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On this day, in an alternate 1996, an alien force invaded Earth, leveled its major cities, and put humanity’s back against the wall. At least that’s what happened in director Roland Emmerich’s summer blockbuster landmark Independence Day, a movie that to this day still defines the pop culture impact the ‘90s had on filmmaking. Some may say that this happening was an inexplicable accident, but if you dig deep enough into the behind-the-scenes facts surrounding the film’s production, you can see just why its appeal has endured through over 20 years. Today, we celebrate this sci-fi classic that would not go quietly into history, as we present to you some cool facts you may or may not have known about the day we fought back.
Independence Day Started On The Press Tour For Stargate
Believe it or not, Independence Day director and co-writer Roland Emmerich doesn't believe in aliens. But what he does believe in is what led to this film getting made in the first place, as Emmerich told a reporter during the press tour for Stargate that he believed in the following core concepts:
I believe in fantasy. I believe in the great 'What if?' What if aliens showed up, what if tomorrow morning you walked out of your door and these enormous spaceships hovered over every city in the world?
With that firmly in his head, he'd approach co-writer/producer Dean Devlin and say, "I think we've got our next movie". And thus, Independence Day was born.
Without Bill Pullman’s Big Speech, Independence Day Might Not Have Landed Its Title
A title like Independence Day is one that’s hard to forget, and without Bill Pullman’s rousing speech as President Thomas Whitmore in the film’s third act, that title may have never been landed. Fighting with the studio over whether the film should be called by its final title, or the less appealing Doomsday, co-writer/producer Dean Devlin admitted in the flim’s commentary that the final line of that particular speech was thrown in to seal the deal. Moving that speech up in the shooting schedule, Pullman’s performance made history by landing the title, and becoming one of cinema’s greatest pump up speeches.
President Whitmore Was Almost Played By A Very Different Actor
Dean Devlin had a young up and coming actor he’d gone to high school with in mind to play the President Whitmore in the original drafts of Independence Day: and it was none other than Kevin Spacey. But according to a THR interview with Devlin, there was an argument with an executive at Fox that halted this casting once and for all. Apparently, this executive "just didn't think Kevin Spacey was a movie star." So the script had to be re-written for Bill Pullman’s variant on the character, which ultimately proved to be extremely useful in the long run.
Judd Hirsch Had To Be Aged Up To Play Jeff Goldblum’s Father
The pairing of Jeff Goldblum’s David Levinson and actor Judd Hirsch playing his father, Julius, is one of the crucial elements to why Independence Day works so well as a character driven blockbuster. But, with only 18 years separating the actors in real life, some extraordinary measures had to be taken, as Dean Devlin would explain as follows:
The irony with Judd Hirsch is that he looks too young to be the father. So we had to put him in a lot of old age makeup and liver spots to make him believable as the dad. But when he saw himself in the makeup, he got very depressed as he looked into the future.
According to the commentary on the home video release of the film, that scene was among one of the first to be filmed in the early days of the New York section of their shoot. And, if Roland Emmerich is to be believed, Hirsch fought over every gray hair in his on-screen look.
Ethan Hawke Was Offered A Role In Independence Day, But Couldn’t Finish Reading The Script
If his own personal account on Conan is anything to go by, actor Ethan Hawke was offered a role in Independence Day, and it might have been the role of Captain Steven Hiller. However, Hawke never finished reading the script, as he reached a line about E.T. in Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich’s screenplay, and thought it sounded so ridiculous he threw his script onto the Texas highway during a road trip he was on at the time. Which was good news for Will Smith, who would go on to land the role of Captain Hiller, and made referencing E.T. cool again.
Will Smith’s Big Bathroom Introduction Made Audiences Have To Pee
That’s not all Will Smith did for audiences in his big blockbuster success, as Independence Day had a pretty funny claim to fame that Dean Devlin dropped during the film’s commentary track. If you felt like you had to run to the bathroom after that bathroom scene, know that you weren’t alone. Devlin delivered those goods in the following anecdote:
I believe from that peeing sound in that scene, the audience later in the movie had to quickly run to the bathroom, as we noticed in screening after screening. Dozens of people in the audience running to the bathroom in the middle of the movie.
Believe it or not, that’s not the strangest thing that the production of Independence Day had people believing. But we’ll get to that story later, as it’s time to cover another favorite subject of ours: deleted profanity!
Eh, Forget The F Bomb
In one of the more scene stealing supporting performances in Independence Day, Harvey Fierstein’s role as Jeff Goldblum’s boss at Compact Cable, Marty, is one of those key pieces to what glues the film together overall. But, in the quest of keeping the ever coveted PG-13 rating, there was a line that has always stuck out with every viewing of the film: “Eh, forget my lawyer”. As it turns out, the line is an obvious dubover of the original dialogue, which you can clearly see Fierstein mouthing on screen: “Eh, fuck my lawyer”.
Harry Connick, Jr. Owes His Independence Day Role To Matthew Perry
In the realm of alternate casting, Dean Devlin hands the audience yet another juicy story on the Independence Day commentary track, as Captain Jimmy Wilder almost wasn’t played by singer/actor/former American Idol judge Harry Connick Jr.
Getting Harry Connick Jr. was coup. Originally this part was supposed to be played by. Matt Perry, who dropped out very close to the time we started shooting. Through the good fortune of Harry Connick Jr’s recording schedule and touring schedule, there was a window of opportunity that he could kind of do this part, and he was just terrific.
