Being a life-long astronomer and student of the natural universe, when Hollywood produces a feature-length science fiction motion picture, I take notice. I remember watching the original Independence Day in 1996, not once but many times, and even recently watched it again. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have much leisure time and don’t watch any and all science fiction films and don’t really consider myself a science-fiction buff or aficionado but I’m drawn to possibilities, not just for human exploration beyond this planet but for us as a species, for hope’s sake. I’m interested in realistic science fiction, not much of the nonsense that passes for science fiction.
If I were to count how many times I watched the original Independence Day, it would be upwards of about twenty, give or take. To celebrate the occasion of my sixty-first birthday yesterday, I decided to rent the DVD of the next iteration of the film. Although the sequel contained many of the famous actors from the original cast of characters, there was one notable absence, Will Smith. Needless to say, this will be the first and last time I watch this film, a film that isn’t even a shadow of the original even though Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin had major roles in writing the screenplays for both films. The reason I and countless others watched the original so many times, aside from the scientific aspects of the movie and the corresponding drama surrounding an epic battle between humanity and alien invaders, it is because the film was about hope above anything else. The musical score, the story, the characters, the film itself, was a project more than it was a Hollywood production, a project that projected hope, a theme that I’ve spent much digital ink on. The Defense Department even had a role; the F-18 fighter squadron “The Black Knights”, is a real Marine Fighter Squadron based at Marine Corps Air Station, Miramar, California, a location, incidentally, that was host to the Naval Fighter Weapons School, otherwise known as “Top Gun”.
As Michelle Obama so eloquently said in a recent address, we’ve lost hope and that was evident in this film from the opening scene. In fact, aside from a few exceptions, Hollywood hasn’t released a memorable film worthy to watch more than once since about 2010. This film was remarkable for its complete lack of any coherent plot or story-line. I almost got the sense that they made the story up as they went along. Granted, we all knew it was a sequel to the original but that is where the link and similarity ends. As was said several times in the film, “we’ve had twenty years to prepare” [for the invasion they all knew was coming] and, in point of fact, Hollywood did have twenty years to prepare a magnificent sequel but they squandered that opportunity with the hasty release of this film.
The film’s opening premise: the aliens return with enhanced technology as an overwhelming invasion force, responding to a distress beacon transmitted seconds before the original mothercraft was destroyed by a tactical nuclear warhead planted by Marine Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith) and David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum). If they did it right, spent the time developing, continuing and building on the original story-line, this would have been a great place to start and the ensuing story could have made for another great film that lived up to the legacy of the original.
As a theme I developed when describing the release of the next iteration in the Star Wars saga over the 2015 winter holidays, some things should be left alone, great memories and events in time, aspects, expressions and reflections of that time that should forever remain just that, great stories and great memories and Independence Day was such a film. This sequel is an abject failure and an insult to the original cast and story. Aside from it being devoid of any soul or hope, leaving you bewildered and empty, they got most of the science wrong too, to wit:
- Gravity is a mutually attractive force that is dependent on the magnitude of the contributing masses. Earth’s gravity will always be greater than a spacecraft’s gravity, even a new, larger mothership and thus, cars, buildings, people, animals, boats, ships, bridges and just about anything else that was shown to be gravitating to the craft as it passed overhead would remain intact and on the ground, even though the ship’s mass may be comparable to that of the moon, to say nothing of the tidal (Roche) force experienced by the craft as it approached the Roche limit, something that would, in standard astronomical parlance, unbind it (rip it apart).
- Cold fusion bombs will never exist because cold fusion will forever remain in the realm of science fiction.
- Drilling a mile-wide hole, breaching the Earth’s mantle with the intention of reaching the molten core, is as absurd as it is impossible and was completely unrealistic as depicted in the film. The oceans, even the deepest regions such as the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, are as a thin skin on an orange. Such a breach of the Earth’s mantle would quickly drain the oceans long before the mothership’s mile-wide death ray reached the core.
In the original film, developing a Chessmaster’s approach, beginning with David Levinson defeating his father in four moves in a friendly game of chess, the strategy to defeating the invading aliens at their own game, we come to learn, would eventually be based on that same theme, a theme and skill embodied by the brilliant yet humble MIT graduate and environmentalist. Humanity is ultimately triumphant through a combination of intellectual brilliance, valor, selfless courage and dogged determination, qualities that were in short supply in the sequel, save for the heroic but ultimately vain attempt of the original President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) to destroy the Harvester Queen alien.
As far as I’m concerned, there was one film named Independence Day and it was released on 2 July, 1996. This sequel was something else and I’m not sure what it should be called.
All our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike-and yet it is the most precious thing we have
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