Independence Day Brings the Fireworks

This year is the 25th anniversary of the release of the first Jurassic Park. For most of us at Cinedelphia, it is a film that has defined what we look for in a summer blockbuster. So what better time than now to revisit the last 25 years of summer blockbusters and pick our favorites? View the criteria and full introduction here, and the whole series here.

22. Independence Day (dir. Roland Emmerich, 1996)

For all of its wear and tear, especially in light of all the horrible disaster epics it spawned, Roland Emmerich’s alien disaster epic got many things very right and is still an enjoyable blockbuster in every sense of the word. While the special effects were unparalleled back then and made for memorable trailers that everyone talked about, in a simpler time when exploding monuments evoked wonder instead of outright fear, it wasn’t just an SFX extravangza. Independence Day literally launched Will Smith into the stratosphere of stardom (while Fresh Prince and Bad Boys came before it, Smith himself attributes ID4 as his claim to fame). Smith’s charisma in this movie is undeniable, with one-liners rivaling that of Schwarzenegger in his heyday. Add to that a still red-hot Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman delivering one of the greatest presidential speeches ever given, real or fictional, and you have a movie that is still making its rounds in the cultural zeitgeist today. Forget its sequel and the rest of the Roland Emmerich disaster movies that ID4 afforded him; Independence Day truly is one of the best summer blockbusters ever made. —Jeff Piotrowski

Maybe this is because it happened during my formative years, but the high water mark for special effects seems to have been the early to mid 1990s. Industry legends who had come up during 70s and 80s, inventing new techniques for Star Wars and The Terminator, were at the top of their game when it came to making practical effects look as good as possible. Computer Generated Images (CGI) we’re new, having come to promince in key scenes of Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Jurassic Park, and Pixar’s landmark Toy Story. But practical effects were still tried and true, looked better, and were cheaper, so CGI was reserved for things that couldn’t be done any other way.

So films like Independence Day and Starship Troopers got to enjoy both of these worlds, and is one reason why they both hold up so well today. The money shot of the White House being destroyed and the fighter planes dogfighting alien ships used different techniques to capture the scale and scope of an alien invasion story that felt like it was happening worldwide. Emmerich wanted the aliens to make a big entrance. Without this commitment, the film would have felt smaller scale and not as effective. This video about the production shows a lot of cool stuff, including how big the White House model really is:

I wasn’t able to see Independence Day in the theater, because my parents were concerned it would be scary (they would have been right, but just for the one scene in the lab. In hindsight, exposure therapy would have maybe been a better idea?). Regardless, the film captured my imagination, spurring some trips to the library to read about UFOs, and trying to understand if there was intelligent life out there. At a time when I was young enough to think that Close Encounters was boring because you didn’t get to see enough aliens, Independence Day provided the bombast to capture my attention.–Ryan Silberstein

Author: Jeff Piotrowski

Jeff Piotrowski is a fanatic movie buff and self-appointed critic living in the Philly suburbs. He enjoys a good beer, a sunny day, and has a beautiful wife whose favorite past time is disagreeing with him. He also hosts the Life + the movies Podcast.

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