mac could connect to some alien computer network and disable it, but who cares? It was a cute update.
Sure it was full of feel-good stuff like Randy Quaid giving the aliens a rectal probe missile up the mothership’s ying-yang, Vivica Fox and her dog that can outrun explosions, and how blowing up the First Lady makes the President stop being such a pussy. Jeff Goldblum is hardly annoying compared to Judd Hirsch and Harvey Fierstein, and thankfully at least one of them dies at the hands of alien death rays. At least Judd Hirsch gets a few moments where he’s funny, reminding me of his days on “Taxi.” It was better than every Star Trek nerd in the theater cooing when Brent Spiner showed up.
It’s frightening to realize that it’s already 12 years since it came out, and the effects are beginning to look dated. They hold up just enough, but they were smart to use latex critters for the aliens, instead of CG. For example in Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow, the CG wolves were the worst part. No, wait a minute, everything about that steaming turd was the worst part. I can’t wait to see 10,000 B.C. on cable so I can see how much better Caveman and Quest for Fire are.
Independence Day is good popcorn fun- it’s not really preachy, it’s a little on the long side, and it requires a hell of a lot of suspension of disbelief, but compared to Emmerich’s other insulting films it’s the cream of the crop. Sure, unlike stuff like the John Adams mini-series, it has nothing to do with what July 4th is about celebrating- the balls it took to break away from the world’s greatest power at the time. The war took seven years, our longest war until Vietnam, or Iraq if you’re John McCain.
And now we celebrate it by seeing who can stuff the most hotdogs in their face. The current reigning champion is Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, who can eat 66 in 12 minutes.