Saturday, November 10, 2012

Will Smith: Independence Day

Independence Day. One of my favorite Will Smith movies, though I couldn't honestly tell you why. It has everything...action, comedy, romance, aliens, Will Smith. We venture out into space, because that's what humans do...So obviously that's an open invite for aliens to come pay us a visit in return, right?

I love how the movie starts with 'It's the End of the World as We Know It' in the background. Bored kid in some space station, left there because nothing ever happens...and of course, that's where they first hear the alien signal from the moon. Then we switch from the scientists in their PJs to the military machos in their uniforms with their pet scientist in his glasses.

The first part of this movie seems to center on introducing characters and lots of them. Bill Pullman plays President Thomas J. Whitmore. Personally, I will always see him as the dad from Casper, but he pulls off the President of the United States fairly well, too. The First Lady's name is Marilyn Whitmore (Mary McDonnell), and they have a daughter named Patricia (May Whitman). Will Smith plays Captain Steven Hiller who is dating the exotic dancer, Jasmine Dubrow (Vivica A. Fox). Her son, Ross Bagley, is played by her real son, Dylan Dubrow. Then there's David Levinson, played by Jeff Goldblum, who is the ex-husband of Constance Spano (Margaret Colin) and the son of Julius Levinson (Judd Hirsch). Constance is the presidential press secretary, and there is a little drama in that triangle between the president, David and Constance. Then there's, Russell Casse (Randy Quaid), the town alien nut who believes he's been abducted in the past. Writing it out is a little complicated, but the movie pulls all of these storylines together fairly well as it moves forward.

I'm not sure why there are so many 'playing chess in the park' scenes in movies, but I still enjoy them. I've always wanted to be one of those people just sitting around surrounded by old men in their funny hats playing chess. It's interesting watching the play between father (Julius) and son (David), played by Judd Hirsch and Jeff Goldblum. The fatherly advice and the childlike ignoring of it...

You get to see a little of the political mess that the politicians would have to deal with if alien contact was actually made. Dealing with the military and the politicians and the people and the media would definitely lead to some stressful press conferences and secret meetings. There's also the family dramas and the personal relationships and the battle between science and military that is a constant in alien movies. We see the life of the President trying to calm an entire panicky nation, while also trying to keep his own family safe. We see the scientist who has to prove to his ex and to the whole world that he knows what he's talking about. We see the family life of a military man in a world crisis (Will Smith). And we see the ever-present alien-abducted nut job who has a lot to prove.

We get the worldwide montage of aliens entering the atmosphere: Iraq, Persian Gulf, Russia, Hollywood, Washington, San Francisco, New York. This is mixed in with the clips of panic of knowing nothing and instruments not working and having alien technology incoming from many directions and locations.

Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith) and his family wake up oblivious to everything. Going about their normal morning routine, while her son is outside 'shooting the aliens'. It's not until he goes out to get the paper do they finally realize what's going on, and then he finally gets the call to go into work...Don't know what took them so long to call, but I guess he's lower on the call list. Maybe they went alphabetically by first name...

David figures out that the alien signal is a 6 hour countdown to world destruction, comparing it to a chess game, where the entire earth is basically pawns. I guess since this is based in the US, the President would be the king and the first lady the queen. Steve and Jimmy and David and Russ would probably be the knights and rooks. Julius and Constance might be the bishops...And I guess that would make the rest of us pawns...

Of course, no one ever listens to the knowledgeable scientist...especially when the knowledgeable scientist is your ex-husband. It falls to David to go convince everyone that he knows what he's talking about, like it always falls to the scientist to convince the government and the military that they haven't spent their entire life gaining knowledge and that they actually know what a thing or two about what they studied.

'You punched the President?' Just an example of the one-line catches of this movie. I love when movies take a cliche story like aliens and infuse some humor. Watching David work with the President is slightly entertaining. David thought that his wife was having an affair with the President (not the president at the time), so he punched him in the head...And the President takes a couple of minutes to get over that and finally start listening to him.

Just a side note about the technology of the 90s...I love watching movies with the huge cell phones and video cameras and laptops. Watching new movies and then 90s movies is just hilarious, with our iPads and teeny tiny cell phones.

Of course, we try to 'welcome' the aliens, until the president begins to believe David and starts the evacuation of the cities. The attack is minutes away, and we get to see the last second evacuation of the White House. Dramatic laptop countdown and then the cities are shot with alien death rays. The aliens are now officially hostile and now begins the attempt to discover how to fight them...All except those who are dancing on rooftops hoping to meet some aliens...which are, of course, the first buildings to get exploded. Enter the montage of destruction and Air Force One being chased by flames through the sky.

July 3

Major cities have been leveled and we see the tent cities already being erected for those left behind.

