The Problem With Independence Day

Recently I had another of those weird episodes of deja vu peculiar to science fiction fans, the kind that occur when the rest of the culture catches up with us. Watching Independence Day, I flashed on the cover of my old paperback edition of Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End, a painting of a mammoth Overlord vessel flying over New York, which, along with the novel itself, made a big impression on my then 12-year-old psyche. That powerful image realized on film made me hope that we'd been gifted with a movie that might approach some of the grandeur and intelligence of Clarke's classic.

Unfortunately, that's not what happened. Yes, as long as one is careful not to engage the brain at any time while the film is in motion, Independence Day is an entertaining flick. But even disregarding its egregious plot holes, illogic and just plain stupidity, ID4's utter superficiality is quite remarkable. Not that your basic big-budget Hollywood-type flicks are generally known for slopping over with subtext, but this movie has not the slightest scintilla of thoughtfulness, of reflection, of metaphorical depth--any of the qualities that are the raison d'etre of literary SF.

Oh well...we can always just shake our heads, chide ourselves for wasting eight bucks, and go home and lose ourselves in a good Asimov novel. What's the big deal?

In various interviews, ID4's creators have waxed ecstatic about the influence of Star Wars and many lesser films on their own youthful psyches. Not once have I heard them mention Clarke or Heinlein or even H.G. Wells. Their perceptions of SF apparently extend back only to 1977, with perhaps a few brief nods to 70's disaster films and 1950's B-movies.

And when SF films are made by people ignorant of the original sources of the ideas they pillage, thinking they're doing something fresh and different--those whose idea of good SF is a lot of cool explosions and flashy spaceships without all those annoyingly cerebral ideas and speculations--the touchstones of quality drop to the lowest common denominator. Such works merely perpetuate the general public's mistaken perceptions of the genre as juvenile, silly, even inconsequential, until classics like Blade Runner or Brazil become anomalies, rather than the rule.

Given the popularity of ID4, my great fear is that someday, some mundane type's going to see me readingChildhood's End on the train, and say, "What? You mean you actually like that 'Independence Day' crap?"

ID4image (C) 1996 20th Century Fox

Article (C) Mark Wolverton

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