Nice to see you, Mr. Goldblum…
I’m really not surprised that Gill decided to host a Jeff Goldblum Blogathon. We used to have Follow Fridays With Jeff Goldblum on Twitter, where a bunch of us would post Goldblum gifs and wish each other a happy weekend and stuff like that (Goldblumers represent!). I figured it was just a matter of time before ol’ Jeff got his own blogathon, and here we are.
When it came to picking a film, my mind went right to 1996’s Independence Day. I was in college when it came out, and I remember the movie set my sci-fi loving friends’ hearts aflutter. It’s no big shock, because the film is well-done. It has all the tried-and-true sci-fi and creature feature elements, plus there’s a lot of humor in it.
For those who may not be familiar with the story, the movie opens on July 2nd. It’s early in the morning, and the government is busily humming. They’ve picked up some weird sounds on their radar. Then a gigantic alien craft comes into Earth’s orbit, drawing our satellites into it like a magnet and smashing them.
Meanwhile, life is still going on sort of normally. In New York, David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) is playing chess with his dad, Julius (Judd Hirsch), before he cycles off to work. It’s made clear right off that David is a genius. He’s also divorced, he’s neurotic about recycling, and he rides his bike right to his cubicle because he’s just that that eccentric. And he’s Jeff Goldblum. When he gets to work, everyone is stressed because their satellites aren’t working and all the TVs in the place look like the pictures are underwater.
In Los Angeles, Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith) is just waking up. He’s a pilot on leave from the Marine Corps, and is looking forward to a relaxing weekend next to a barbecue, with all the usual Independence Day festivities, not to mention time with his girlfriend, Jasmine (Vivica A. Fox) and her little boy, Dylan (Ross Bagley). Steve desperately wants to fly the space shuttle for NASA, but they keep turning him down, and his friend, Jimmy (Harry Connick, Jr.) wonders if it’s because Jasmine is a stripper.
Out in Imperial Valley, the Casse children, Miguel (James Duval), Alicia (Lisa Jakub), and Troy (Giuseppe Andrews) are in their motor home trying to have breakfast and watch The Day the Earth Stood Still when an irate farmer drives up with handfuls of ruined lettuce. The kids’ dad, Russell (Randy Quaid) was supposed to dust his fields for him, and instead is off joyriding in his crop-duster, drunk out of his mind. Russell is a Vietnam vet who claims to have been kidnapped and experimented on by aliens, but all the locals just think he’s a crazy drunk.
Everyone’s plans get derailed when they see giant spaceships appear overhead. They don’t seem to be doing anything, but they’re just there, looking ominous. All weekend leave for military personnell gets canceled, but President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman) doesn’t want the public to panic.
Ahem. They panic. In the major cities where the ships have parked, the roads are jammed with thousands of desperate people trying to leave. Not everyone is petrified, though. Jasmine’s co-worker, Tiffany (Kiersten Warren) has made a blindingly bright “Welcome” sign, because after work she’s headed out to see the spacecraft. Tiffany hopes the aliens will want her, but Jasmine warns her not to do it because she’s got a bad feeling. Jasmine takes Dylan and their dog, Boomer, and heads to El Toro, where Steve is based, but gets there to find it destroyed.
Steve is long gone, anyway. He went up with his fighter squadron to try and take out one of the ships, and they can’t even scratch it, but he ends up making one of the alien fighter ships crash. To say the man is ticked off is an understatement. Steve rips open the alien’s cockpit and gives it a right cross before dragging it across the desert in his parachute.
David has been busy as well. He manages to track the frequency the alien ships are using and he realizes that every hour the signal gets smaller, like a countdown. David has Julius drive him to the White House, where Connie (Margaret Colin), his ex-wife works as Communications Director. He tells everyone they have to get out of Washington. Now. Thomas pooh-poohs it but humors him, and they evacuate in Air Force One. True to David’s prediction, Washington, D.C. is obliterated, starting with the White House. The major cities the alien ships were hovered over are done for as well. What’s especially surreal about these scenes is that the film was released five years before 9/11, and the Twin Towers are among the buildings that get blown up.
Thomas beats himself up for not evacuating the cities sooner. His Cabinet were mostly killed, including the Vice President. His wife, First Lady Marilyn (Mary McDonnell) was on her way back from Los Angeles when her plane was shot down, and he has no idea what happened to her. Now he’s in the air with his remaining staff members and his daughter, Patricia (Mae Whitman) and no idea what to do next.
Well, it turns out that the government knows more about these aliens than they were even letting on to the President, and what better place to share that information than Area 51?
The President and his entourage meet Dr. Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner), who’s been studying the aliens for fifteen years and looks it. He’s got plenty to say, too–the aliens breathe oxygen, but they have no vocal chords, so Okun’s been trying to figure out how they communicate. Area 51 has preserved some alien specimens in giant capsules, and they bear a remarkable resemblance to what Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley saw in the first Alien movie.
The United States not only has specimens, but one of the alien fighter crafts, and according to Dr. Okun, it only started working since its larger counterparts showed up. Now Thomas has to figure out how to get rid of the invaders. He thinks the only thing strong enough are nukes, which is fine and dandy except for that pesky shield all the spacecraft have.
Our principle characters converge on Area 51, and it’s time to cook up a plan. The course of action, which I’m not going to spoil, seems common enough to us today in our jaded-but-still susceptible era of benevolent Nigerian princes and phony tech repair ads, but in 1996 it would have been a bit more daring. To put the solution into motion, David needs to go inside the alien aircraft, and Steve is the one to get him there. Since David gets airsick easily, Julius presents him with some barf bags he nicked from Air Force One. David presents Julius with a yarmulke and prayer book. “Just in case,” they both say.
And now, about David and Steve. I haven’t seen as many sci-fi films as some people, but I believe Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith in the final act of Independence Day is one of the funniest foils of recent movie history. David’s ticky nerdiness means he gets nervous when Steve’s unending cockiness comes out to play, and right from the start they banter. When Steve is trying to get the hang of the controls on the alien ship, he makes the mistake of saying “Oops,” and David replies, “Let’s try it again, without the ‘Oops.”
Nope, I’m not going to ruin this part, either. It has to be experienced. Trust me on this one.
Independence Day works for so many reasons. The scenes are well-crafted with fluid camera work, the humor is relatable and not out of place, there aren’t explosions every five minutes just because (paging Michael Bay). It also pays homage to sci-fi and end-of-the-world stories. I think that’s why my college friends purred over this one, because it brings up so many classic bits from the genre and nudge-nudge ironies. David has wallpaper from 2001: A Space Odyssey on his laptop. R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” can be heard at the beginning of the film. Russell’s kids watch The Day the Earth Stood Still. Commander Data plays the crazy Area 51 scientist. The creatures have smaller creatures inside of them, just like in Alien. There’s the directionless genius who discovers his life’s purpose. There’s the cocky pilot and his seemingly-loose girlfriend with the heart of gold. There’s the newly-elected leader whose governance is floundering and in need of proving itself. There’s the warrior who has fallen from grace and in need of redemption. Independence Day took all of these elements and more, putting their own spin on them.
Jeff Goldblum’s participation in the film is awesome as well, because he seemed to be playing himself. He’s quirky, intense, and cool. His performance is so well remembered that he reprised the role in ID‘s 2016 sequel, which was, unfortunately, missing Will Smith. However, we’ll always have 1996.
For more of the groovy Goldblum, please see Gill at Realweegiemidget Reviews. Thanks so much for hosting this, Gill! I hope you can bring it back next year. Thanks for reading, all, and see you tomorrow with another Shamedown…