Throwback Thursday: 'Independence Day' (1996)

Any science fiction fan with their salt is, on some basic level, familiar with the 1996 epic that is ‘Independence Day’ – or ‘ID4,’ as the movie has been colloquially dubbed.  The film celebrates is 23rd anniversary this year, and even though an ill-received sequel attempt in 2016 has somewhat dampened the franchise’s long-term prospects, there’s no denying that the original film is truly a one-of-a-kind experience for sci-fi fans of any type.

You almost assuredly don’t need a long recap/review of the film from me, so let’s keep it short and simple here.  What I will spend some time on in the coming paragraphs, however, is some trivia that you may not have known about the film, it’s cast & crew, and the production itself.  But first: a small synopsis of the movie itself – in rhyme, because why not!

It’s an alien attack, hidden in plain sight!
These monsters don’t hide, they are ready to fight.

The mothership arrives and zips ’round the Moon
Earth’s forces get ready, just a few days past June.

David Levinson decodes an alien signal in a satellite stack
He figures out exactly when they’re going to attack.

They tell President Whitmore that the aliens are mean
Evacuations begin, but the aliens are soon seen.

They light up the skies with their large laser beams
Lots of humans die as they cry and they scream.

Earth air forces strike back, but the aliens have force fields
The humans think hard on how to get around these shields.

They catch a lucky break when it seemed there was none
An old alien ship was being stored in Area 51!

Through telepathy, we learn about the aliens’ bleakness
And fortunately, find out about their one great weakness.

A computer virus is made to knock their shields down
But the humans can’t upload it from the ground.

So, in the old alien ship, Captain Hiller and Levinson go
The earth forces will try to clear an aerial path for the heroes

Whitmore gives a speech, and it’s now often watched and quoted
(Along with a bitchin’ air & space battle that likely made the budget bloated)

The aliens are defeated – their ships go kaboom and goodbye
The humans have won – yay ‘Merica and the 4th of July!

And now, as promised, here are some quick trivia tidbits about ‘ID4’ that you may or may not have already known!

  • ‘ID4’ was rushed into theaters in order to be released before ‘Mars Attacks!’ – even though the films were significantly tonally different, filmmakers Dean Devlin and Rolan Emmerich wanted to make sure that their film was the first sci-fi blockbuster to hit the theaters in 1996.  They wrote the entire film in under three weeks, sold the rights to the movie the day after they finished writing it, and principal photography & shooting of the film took only 72 days in 1995 – a veritable whirlwind of activity.
  • The movie was almost titled ‘Doomsday’ instead – this was the original title for the film, despite Devlin and Emmerich pushing very hard to call it ‘Independence Day’ from the get-go; another studio held the rights to that title at the time, but when the duo added the phrase at the end of Bill Pullman’s now-iconic speech near the conclusion of the film, Fox caved and acquired the name rights for the film.
  • ‘ID4’ (1996) and ‘Godzilla’ (1998) have cross-marketing synergy hidden in them – both films featured heavy involvement from Emmerich and Devlin, and ‘Godzilla’ was planned as their next film before ‘ID4’ was released, meaning the duo could plant some fun seeds: in this film, a young boy is seen playing with a Godzilla toy prominently in one scene, and in the latter film, ‘ID4’ tyos are seen in the background of several scenes.
  • The sets of several ‘ID4’ locations were directly borrowed from other movie productions – chief among them are the Oval Office and White House interiors (used previously in ‘Nixon’ and ‘The American President’), the submarine (the same set as was used in ‘Crimson Tide’), and the stealth bomber (borrowed from ‘Broken Arrow’).
  • The “computer virus solution” is actually an homage to another classic sci-fi film – in the well-known HG Wells tale ‘War of the Worlds,’ the aliens are taken down by bacterial viruses that they did not anticipate encountering here on Earth; the computer virus aspect of ‘ID4’ was devised as a way of updating that idea in a more “modern take” for this film.
  • The US Military was not happy with their representation in the movie – the fine folks of the US Armed Services were actually ready to supply the production with accurate costumes, vehicles, props, and more, but they voiced their displeasure and pulled out of the agreement once they discovered the film’s liberal use of Area 51 and the perceived negative light it shed on the military.
  • Many of the shots you think are CGI are actually practical effects – ‘ID4’ is actually one of the last “blockbuster” style films to use more practical effects than CGI; every on-screen explosion is an actual explosion, including the massive destruction of the White House that took over a week to prepare and execute.  The cool shots of the alien ships entering the Earth’s atmosphere were done in a tank that was filled with colored clouds.
  • Much of the dialogue for David Levinson was improvised by Jeff Goldblum – Devlin and Emmerich discussed on the DVD commentary how much of Goldblum’s on-screen interactions with David’s father (played by Judd Hirsch) were on-the-spot give-and-take creations by Goldblum and Hirsch.
  • The part of President Whitmore was originally going to a different actor – Devlin went to high school with Kevin Spacey, who was just beginning his rise to stardom in the mid-1990s (and was obviously decades away from his fall from grace).  Devlin wrote Whitmore specifically for Spacey, but an executive at 20th Century Fox didn’t think Spacey was the right star and vetoed the casting.  The move worked out perfectly for Bill Pullman, though!
  • President Whitmore’s big speech was filmed in a very appropriate place and time – the now-iconic “Today we celebrate our Independence Day!” scene was filmed on August 6, 1995, 50 years to the day after America dropped atomic bombs on Japan that signaled the beginning of the end of World War II.  Additionally, the scene was shot in front of an actual US military hangar – the same hangar that once housed the atomic bomb-dropping aircraft, including the Enola Gay.


I hope you’ve enjoyed this whimsical and trivial look back at one of the coolest sci-fi movies ever made.  Happy 4th of July to our American readers and happy Throwback Thursday to our international friends!