Saturday, February 25, 2012

Independence Day

Before I talk about this past weeks Throwback Thursday movie and what it means to me, first I have to take you back to July of last year when my brother, Jaclyn and I had just settled into our seats in the VIP section of Landmark Theatre in Greenwood Village, Colorado and drink in hand (one of the perks of the VIP upgrade was they brought you adult beverages) we were waiting for Super 8 to start. Before the lights dimmed, one of the theater workers moved to the front of the theater, microphone in hand, and delivered the following speech:  

“Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. "Mankind." That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can't be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it's fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom... Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution... but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live, to exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: "We will not go quietly into the night!" We will not vanish without a fight! We're going to live on! We're going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!”

When she finished, the three of us started clapping along with some of the other hipper patrons. I heard a woman turn to her husband and ask confused “what was that all about?” With a smile, he replied “Independence Day.”

That’s right, this weeks Throwback Thursday at Essex Cinemas was the 1996 classic summer blockbuster Independence Day. It’s actually been awhile since I’ve had the pleasure of watching this film; I believe the last time I really watched it was in early 2001 at a USO while I was still at Air Force Basic Training. I and another member of my flight were selected to go to a Generals dinner and talk about how training was currently going, something that was really intimidating for someone that had been in the military for less than a month. Come to think of it, it would still be really intimidating. The redeeming part was that for the first time in weeks I was going to get to leave Lackland Air Force Base and head into the real world again. We were dropped off at the USO Club and had some time to kill before the dinner began.  To my surprise and delight, Independence Day was playing on their rather large projection TV. This was the first movie I got to see since I boarded my plane in Boston as a very nervous enlistee (the inflight movie was Men of Honor, fitting for the time). Instantly I was transported out of my tight fitting dress blue uniform to a simpler time of shorts, sandals and no worries…
It was the summer of ’96 and I had just watched Independence Day for the very first time at Place 9 Cinemas (then Cinema 9). I remember climbing into my girlfriend’s overloaded gray Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme as we cruised back toward Williston Road, the car buzzing with activity as we recited our favorite lines and discussed in length the best parts of the movie. In fact, not satisfied with how quickly we made it back to our respective neighborhoods we made a pit stop at McDonald’s so we could discuss the movie even more. That was the first of eleven times I saw Independence Day in the theater that summer, a personal record for seeing one film that still holds up to this day (trailing behind Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith at six times and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World at three times). What was it exactly about Independence Day that made it so special that I would want to see the same movie eleven times in the theater? Honestly I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, or at least that was until I had the pleasure of seeing it on the big screen again.
Like 1993’s Jurassic Park (a previous Throwback Thursday Selection) Independence Day is a movie just too big to watch any other way than in a theater. It’s a special FX driven film meant to be painted across a screen just as large as it is (that’s why it was a perfect fit for Essex Cinemas' behemoth 60 foot T-Rex screen). Sure you can argue that it’s a summer seat-filler popcorn movie, but I think in this case you’d be wrong. Independence Day spends just the right amount of time with the characters. It makes you care about Will Smith’s relationship with Vivica A. Fox by providing just enough information; he’s a Marine pilot that wants to be an Astronaut but is rejected from the program and is in love with a stripper with a heart of gold that is dancing to provide for her young son. Do I care about these characters? Yes. The scenes between Captain Steven Hiller (Smith) and Jasmine (Fox) make me believe that they are in love and I want to see them succeed because they feel like real people with real problems, then add an epic alien invasion to that and I want to see them succeed even more.
Then there’s the Jeff Goldblum/Margaret Colin relationship; very early into the film we are introduced to the fact that David (Goldblum) and Constance (Colin) have been divorced for three years but David is still in love with his ex-wife. As soon as the aliens invade, all David wants to do is get his ex-wife to safety. Once again, real problems set against science fiction ones, a blend that works perfectly. Randy Quaid’s character Russell Case, an ex-military pilot turned town drunk crop-duster who may or may not have been previously abducted by the same attacking aliens, first appears to be comic relief. But as the movie progresses, he starts to look a lot more sane and by the end of the film he’s a hero. Even the United States President Thomas J. Whitmore played by Bill Pullman is a character that we as an audience care about. He’s introduced as a former jet pilot family man, whose popularity is slipping in the polls. By the end of the film he once again returned to his former glory as a pilot but also successfully rallied the world together against the attacking aliens with the speech I borrowed to start this blog. We’re also clued into the fact that David and President Whitmore have a past because Constance is and has been his speechwriter. At one point, most likely before his divorce, David punched the President in the face because he thought he was having an affair with his wife. What does all of that have to do with an alien invasion? Absolutely nothing. So why is it important to the film? Because without it, the entire movie would’ve only been amazing special effects with no substance, like the 2010 film Skyline. It’s because we care about the characters that we want to see Captain Hiller and David succeed and that we stay riveted in our seats until the climatic ending. And because of these characters, blended with the awesome special effects, I saw this movie a record twelve times in the theater now.
My only regret about this weeks’ selection, okay my two regrets, are first it’s only February and I would’ve loved to view this movie closer to the 4thWith that being said, I did get to see it at the T-Rex so my complaints are only minimal. My second regret is actually my biggest one and that is Jaclyn, who may be a bigger fan of the movie than I am, (although I’m sure she didn’t see it in the theater as many times) wasn’t able to attend the movie because she caught the cold that I had been battling. One of the things that have made Throwback Thursday’s so great for me is sharing these movies from my past with friends and family. It was a bummer that she had to sit out this time, but hopefully further down the road she wont have to miss another one. In fact, “where we’re going, we don’t need roads”…
…To be continued