Cinematic Flashback: Independence Day (1996) Review

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 my latest “cinematic flashback” for 1996’s Independence Day.


“On July 2nd, they arrive. On July 3rd, they strike. On July 4th, we fight back.”

Director: Roland Emmerich

Writer: Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin

Starring: Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, and Randy Quaid

Run Time: 145 minutes

Release Date: July 2nd, 1996

Rated: PG-13


On July 2nd, communications systems worldwide are sent into chaos by a strange atmospheric interference. It is soon learned by the military that a number of enormous objects are on a collision course with Earth. At first thought to be meteors, they are later revealed to be gigantic spacecraft, piloted by a mysterious alien species. After attempts to communicate with the aliens go nowhere, David Levinson, an ex-scientist turned cable technician, discovers that the aliens are going to attack major points around the globe in less than a day. On July 3rd, the aliens all but obliterate New York, Los Angeles and Washington, as well as Paris, London, Houston and Moscow. The survivors set out in convoys towards Area 51, a strange government testing ground where it is rumored the military has a captured alien spacecraft of their own. The survivors devise a plan to fight back against the enslaving aliens, and July 4th becomes the day humanity will fight for its freedom.


I remember I was in 6th grade when I went to see Independence Day in theaters on its opening weekend. Back then, while I did like the movie, I definitely had nightmares about. It’s true. That one scene when Dr. Okun and his team open up the alien and its alive and begins to attack them. And then the nvgext scene with the alien talking saying (via Dr. Okun) “release me…. now!”. Uhhh…. scared the living “crap” out of me when I was younger. Had nightmares for weeks. However, as I grew older, I did learn to appreciate the movie as Independence Day has become a “classic” sci-fi in my catalogue of movies.

Directed by Roland Emmerich, Independence Day is ambitious / large-scale sci-fi feature for its time, examining the classic “what if” scenario of extraterrestrial came to Earth and not as benevolent otherworldly creatures, but rather as aggressive and hostile, with the intent of eradicating humanity from existence. While it wasn’t a relatively new idea from Hollywood with the variations of War of Worlds adaptations as well as other B-rated sci-fi features of the past, but Emmerich made the movie grand and big…filled with large-scale expansiveness within its sci-fi tale. To me, Emmerich makes the film’s three acts quite distinct, with the first act filled with mystery and suspense (i.e. the aliens arriving on Earth and positioning their ships around the world), the second act filled with 90s style action and some scary alien sci-fi moments, and the third act for a grand Hollywood conclusion. Emmerich also makes the film like a disaster movie, with a barrage of explosions and destruction mayhem throughout the movie. Though the film’s script, which was penned by Emmerich as well as Dean Devlin might come off as a bit cheesy at various parts of the feature, the movie itself works and definitely adds a certain “blockbuster fun” to the proceedings, especially for its time (i.e. the mid 90s).

The film’s technical presentation was also another big highlight that many liked about the movie. The special effects for Independence Day were revolutionary (for its time) and are still (at least in my opinion) still hold up today. Of course, there are a few scenes that can easily be seeing as “green scene” shots, but a person has to remember that the movie was created during the early days of CGI effects and to fully utilized that technology for an expansive sci-fi feature endeavor was quite remarkable. Even still, the movie also usage of props and sets pieces were also well-utilized as well as the usage of puppetry and physically prosthetics in the depiction of some of the aliens. I mean…. the whole sequences of “opening up” the alien in the Area 51 scene was quite frightening (i.e. “the hand is moving”). As a result, the entire film looks quite real looking and quite cinematically frightening (in a good way), especially since this is a sci-fi disaster film…. more so than a CGI visual laden movie of today’s variety.

Of course, the movie did have its faults to various areas. For starters, the vast amount of characters that the film tries to shine a “spotlight” are too far and wide. Of course, some characters get more screen-time than others, but some feel inconsequential to the feature itself; only making a minor splash of importance on certain events and / or sequences. Perhaps the next one is that Independence Day certain does feel long and does have several scenes that could’ve been trimmed down or omitted (i.e. the whole aerial dog fight in the canyons and the “first lady” sub-plot). Plus, I always felt that the David’s way of finding “how” to defeat the aliens is a bit hokey (more of a plot device mechanic than actually stumbling upon the idea) …. if you know what I mean.

While I mentioned the cast is very large, the cast itself is pretty good, with the selected acting talents of actors and actresses being admirable in their respective characters in the movie. Of course, I movie like this doesn’t require heavily thespian dramatic, but rather bold and large-than-life iterations (again, speaking the summer blockbuster variety), which the cast of Independence Day does certainly well. While his roles on Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Bad Boys most likely got actor Will Smith the role of Captain Steven Hiller in the movie, Independence Day certain catapulted Smith’s career forward in Hollywood, with the musician / actor getting more prominent roles after Independence Day. Still, in the end, Smith brought a certain charm / swagger the character of Hiller, which the character fun and likeable right from the off. Likewise, actors Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman certainly brought their own certain type of bravado and charisma to their respective roles David Levinson and President Thomas J. Whitmore. The film’s other acting talents (i.e. McDonnell, Loggia, Quaid, and Fox, etc) act as the film’s supporting characters and do bring give nuances aspects and dialogue lines to both their characters and to the film’s narrative.

Of course, the success of Independence Day has been acclaimed as a defining “trendsetter” for summer blockbusters releases. It was definitely a large-scale endeavor and showed what Hollywood could do with a cinematic blockbuster, which propelled the industry to make much larger and expansive feature films (something akin to what is presented in today’s recent endeavors). In addition, the release of Independence Day also reopened the sci-fi door to the forefront of moviegoers during the mid-90s, which (again) started a trend of Hollywood releasing more sci-fi movies the following subsequent years. Then there is the release of Independence Day: Resurgence, the long-awaited sequel to the 1996 film, which (whether you liked it or not) was a commercial and critical letdown. We waited 20 years for a sequel to the movie, but this one was a complete dud.

Still, despite that terrible sequel installment, 1996’s Independence Day stands as a spectacle sci-fi blockbuster. Yes, it’s not the most perfect blockbuster film out there and does have its problems as well as being quite nonsensical cheesy, but it is still quite endearing and certainly has cemented its place in movie’s history as a somewhat “turning point” for sci-fi genre in the 90s era of theatrical motion pictures as well as for Hollywood blockbusters in general. Whatever your stance on this movie, Independence Day is awesome “popcorn” flick that’s worthy of your viewing time.

Cinematic Flashback Score: 4.3 Out of 5


Fun Fact: The actual aliens of the film are diminutive and based on a design Patrick Tatopoulos drew when tasked by Roland Emmerich to create an alien that was “both familiar and completely original”. These creatures wear “bio-mechanical” suits that are based on another design Tatopoulos pitched to Emmerich. These suits were 8 feet (2.4 m) tall, equipped with 25 tentacles, and purposely designed to show it could not sustain a person inside so it would not appear to be a “man in a suit”. :#3


  • Great review – and a great movie. You and I both reviewed it for this year’s 4th of July.

  • Love the flashback! I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It was action packed, a little heavy on the one-liners and cheesy humor, and just a lot of fun in general. SMACK. “Welcome to earth!” Great stuff.

    • Oh yeah, I agree. It was definitely a product of its time and it still holds up. Love it. Definitely a fun (cheesy) blockbuster feature from Hollywood. Wish that the sequel was better…..

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