First military wave sent at the ships contain our favorite action star, Will Smith, as Captain Hiller. 'You scared?' 'Nope.' And he doesn't look it. Missiles fly dramatically at the ship...and then hit the force field protecting it. Bummer...You mean we can't shoot 'em out of the sky in 3 minutes?? Then their cute little termite ships fly out with their shields and green alien rays. Jimmy and Stevie are the last pilots left, but we lose Jimmy and have that Top Gun moment, though I don't think it's quite as emotional, since we didn't have time to get to know Jimmy as well as we did Goose. Anyway, we get a few more minutes of watching Will Smith outsmart the aliens on his tail, at the expense of his plane. And of course, he immediately starts screaming at the alien inside and punches it in the face. 'Welcome to Earth.' 'Now that's what I call a close encounter.' Welcome to Earth, Will Smith style.

I kind of like that David gets sick on Air Force One. Sounds horrible, but it does make him a little more realistic of a character. And we get to see the charm of his dad, played by Judd Hirsch. I love that guy, especially in the TV show Numbers. He'll always be Bernard's dad to me. (Sorry, mixing my references there a little, but if you picked up on that, good for you!)

Then the nuclear weapon discussion comes up, as it always does. We have to shoot nukes at the aliens, which would kill more Americans, but maybe prevent extinction. But then everyone will shoot their nukes and on and on and on. Then Area 51 comes up...turns out the President didn't even know that it's a real thing! How about that?? We've had space ships and aliens under lock and key this whole time! Who knew?!? Sorry...sarcasm got away from me a little bit there.

It's a little difficult to follow the constant switches between characters, but it provides all the different angles of the situation. Eventually, we get to watch Will Smith dragging his alien captive inside his parachute, screaming at it quite comically. Then he gets a ride with the alien nut job and all the characters start to finally come together at Area 51, with the scientist oompa loompas in their white clean suits. 'They don't let us out much...' No kidding?

We finally get a good look at the aliens in the Area 51 vault. They may not be very different from us in terms of breathing oxygen and tolerating heat and cold...but we definitely don't look the same. They have the stereotypical huge head and tentacles and weird limbs. But they are killable, if we could just get through their force fields and death rays. Thank goodness for scientists and crazy pilots willing to fly alien spaceships into space and fighter jets into death beams...

I love the scene where Will Smith provides his 'clearance' into Area 51. If someone showed me a slimy alien wrapped in a parachute, I'd probably let them through, too. We get to see David make all the Area 51 scientists look bad. He discovers more in the last 12 hours than they have in the last 40 years. Why exactly hasn't he been working there this whole time? I guess the Cable installing companies really need smart guys, too...Now they have their first live alien, thanks to Captain Hiller. Though, having live aliens in the vicinity is not always a great idea...especially when you don't restrain it while conducting a live autopsy. Alien inside the alien...interesting.

Which leads us to the super creepy scene where the alien kills everyone in the lab and speaks using Dr. Okun's body. This is where it becomes clear that there is no chance of peace between the two races. 'What is it you want us to do?' 'Die.' I'd say that makes it pretty clear what they want...

We learn that the US is gonna nuke the aliens, and go immediately to a drama-filled scene between David and his ex-wife, Constance. Interesting switch between action alien sequences and romance drama. We deploy our nukes and guess what?? It doesn't work...Turns out these missiles don't get through their cloaks either...

I really feel for this President, though. He's holding up pretty well for a guy who's in charge of a country being attacked by aliens and who has to tell his little girl that her mom just died and has to figure out how to climb out of this crazy mess and probably put America back together at some point.

July 4

David on the other hand, kind of loses it a little bit. He makes a good argument for killing the earth, though. 'If we screw it up enough, maybe they won't want it anymore.' I love the random 'eureka' moments in these kind of movies, though. David's dad is just talking about catching a cold, and suddenly David knows exactly what to do to fight the aliens. Give the computer a cold and problem solved! Genius. But how do we get the virus to the mother ship? Hmmm...Find someone to fly the alien ship into space and dock with the mother ship and upload the virus and distract the other ships with some sort of explosion to provide time to kill them all with a few minute window...Easy peasy.

I'm glad people still learn Morse code, because that seems to be the only way we will be able to communicate if aliens ever attack. Thank goodness for the Americans coming up with a way to save the world! And then we're left with the wash outs and retired pilots and crop dusters to save the day. But at least we get the epic pep talks that stir our deepest loyalties to human kind. One of Bill Pullman's finest hours.

I also just randomly noticed that these space ships look like the top of Darth Vader's least in the scene where they take the clamps down to show that the one Will Smith is going to fly can, in fact, still fly.

