I CAN still remember how excited I was when Independence Day came out.
Back in 1996, I was a junior reporter on my local newspaper when word started to spread about a new sci-fi film.
Don’t forget, this was in the pre-social media days, when we had to rely purely on adverts and actual word of mouth.
Despite that, the drip-drip-drip of expertly crafted pre-publicity ensured the buzz was tremendous and I joined my chief reporter and news editor (Hi Gill and Paul) on an office outing to the cinema on a Friday evening after work.
We squeezed into a full-to-bursting multiplex in Warrington and were – like the people in this sci-fi moment – completely blown away.
Before we go any further I should say that yes, it’s cheesy as hell. Yes, the characters are straight out of the action movie cliche playbook. And yes, it is deep fried Americana with a liberal sprinkling of sacharine as Uncle Sam saves the world again.
And you could fly an alien-sized spaceship through the plot holes – a laptop communicating with alien technology? And bringing it down? And if you destroy alien ships by blowing up their main weapon, surely all the other ships have to do is keep it stored away? And I’d say blowing up a load of alien ships in orbit would have massive ecological consequences – just ask the Ewoks.
But that only matters if you look at this film through the prism of real life – through the medium of cool-o-tainment, it makes perfect sense.
For starters the scale of the film is enormous, with totally realised city-sized spaceships taking full advantage of the growth of CGI technology.
It has a great cast too, especially Jeff Goldblum as the aforementioned computer whiz, Will Smith on the verge of megastardom and my favourite (even though he has little more than a cameo) Brent Spiner as Doctor Oken. Plus Adam Baldwin is in it, always a sign of quality!
There are loads of awesome moments to pick from. Like the slow reveal of the alien ships, or the dogfight in the Grand Canyon, or Smith’s note perfect ‘welcome to Earth’ after laying an alien out with one punch.
But my great sci-fi moment is when the slow-build of tension in the film’s first act is suddenly released as Goldblum’s timer runs out and the saucers kick ass on a city-wide scale (as seen in the only video I could find of it on You Tube :-/).
KA-BLAM!! SHA-BOOM! And other excited exclamations!
Anyway you look at it, that is science fiction magic and rescued the disaster film from the 1970s backwater it had been sleeping in.
It also set the special effects standard that every sci-fi film from then on has had to match, a giant step along the road to District 9 and James Cameron‘s Pandora.
Although shots of American cities being destroyed understandably fell out of favour, and Will Smith’s pay demands soared into outer space, the news that a sequel is now fast approaching is exciting and more than welcome.
Now that’s what I call a close encounter!