"Independence Day" was a cultural phenomenon of the 90's. Similar to the release of "Jurassic Park," nobody had ever seen such realistic special effects and it was one of those films that everybody just had to see. The $817 million box office earnings speak volumes about the popularity of this film as it became the highest-grossing film of 1996. The CGI is a bit antiquated to our modern eyes but the effects hold up remarkably well after 20 years. When this movie came out, I was 11 and completely terrified of the aliens. Watching it now, I was surprised by how cheesy it is and, with a few brief exceptions, not scary at all. It is definitely more of an action film than a horror film. It also amazes me that this generation of middle schoolers watches movies like "The Conjuring" and "Saw." Things certainly have changed! There are moments of quality acting like Bill Pullman's Independence Day speech and Will Smith's balance of comedy and drama. There are also underwhelming performances like Harvey Fierstein, who is meant to be comic relief but comes off as terribly obnoxious. His voice is great for comedies like "Mulan" and "Mrs. Doubtfire," but his flamboyant flailing about and whiny voice were not a good fit for this disaster film. It is more a case of him being miscast than a lack of acting ability. Other actors like James Rebhorn and Randy Quaid get the job done but they feel like total stereotypes instead of original characters (National Lampoon's Vacation movies, anyone?). Again, probably an issue with the script and not the actors themselves. A lot of the lines were corny and just not as great as i remembered. The "heart-warming" parts were mushy instead of deep. But if I had to rate the acting as enjoyable or unenjoyable, I definitely enjoyed watching actors like Jeff Goldblum, Judd Hirsch, Pullman, and Smith for a few hours. They are all a bit cheesy but so were the 90's. The real reason to watch the film are the disaster sequences and the alien ships. The White House explosion is one of the most iconic film moments of the last 50 years. The use of scale models gives it a realistic effect that is difficult to capture through CGI. And the depth of the ships as they float above landmarks worldwide can really transport you into this film. These are the effects that earned a Best Visual Effects Oscar. The place where this film lacks in special effects are the fake-looking firey explosions that, in their time were great, but now look like cheap animation. "Independence Day" borrows a lot of ideas from other alien films but it put them all together into a story that reinvigorated this branch of science fiction. The modern standard in horror films may have made the film seem less thrilling than it was 20 years ago, but this is an important part of cinema history that everybody needs to see at least once.
[Pictured: The iconic White House explosion shot is reason enough to watch this film. Note the incredible detail of the spaceship.]