Junkfood Cinema: Independence Day

By  · Published on July 1st, 2011

Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema; we will not go quietly into the night. You are about to read one of the worst internet columns in the history of mankind. No longer consumed by our petty need for legitimately good films, we here at Junkfood Cinema are united by our common interest in the utterly schlocky.

First we will examine how the chosen film has earned its freedom from the tyranny of nuance and the oppression of critical measures of quality. We will then triumphantly raise our voices to proclaim what it is about the film that allows it to survive total annihilation and win not only the day, but our hearts as well.

Finally, we will pair the film with an appropriately themed snack food item in order to prove that our waistlines will not vanish without a fight.

Today we celebrate Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day!

What Makes It Bad?

Independence Day is a prefab blockbuster; a paint-by-numbers money-maker. It’s got enough aliens, F-18s, and ‘splosions to keep the chubby wrists of middle America shoveling popcorn into their agape mouthholes by the fistful. It politely puts on the airs of plot and character development that are as thin as the plastic surrounding of its inevitable Happy Meal toys. Independence Day is a sci-fi movie for those who found War of the Worlds way too cerebral. In many ways, it’s the ideal Junkfood movie: all the filler of pure cinematic spectacle without the pesky hindrance of intellectual content. It’s merely a slick, attention-span-deprived delivery system for special effects and catchphrases.

And jumping Jupiter beans does this movie have catchphrases. Independence Day is less a movie and more a cinematic Chatty Cathy doll with an unbreakable pull string. The movie has more catchphrases than the Stallone family board game night. Not surprisingly, much of the credit for this dubious distinction goes to Will Smith, whose mouth is like a sieve out of which pours the cheesiest, most eye-rolling statements that are just removed enough from stating the obvious to make him seem cool. He wants to “whoop E.T.’s ass,” he has ‘got to get [him] one of these,” and he desperately wants to welcome you to “Earf;” a planet apparently in the Vaguely Racist Galaxy. But seriously, given the brief period in which Hollywood was unable to make a movie between the months of May and August without Will Smith, we should expect nothing less than his constant hamming and his incessantly getting jiggy with it…”it” being Miami Heat levels of hubris. This is a man who actually believes seeing a space ship in flight is the only prerequisite for flying a spaceship. All I’m saying is that it’s a good thing Will didn’t watch a lot of surgery videos in the late 90s or he may have actually tried to remove DJ Jazzy Jeff’s spleen; Medical Review Boards just don’t understand.

But what’s really surprising is how equitably the catchphrase load is shared by Jeff Goldblum. Because when I think of male stars in summer blockbusters that earn trillions of dollars and have people flocking to theaters by the thousands, I think of about 300 other actors ‐ including Rodney Dangerfield and Michael Dudikoff ‐ and THEN I think of Jeff Goldblum. While he does bring his signature neuroses and bizarre hand gestures to the screen, he is entrusted with many of the film’s most memorable one-liners. Granted, and true to his nature, he does false start his way through most of them which effectively makes it appear as if he had cerebral hiccups while memorizing his lines. Not only that, but the on-the-noseness of his most quotable lines makes Will Smith seem the most biting social satirist in cinema. When he notices the countdown TIMEr on hiS computer’s heads-UP display has run down to zero, he flashes Shakespearean levels of wit through his glasses and keenly observes, “time’s up.” Only Aaron Sorkin can cut to the quick of the human experience so adeptly…or possibly John Madden. Given the sheer number of catchphrases presented to him by the script, it’s wholly unforgivable that he shamelessly recycles one from Jurassic Park…”must go faster, must go faster.”

Independence Day has a scorching case of Quaid, and not the good one. The casting director must have engaged in an epic search for comedic relief, apparently oblivious to the inherent comedy of Independence Day’s script, that inexplicably landed just south of ChrisFarleyburgh and just west of AdamSandler Town in the desolate wastelands of RandyQuaidville. Quaid plays a pilot who has been suffering from delusions and emotional disturbances since the early 70s…okay, I suppose I buy the casting. He is also accidentally responsible for saving the human race…now you’ve lost me. In between, Quaid delivers moment after moment of “maybe I’ll see what else is on” inclinations. His half-drunk railings as he takes part in the climatic aerial attack are akin to listening to that uncle of yours whom no one calls at Christmas all hopped up on turpentine and cooking sherry and get waaaaaaay too into the football game on TV. It isn’t a stretch to assume he’s the kind of guy who’d salute a voice on the radio as if they somehow had the ability to see him doing it…because he actually does that in the film. If I had to guess, I’d suspect it wasn’t his acting, which is just plain abysmal, that landed him a role in one of the biggest movies of all time but rather his stunning good looks.

