For an American movie celebrating an American holiday, Independence Day is surprisingly multicultural. Sure, this multiculturalism is mostly limited to American melting pot-ism, but there are some well-intended attempts at including the rest of the world too. As Bill Pullman's Mr. President assures us,
the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: 'We will not go quietly into the night!' We will not vanish without a fight! We're going to live on! We're going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!
Or just watch it.
As enjoyable as brotherhood-of-man disaster movies can be, Independence Day also has a little something extra: The Jeff.
Don't, uh, don't, uh, now don't... get EXCITED.
Yes! Yes, PPCC Readership, yes, in the PPCC's third installment of the Evil Mainstream series, we are once again in the capable hands of Jeff Goldblum. Here we can marvel at the usual bottle-cap glasses of Jeff, the particularly Jeffish way he reads his lines ("...uh....yes."), and, of course, the haircut! Everything, in all its Jeffly glory!
However, once again, the PPCC is called the PPCC, not the PPJeff. So what about the movie?
Raaaah! Alien destruction!
The film opens efficiently. A great shadow is cast over the moon, and a scene later, scientists in that satellite dish field (featured prominently in the wonderful Contact) pick up a Signal. As is common to films of this type, the Signal is not just a signal but a Signal. And it is quickly discovered to be emanating from a large alien spaceship which is making its way deliberately towards Earth. As the aliens loom ever closer, we are introduced to a wide cast of characters, spanning several major ethno-cultural groups of America: the WASPish President Wittmore (Bill Pullman), African-American Steve (Will Smith) and his girlfriend Jasmine (Vivica Fox), Jewish math whiz David (The Jeff) and his father (Judd Hirsch), and finally Vietnam veteran and alcoholic Russell (Randy Quaid) and his three Latino children.
Much excitement ensues as each character faces the alien attack in their own special way: some escaping Washington DC by Air Force One, some New Mexico by trailer home, and some Manhattan by bicycle. There are the iconic scenes of the Empire State Building and the White House exploding as a great alien beam of evil alienness is cast into them. People scream and flee for their lives. Buildings crumple and crunch and snap. It's all very satisfying in the usual disaster movie way.
Raaaah! Alien tentacles and alien juice, gross and yet oddly compelling!
Raaaah! Will Smith kickin' it in a jump suit! PEACE!
But what's even more satisfying is the even weight given to each character's subplot and each character's role in the inevitable human victory over the aliens. A whole spectrum of American society is presented. Sure, we could argue that the ethno-cultural groups are all superficial stereotypes: the anxious Jewish father who might greet the aliens with an Oy vey!, the African-American brother yelling Peace! to the alien leader, the President's daughter's Victorian-era doll dresses (honestly, though, who dresses their children like that?). The non-Americans fare a little worse, as usual: jolly old chap British RAF pilots, highly ruralized Zulu warriors emerging from the bush to prod a spaceship with their walking sticks. But the message is genuine: humanity is united in the face of an external threat. It is also uplifting, in that few characters have faults or problems that last through the alien invasion: Randy Quaid's alcoholic good-for-nothing heroically redeems himself and earns his children's pride, the Jeff's 3-year rift with his ex-wife is healed, Will Smith marries his stripper girlfriend (social sanctions be damned). And yea, all is well on planet Earth.
Raaaaah! Steely-eyed President Pullman with his steely-eyed glare of STEEL!
The film's presentation is classic sci-fi B-movie. Everyone either plays their celebrity persona (the Jeff as the Jeff, Will Smith as Will Smith), or else a caricature of a comic book hero (Bill Pullman). The music is unexceptional, and the cinematography is standard. In fact, one scene - where the tidal wave of fire is pouring through the Manhattan streets - has the exact same perspective as a similar scene in the recent War of the Worlds, another classic alien invasion film. Indeed the film is fairly pedestrian in terms of craft, but, oh, it's just so fun when those aliens crawl into the airspace. For this reason - and the PPCC weighs entertainment value equal with intellectual stimulation - we recommend this movie in all its popcorn-blitz glory.
Raaaaah! Thank you, come again!