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“Today, we celebrate our Doomsday.” Ok, so maybe the alternate title to Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich’s classic blockbuster Independence Day would have inspired a more fitting tweak to the speech given by Bill Pullman’s President Whitmore. But could it have been any more fitting than when he roars the actual line, “Today, we celebrate our Independence Day”?
We almost didn’t get one of the greatest pump-up speeches of the 20th century, as there was a disagreement between 20th Century Fox and the creative team of Devlin/Emmerich. Everything stood on the line, and as Bill Pullman himself told me during our press day for The High Note, it all came down to that fateful speech’s filming. The actor himself told me how it all came together, in the following story:
We shot that at night, of course, because it’s dark and not on a soundstage or anything. It was really late, and it got moved into the schedule early, because Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich were in contention right then with Fox about the title. I think it was gonna be Doomsday. It’s what Fox wanted, and it was a title that was typical of the time [for a] disaster movie. They really wanted Independence Day, so we had to make the speech really good. And then they cut it together, and a couple of nights later, Dean came to my trailer, and he said, ‘Do you wanna see it’? … So he popped in the VHS, he showed me the cut of the speech, and I went ‘Holy Mother, they have got to name this movie Independence Day’. And they did.
It's a scenario that sounds like a nerve-wracking time crunch. Production was already underway on the major studio blockbuster of the ‘90s, with a practically shot scene scheduled late at night. Adding to the pressure of either delivering that line or forgetting Independence Day as a title, Bill Pullman basically needed to knock that scene out of the park. Not to put too fine a point on the matter, but part of the intrigue that saw audiences flock to Independence Day was the mysterious nature of the title. Doomsday would have not only given away the store from round one, but it also wouldn’t have sounded as good.
Try and imagine the iconic teaser trailer below, with Doomsday as the title:
It’s hard to grasp, isn’t it? What’s even harder still is to imagine Bill Pullman’s speech winding up to something like “Today, we’re cancelling Doomsday,” or whatever the alternate version may have been. Even with cutting edge effects that folks were saying made Star Wars look like a B-movie, and a cast so stacked it further cemented Pullman’s status as a staple of many movie libraries ‘90s kids would frequently return to, Independence Day being titled what it was really nailed it home.
Unfortunately, that’s not always what happens when you make a movie for all to hold and cherish. As my conversation with Bill Pullman continued on the subject of the fickle nature of titles, there was another tale he had to tell; one where the originally marketed title of the 1990 film Brain Dead unfortunately found itself swapped out.
Well, I’ve had that happen on a couple of movies, and I’ve had to live with it, you know. There’s a movie that I’ve always loved, that I was a part of, a Roger Corman movie. Originally, it was called Paranoia … I thought it was such a great title, and we had the by-line! There was a Confucius saying, “Paranoia is total awareness”. And I thought, “That’s a good title!”, and then he changed it to Brain Dead. The opposite of Paranoia. But it lives on as Brain Dead.
Produced by Roger Corman’s wife, Julie, Brain Dead was a script written by The Twilight Zone’s Charles Beaumont for Roger in the 1960s. Revived under his wife’s efforts, the story of Bill Pullman’s Dr. Rex Martin, and his mind-bending quest to determine if threats to his person are real or imagined, almost went out to the world known as Paranoia. History saw events turn towards the other direction, and while Bill Pullman still loves the end result, Brain Dead was, and continues to be, the name of the game.
Still, with the talk of titles in the air, we found ourselves winding back to the relevant issue at hand, as The High Note wasn’t the original title of writer Flora Greerson’s film. When the script found its way on 2018’s Black List, it was known simply as Covers; which does tie into a monologue that Bill Pullman’s character, Max, delivers to Dakota Johnson’s protagonist/his daughter, Maggie.
Some discussion of what the title means in a wider context, as well as the more intimate purposes of the film, helped make a case that in this particular scenario, the right title won out. Bill Pullman himself even agreed, which only highlights his expertise at titling films all the more sharply. He may not have been able to save Paranoia from becoming Brain Dead, but with a rousing speech for the ages, Bill Pullman helped Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich prevent Independence Day’s title from going quietly into the night.
To think that if the scene itself hadn’t been pulled off with the expert level of showmanship and bravado we saw in the clip below, we might have been talking about the cult classic Doomsday, rather than the A-list success that was this particular film:
The next time you find yourself trying to work out a title to a project you’re working on, if you have the chance to speak to Bill Pullman about what you’re mulling over, take that opportunity. You never know what’s going to come out of that discussion, or how it could help your project hit the right notes.
Speaking of which, you can catch Bill Pullman in the ensemble that makes The High Note a welcome distraction from current events, as the film is now available for rental on VOD. Pullman fans can also watch his work as Detective Harry Ambrose on USA’s The Sinner, which is currently available on USA on Demand, Netflix and Hulu’s Live TV plan.