On this day in Film History: Independence Day (1996) or, The Aliens are coming!

independence_day_poster

Twenty years ago, on July 3rd, 1996, Independence Day was unleashed on the cinematic world. The plot follows an Earth that is unexpectedly surrounded by twenty mile wide spaceships that begin to position themselves over various major cities around the world. While President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) urges caution while simultaneously facing the reality that humanity really isn’t alone in the universe, panic begins to spread throughout the cities as no one is sure if these aliens have come in peace or not. Across the country, David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), a computer expert trained at MIT, is able to hack into an alien signal and discovers the truth: the aliens are counting down to something, and given the relative positions of the ships, it’s likely not something good. Racing to warn the President, the White House is evacuated and Air Force One barely lifts off in time as the countdown hits zero. Simultaneously across the world, the strange ships open up and emit a destructive laser beam that completely obliterates cities for miles in every direction.

Overnight, humanity has been decimated, and when an initial assault fails, and even nuclear weapons prove ineffective against the aliens shielding, all seems lost. However, it seems the human race has a secret weapon: Area 51 (which turns out to be a real base full of pilfered alien technology). It seems that the Roswell crash consisted of a scout ship from the alien fleet, a scout ship that is still in perfect working order. A plan is hatched to create a computer virus that will disable the aliens shields long enough for an organized military force to disable the huge spaceships. David and Captain Hiller (Will Smith) are sent on this near-suicide mission while President Whitmore, a former fighter pilot, leads a large force of planes to attack a nearby ship. Ultimately, the day is saved and the aliens are defeated…for now anyways.

I’m not sure how old I was when I first saw this movie, but given that I remember spending most of the film hiding in sheer terror, I think I was too young to see it. There was something strangely mesmerizing about the scenes of epic destruction. Even though I knew it was just a movie, I still felt horrified at the implied extreme loss of life. And the aliens…*shudders* I hate those things, they’re ugly and scary. The scene where Dr. Okun is forced to speak for the alien via a tentacle around his throat is horrifying and spine-chilling to watch, but Brent Spiner puts in a command performance as the eccentric scientist. Also, watching the annoying Secretary of Defense get fired is a very satisfying moment.

Independence Day is one of those films that you should see at least once. For its day, it set the bar for destruction films.

*poster image is the property of 20th Century Fox

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