Just as you thought this story couldn’t be any more of a surprise, Matthew Perry’s father is actually in the film as a Secret Service agent protecting Mary McDonnell’s Marilyn Whitmore. Thanksgiving 1996 must have been a hell of a dinner in the Perry household.
Independence Day Actually Convinced People They Saw A UFO During Filming
Some movies are so good at playing their audience, they can convince the world that they could happen in real life. But one specific story about Independence Day’s production saw people literally believing invaders were present in the California skies, as both Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich went back and forth with their commentary track to tell the following story:
Devlin: “First time we tested this helicopter, and had the lights going off, I think 150 people called the local police reporting that they’d seen a UFO”.
Emmerich: “They kind flew without making any announcement, somewhere over Orange County, and didn’t warn anybody”.
This tale came from the shooting of the Operation Welcome Wagon sequence, where a helicopter used to fight forest fires was retrofitted with lights flashing a morse code message to the aliens. Though, it really would have helped to have given people a heads up beforehand.
One Simple Trick Helped Enhance Independence Day’s First Gigantic Set Piece
There is a lot of early CGI effects present in Independence Day, but there’s also a healthy mix of old fashioned models and techniques at work in the film’s larger set-pieces. One of the most impressive, and most difficult to achieve, was the big Act I closer where the alien ships attack all of the major cities around the world. And one simple trick, divulged by Roland Emmerich in his contribution to the commentary, helped generate various shots of cities being engulfed in flames:
A lot of these kinds of shots were shot upright, so that the fire always comes towards you.
Those effects undoubtedly did the trick, as they mesh together with the CGI elements to create one huge disaster laden moment that stuck the landing, and made up a large portion of Independence Day’s ad campaign. Not to mention, it generated a moment of audience reaction that even Dean Devlin couldn’t have seen coming.
Boomer’s Survival Was A Pretty Big Deal To Audiences
Boomer, the beautiful Labrador Retriever that helped make the Hiller family a cohesive unit in Independence Day, was apparently an instant family favorite. Dean Devlin, with a slight air of deadpan surprise in his voice, made that fact very clear in this following story:
Because we didn’t get to ‘meet’ the aliens, or learn much about them, we wanted what they did to be so terrifying and devastating that we would root for our heroes to defeat them. But no matter how many people were to be killed, or how many buildings [were] blown up, it never had the impact of this one simple dog running from the fire. People were more concerned about this dog than the millions of people in the cities. That says a lot about us as a culture.
Apparently, crowds in various screenings even screamed at the scene where Boomer narrowly avoids death with a well-timed jump. It may have seemed ridiculous at the time, but in our modern culture where an entire website is dedicated to whether animals survive a particular movie or not, it feels like the beginning of the story we’re in now.
The US Military Was Going To Support Independence Day, Until One Key Plot Point Convinced Them Otherwise
If you can get the US Military to cooperate with a film like Independence Day, it’s a pretty spectacular thing. And that’s exactly what almost happened, as Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich were lined up to receive that sort of support. Except, there was a pretty big ask they had of the creative duo: they REALLY wanted Area 51 removed from the movie’s story.
Emmerich: “It was, for Dean and I, the most important part, to kind of tie some kind of mythology of people believe in into the movie, so it’s like more real”.
Devlin: “In fact, the United States military was going to support this film, and supply us with a lot of costumes, and airplanes, and stuff. But their one demand was that we remove Area 51 from the film, and we didn’t want to do that. So they withdrew their support”.
Looking at what the intent of those Area 51 sequences was, as well as remembering the memorable moments with Brent Spiner’s Dr. Okun that came as a result, it looks like the tradeoff was the wise move in the long run.
The Casse Family Had A Lot More To Do In The Special Edition Cut
If there’s one sect of Independence Day’s characters that took most of the editing room’s brunt, it has to have been the Winnebago traveling troupe known as the Casse family. Led by Randy Quaid’s Russell, this family unit found a lot of their journey to Area 51 cut, which includes an entire subplot about the youngest son getting sicker through the movie, due to a chronic illness. Most notably, there’s even an entire alternate scene that was cut entirely where Randy Quaid’s Russell shows up in the nick of time in the final aerial battle, with a missile strapped to his red biplane. Fear not, as that deleted subplot is added back into the Special Edition cut of the film, with the biplane rescue remaining in the deleted scenes section.
The Most Important Component Of Independence Day, According To Dean Devlin
Independence Day, as big of an effects laden spectacle it's always been, does take time to build its characters and see their development in-between destroying cities. And the reason why this ebb and flow was so important to the film is summed up in one of the last comments Dean Devlin makes during the movie’s commentary:
The greatest special effects in the world are meaningless if you don't care about the people in those special effects.
Going on to become the highest grossing film of 1996, Independence Day delivered the thrills of huge interplanetary warfare along with the close, personal moments that made us really love the characters we’d met along the way. It’s a franchise that, while currently in a state of stasis, could come back at any point. So long as Disney’s current ownership of the property is a going concern, all the top brass have to do is say the word, and Roland Emmerich would return.
Independence Day is available on digital HD, 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD; and if you want to hear some of the stories above, and more, you should definitely snag a copy of the film loaded with all the extras.