David finally gets to save the world for real instead of just recycling (not to lessen the importance of recycling!). Stevie gets a last minute wedding before he goes off to fly an alien ship into space. And we get to hear the famous 'Independence Day' monologue.

"Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. 'Mankind'. That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can't be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it's fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom...Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution...but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live. To exist. And should we win the day, 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!"
And the President isn't one to sit in a bunker and watch the action. He 'belongs in the air'. We get our emotional good-byes, and then they're off to kill the aliens.

'Good morning, Dave.' My dad just informed me that David's computer waking up is a poke at 2001 A Space Odyssey. One of the reasons, you shouldn't watch movies alone. You'll miss out on those little tidbits :-)

Watching Will Smith learning how to fly a space ship is quite entertaining. The word you never want to here your pilot say...'Oops.' And he finally gets his chance to fly in space. The fight for earth begins! David and Steve get pulled into the mother ship to plant the virus and planes from all over the world are waiting for their chance to take out some aliens. There are a couple dramatic glitches in the plan, but the virus goes through. Apparently, David's computer has an app that talks to alien ships...Thank goodness for that.

We get to watch the normal alien vs. fighter jet dog fight, which is always entertaining. Then we start running out of missiles and aren't doing nearly enough damage with them. So we have to think of other going completely crazy and flying directly into their primary weapon...sounds like a logical idea to me. Trust the alien nut job, Russel, to save the day. 'Up yours!!!' Appropriate.

Aaaaand, the dog lives!!! :-) Always a great part of any movie...

Then we remember Stevie and David stranded in the mother ship, waiting on the fat lady. They're left with 30 seconds to fly a space ship out of the labyrinth that they're stuck in, but if anyone can do it, Will Smith can, right? Of course, there's the scene where the doors are closing and they have milliseconds to get through and then everyone chasing them hits the doors behind them. And the human race still a bunch of cockroaches after the apocalypse. And all these ships conveniently land out in the middle of deserts and empty fields...convenient :-)

Overall, I think this is a great movie. There are obvious scientific questions which seem a little unrealistic, but we are talking about a movie about aliens, so we can't be too picky there. I think another of Will Smith's greats for sure.

I'd kind of want to see a movie that shows the aftermath of this movie. Houston's been nuked, major cities exploded, Area 51 uncovered, the US military down to 15%, NORAD gone, radioactive alien ship debris falling to earth all over the place, 15 huge ships crashed to deal with (probably with a few alien stragglers running around)...It would be an interesting world to see, I think.

Random Facts about Independence Day:
Bill Pullman used the memory of a decayed tooth which was pulled from his mouth in order to come up with a terrified expression when talking with the alien invaders.

In the Special Edition, during the scenes where David is searching for his ex-wife's telephone number, his computer screen displays humorous street names such as "Heresheis Avenue."

Fox first wanted to open the film on Memorial Day and change the name to 'Doomsday' to avoid the fierce competition on July 4th.

The President's speech was filmed on 6 August 1995 in front of an airplane hangar, which once housed the Enola Gay, which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima exactly 50 years earlier on 6 August 1945.

Matthew Perry was originally offered the role of Captain Jimmy "Raven" Wilder but pulled out at the last minute. His father John Bennett Perry plays a secret serviceman in the movie.

Producer Dean Devlin said that well over half the dialogue between Jeff Goldblum, Judd Hirsch and Will Smith was improvised.

Holds the record for most miniature modelwork to appear in one film. It is said more miniatures were used for this film than in any other two films combined. Due to the advances in digital technology since this film's release, most experts believe this record may stand forever. Visual effects supervisor Volker Engel revealed that the fire engine seen tumbling through the air was a model purchased at a toy store.

The line "Elvis has left the building!", which Will Smith yells toward the end of the movie, is translated "Last train to Mikkeli has just left!" on the Finnish DVD. Mikkeli is a town in Finland.

The scene in which Will Smith drags the unconscious alien across the desert was filmed on the salt flats near Great Salt Lake. Smith's line, "And what the hell is that smell?" was unscripted. Great Salt Lake is home to tiny crustaceans called brine shrimp. When they die, the bodies sink to the bottom of the lake and decompose. When the wind kicks up, the bottom mud is disturbed and the smell of millions of decaying bring shrimp can be unenjoyable. Apparently, nobody warned him.

On the salt flats, cast and crew (including Will Smith) wearing long pants still managed to get sunburns on their legs; the white salty surface reflects the sunlight up the pant legs.

The drum rhythm heard during the invasion scenes near the beginning of the film are Morse Code letters D-I-E.

James Brown's distinctive scream was used as a sound effect for the alien energy beam backfiring as Russell's plane crashes into the giant ray gun.

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