Independence Day

Fireworks from Space

Nearly every country in the world seems to have some kind of independence day holiday, and they all celebrate the same way – by blowing up stuff real good! It’s some kind of shared tension/release effect that brings us all closer together.

Think about it: ever since Hiroshima blew up, the USA and Japan have never been closer. Sensing this odd human condition which connects spectacular explosions with brotherly love, director Roland Emmerich satisfies it perfectly with the most explosive sci-fi epic ever made. You can criticize it for glossing over pertinent details (see below), or for being overly derivative (see below), but nobody can fault ID4 for the power of its spectacle. It’s big fun from start to finish. The plot: Evil aliens come to Earth and try to exterminate us pesky Earthlings. Survivors band together to find a way to fight back. Ka-BOOM! Ooooh! Aaaaah! Any questions? (Okay, so you’ve got questions. See my below already.)

Independence Day:

The Alien Invasion Explained

Okay, so you’ve seen Independence Day and you’ve got questions. I don’t blame you – the filmmakers chose to keep the story moving quickly and fail to explain very much. Let’s see if I can clear things up a bit – but since I’m making this up from the information in the movie, I could be wrong here and there. [SPOILER WARNING: If you haven’t seen ID4 yet, you may want to skip reading this until you do. Otherwise, you won’t be surprised by some things, like the fact that the good guys win – oops!]

Man, that mothership was big. Why didn’t it screw up tides and stuff?
Probably because of the kind of propulsion system they use. On a planetary scale, it has no significant relative mass.

Why didn’t they just nuke us?
They wanted to exterminate the humans and move in, using up the planet’s resources. It’s likely they’re also vulnerable to radiation. Nuking the planet would render it useless. Try to avoid it.

Why didn’t they just zap us from orbit?
Their big artillery, those huge plasma cannons, work by projecting a beam of plasma which explodes everything it touches (the explosions spread the plasma further, resulting in a wide circle of destruction). It’s likely the plasma may have dissipated in the atmosphere. The payload must be delivered as close to the target as possible.

Why not destroy all the cities at once?
Not enough of those big artillery discs to go around. Good thing they underestimated us.

Why’d the big discs move so slow?
Only the mothership has interstellar engines. The big discs are meant only to carry the plasma cannons, which probably require immense amounts of energy. Traveling at only a few hundred mph is probably fast enough, especially since the cannons have to recharge.

Why did the aliens use hours and minutes in their countdown?
They didn’t. Goldblum decoded their decaying message and calculated the time left.

With their big ships, why did they need that fleet of li’l saucers?
To mop up. The big plasma cannons can’t get to everything. Plus, they can defend the big disc’s weak spot underneath from attack.

If the ETs are so tough, how come the Fresh Prince could knock one out with one punch?
Though their bio-armor suits are tough (and ugly), the aliens themselves are kind of scrawny. Who can say how weak it was after its crash landing?

How did the heroes find out how the alien saucer works?
They didn’t – but they figured out how to use it, with some adaptations. I can’t build a CD player, but I can use one. Machines are usually designed to be as easy to use and maintain as possible (believe it or not).

In Larry Niven’s novel Footfall, aliens took over the Earth by dropping big rocks on us until we gave up. Why didn’t the ET’s do that? And if they have such advanced technology, why didn’t they have anti-virus software? And why didn’t they know Goldblum and Smith were in the ship?
As we learned from the ET P.O.W., they’re a lot like us. It’s entirely possible that they may not even be as smart as us – just a lot more aggressive. They may have stolen all their technology from other races they’ve conquered. They may have been incredibly overconfident and not taken the proper precautions. Also, they’re very different. In Wells’ version of the alien invasion story, the Martians had never invented the wheel. Or maybe it’s because computer viruses are invented by pranksters and anarchists – and maybe they don’t have any. They don’t have any discernible sense of humor, and they work together at all times toward a common purpose.

Won’t they just send more troops next time and beat us for sure?
Who knows? It may well be that the alien forces are so spread out that another bunch will never come. Or there may be plenty more following just behind. It’s up to Devlin and Emmerich whether there’ll be a sequel or not.

How did they find Earth in the first place?
They sent out scouts. We foolishly let one phone home.


Independence Day steals from (or pays tribute to, depending on your point of view) bits, pieces, and big chunks of other works. Here’s a quick guide. If you think of any more, let me know. [SPOILER WARNING: see previous spoiler warning]



Aliens attack Earth An obscure video game called Space Invaders, plus a jillion other sources, starting with H.G. Well’s novel War of the Worlds
ET bullies pick on moon before attacking Earth Superman 2
Begins with huge spaceships taking position over Earth’s cities Arthur Clarke’s novel Childhood’s End (in pre-production for about 15 years); the TV series V
Well intentioned (but dumb) crowd greets ETs War of the Worlds, Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Scientist hero decodes ET message Earth vs. the Flying Saucers
Captured ET gets loose and raises ruckus behind glass-walled lab Aliens, Lifeforce
Cool f/x dogfights Hell’s Angels, Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars, Flying Tigers, etc., etc., etc.
ETs use hi-tek weapons against family dog Everybody’s favorite Mars Attacks! Card
Saucers zap famous landmarks War of the Worlds, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, The Mysterians
Nukes won’t stop ‘em War of the Worlds, Kronos
Alien menace vulnerable to virus War of the Worlds
Humans invade enemy HQ to deliver payload Star Wars, Return of the Jedi, Guns of Navaronne,  Thunderball, etc.


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