We all have questionable taste when we're in high school. It's part of being a teenager; we don't dress great, and we're still in the process of figuring out exactly who we are. It's part of growing up, but that also means that our taste changes and evolves as we get older. For this writer, it also meant that I went from watching movies solely for fun to looking at them with a critical eye. Now that I'm an adult and have been reviewing films professionally for almost eight years, I thought about what it would be like to go back and rewatch my favorite movies from when I was a teenager and see how my opinion of them has changed. That is the concept of Flashback Movies; I take one of my favorite movies from roughly ages fifteen to eighteen and rewatch them, sometimes for the first time in over a decade, and see if I view them any differently. In the first edition, we looked back at The Royal Tenenbaums, which not only I enjoyed as much as I did as a teenager but in a different way and the second entry in the series looks back at The Patriot which I did not enjoy as much as I did when I was younger. This week, in honor of the 4th of July, let's take a look at a movie I thoroughly enjoyed back in the day, Independence Day.
Back in the article for The Patriot, I said that Independence Day held up, but I had to admit it had been quite some time since I had watched the movie proper. It was one of those movies I might have caught pieces of over the years, but when it came to sitting down and watching it all the way through, I couldn't remember the last time I had done that. While Independence Day is far from a perfect movie, the things that make it stumble are hardly any worse for a blockbuster of its time. It takes a little too long to get going, but the slow burn is very much intentional. It's to make the attack on the cities that much more shocking and impactful and man do they still work. It's been almost 20 years since this movie came out, and watching New York, Los Angelas, and Washington D.C. get destroyed is just as visceral today as it was back in 1996. If you want a city destroyed in the most cinematic way possible, you go to Roland Emmerich. Despite all of his flaws, he really knows how to shoot a destruction sequence. 2012 might be a giant mess of a movie, but the earthquake and volcano sequences are worth a google on their own.
There is also something to be said about the cultural zeitgeist that birthed a movie like Independence Day. This was 1996, where people quite literally thought that the concept of world peace could be right around the corner if you lived in America. Vietnam was just far enough in the past, and terrorism and 9/11 were just far enough in the future. The economy was booming, and it really looked like everything was going to be okay. It was a strange time to live through, and the problems of the 90s seem so trivial compared to the problems of today. The Clinton scandal was a big deal but compared to a worldwide pandemic, 9/11, the war in Iraq, and the possibility of a second Trump presidency? It's amazing we ever thought that an affair was that big of a deal. That is the world that Independence Day came into so when, at the end of the movie, everyone comes together to fight one singular threat that didn't seem earnest or far fetched. In 1996 it seemed real, like something that could actually happen again if you were in America.
To rewatch those scenes today, knowing what has happened and seeing what could be on the horizon, it makes the idea of everyone coming together to fight a singular threat the least realistic part of the entire movie. This is a movie about aliens, but the concept of humanity being able to set aside their differences is not something I can wrap my head around now. The scene is good, the speech that Bill Pullman gives is excellent, but it comes across as incredibly earnest and maybe even naive. The movie is sincere, but to watch it now, you cannot ignore the fact that coming together is not something we can exactly see humanity doing. Other alien invasion movies like Arrival have shown humanity coming together for a common goal, but to watch it happen in Independence Day is something else.
This was a movie very much of the moment, which is likely why the sequel failed as badly as it is, aside from just being a really terrible movie. 1996 was really the only time that Independence Day could have been made, which makes it kind of amazing that it holds up at all. Perhaps the sincerity of it all is what makes it work, and it's able to combat the cynicism of the modern age through that and fantastic action scenes alone. Is it a perfect movie? Not by a long shot, and there are some seriously weird things going on there. Did we really need the scene from Africa to show men in loincloths and spears? This is a movie that absolutely holds up when it really shouldn't. You care about the characters no matter how arch they are; the plot holes are silly, but you can breeze by them, and Emmerich puts you on the ground for the disaster scenes, so you feel the loss of human life while also cheering at how amazing they look. This is a movie that I was able to enjoy as a teenager and just as much as an adult to mention it is one of Emmerich's best.