There is an extended cut of this film available on the DVD that seeks to address some of the film’s plot holes. For example, there is a scene in which Randy Quaid explains to the folks at the air force base that his youngest son has a disease affecting his adrenal cortex; two words Randy Quaid surely uses on a daily basis. In another deleted scene, we see Vivica A. Fox’s son and his dog sitting quietly in the office of the strip club where she works. Forget the mammoth plot chasm that a Windows-95-created virus somehow seamlessly integrates and affects alien technology or that an entire team of government scientists couldn’t deduce what one twitchy cable repairman accidentally found in the alien signal. They studied an alien race for fifty years and still don’t know how to effectively anesthetize them or check for vitals? The fact that Vivica A. Fox is a stripper? No, no you’re right, Special Edition DVD, we really just needed closure on the two most problematic leaps in logic: where Dylan went while mommy stripped and why that kid in the RV threw up once. Thanks for tying up the loose ends.

Why I Love It!

It’s adorable that President Bill Pullman makes a point about how the 4th of July will no longer be considered an American holiday. The truth is, Independence Day is about the most imperialistic sci-fi film ever made. It’s essentially America flexing its metaphorical nuts for 145 minutes. What do I mean? Several ships break off from the mothership and position themselves around the world, right? But which cities do we actually see destroyed? New York, L.A., and Washington melon-farmin’ D.C.! Mention is made that other cities around the world have been similarly leveled, but we don’t care because lady liberty’s all akimbo. That’s what gets our Toby Keith-ish ire up. And notice how once Jeff Goldblum comes up with the absolutely not-at-all-far-fetched plan to take down the aliens, what is the rest of the world doing? Waiting around for the U.S. of A to deliver instructions on how to take those bastards down. So basically, as much as we are maligned for policing the world, when the intergalactic shit hits the fan, the rest of the world cowers in the corner while big brave America does all the work? And a German made this movie?!

Roland Emmerich sure does like to blow crap into smaller bits of crap, doesn’t he? His body of “work” has spawned the inception of a entirely new subgenre of film: Disastersploitation. The guy makes an art out of leveling entire cities and nuking major landmarks. It started with ID4, then he not only flattened a major city but a major franchise with his Godzilla remake, followed by The Day After Tomorrow, and finally 2012; in which he ended the whole goddamn world! He’s really good at what he does…suspiciously good. I have a theory about Roland Emmerich’s youth that may have woefully informed his later career choices. I envision a young Roland being dragged roughly by the arm from major landmark to major landmark by an angry, alcoholic father who would beat him with a frozen pot roast if he didn’t perfectly recite a litany of trivia about each one. The rage at this abuse boiled up inside this tiny little German until it manifested itself as extended ejaculatory special effects sequences involving buildings toppling like epileptics at a rave.

I am embarrassingly in love with this film. Something deep within me, something my therapist says I shouldn’t acknowledge anymore, stirs with unabashed excitement every time I hear Bill Pullman recite that speech or when Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum come marching victoriously out of the desert. The effects shots have aged remarkably well and, though not flawless, still hold up to even the most cynical scrutiny. I love every dopey line, every hackneyed plot point, and every glorious cliche. I will never forgive myself for passing on seeing this in theaters when I was twelve. What did I opt to see instead? What cinematic triumph could have possibly torn me away from one of the greatest summer movies of all time? Kazaam starring Shaquille O’Neal. Checkmate.

Junkfood Pairing: Coca-Cola

Honorable mention goes to the various beers of the Independence Brewing Company. At first I chose this junkfood merely because it is one of the only product placements in the film. But then I started thinking about what Coca-Cola represents.

It’s a sugary, syrupy treat of almost no substance that is especially refreshing in the summer months…much like Independence Day. Also, it’s an American institution that has expanded its influence all over the world. I can imagine the British, Iraqi, and Japanese military forces enjoying ice cold Coca-Cola while waiting for the U.S. to tell them what to do.

While you were reading this, you let the burgers burn on the grill. Since they’re ruined and your family hates you already, why not read more Junkfood Cinema?

Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.