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I haven't seen it since I walked out of the theater disgusted in 1996, but I've recently been wondering if the movie Independence Day was intended to be a comedy.

I was 19 then, and I went to see Independence Day expecting a serious sci-fi-action movie. Perhaps I had been led on by the super-cool previews that showed the aliens blowing up key Earth landmarks. In any case, my fan-boy soul was pretty much crushed by the movie's sheer ridiculousness, including:

  • when Will Smith punched an alien and then got excited about it
  • how the plot hinged on a human computer being able to plug right in to the alien mainframe and upload "jollyroger.exe"
  • the shameless product placement surrounding that human computer
  • everything involving characters played by Brent Spiner and Randy Quaid

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I don't remember too many details, but I do remember thoroughly despising the movie, cursing its makers, and casting a dismissive eye on the many people who gushed about how cool it was.

But did I miss something? Was Independence Day intended to be a comedy -- a spoof of the sci-fi-action genre? Maybe the moments that made me cringe were meant to make me laugh? Anything out there on this?

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    +1 good question. I've never thought about it before, but now that you mention it. It's hard to classify it as either a drama or comedy. I'd say it was both.
    – Reactgular
    Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 4:47
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    Well, I would rather say it was intended for the average movie viewer that values entertainment higher than an intelligent plot. So the obvious plot-deficiencies were not supposed to be noticed by the average viewer and the comedic elements were supposed to, well, entertain, loosening the drama with some light moments. While I really believe you mean this question serious (in contrast to a ranty blog post), it cannot be that hard to understand it as an entertaining SciFi-action movie with comedic elements, intended for the mass market. It wasn't a spoof, it was just too dumb for you.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 9:55
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    My initial reaction was very skeptical to say the least, but after re-reading your question and @coleopterist's answer below, I really like it. Not as subjective as it initially appeared to me. Required a thoughtful and creative answer, which coleopterist accomplished. +1s all around!
    – stevvve
    Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 18:04
  • One of the funniest moments was when the president was joking about cheating on his wife. Well, if that is not a parody of real life...
    – LatinSuD
    Commented Nov 26, 2014 at 22:45
  • The reason a human laptop and virus worked on the aliens, and the aliens used human satellites to bounce their signal around, is that human technology was the result of reverse engineering of the crashed Roswell ship. Which they continued to do in ID4 2 to have hybrid ships.
    – cde
    Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 18:28

3 Answers 3

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I think that the movie was expressively designed to be entertaining and break records set by Jurassic Park a couple of years earlier. You might also remember the impressive marketing campaign and hype that preceeded the release of the film. Considering that the target audience was everybody, things had to be dumbed down to be accessible to everybody.

In 1996, Will Smith hadn't hit the big leagues yet and was coming off the success of Bad Boys, a comedy where he plays the "cool and funny". His role in ID4 isn't much different.

So, no. I don't think ID4 is a spoof. It's simply a commercial sci/fi film loaded with special effects and cheesy dialogue, designed to appeal to a larger audience. Much the same as MiB would be a year or so later.

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    I mostly agree - except for the comment about MiB. I am reasonably certain that ID4 was intended as light-hearted action, but MiB is predominantly a comedy spoof. Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 6:25
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    Yep, this is a good answer. It's also worth pointing out that the biggest gripe people have about the film (the compatibility of the computers) was actually addressed in a deleted scene which claims that our human computer systems were derived from the alien technology, thus making it possible to upload the virus. It's a stretch, but the film isn't a documentary. ;)
    – Nobby
    Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 13:44
  • Really like this answer!
    – stevvve
    Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 18:05
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The film isn't a spoof (at least like the Naked Gun), but the pitch would have been something along the lines of

Do a fifties B Flying Saucer movie in the present day

For example, one of the most famous one's is this (with special effects by Ray Harryhausen no less):

Earth Vs the Flying Saucers

This famously had similar imagery of iconic buildings being destroyed:

Saucer crashed in Building Saucers at Eiffel Tower

What else did films of the era have? Well:

  • A heroic lead character
  • An aloof but brilliant scientist who comes up with some fantastic solution based on his "observations"
  • A romantic partner for the lead, who ends up in distress
  • An authority figure, usually portrayed in a heroic light
  • A guest star, usually a popular music face of the day, maybe just in a cameo role

Looking at ID4, we have all these elements, but of course given the more modern timeframe there are wrinkles to the cliches:

  • The Hero is black
  • The hero's love is a single parent and "exotic" dancer
  • The scientist is a Nerd and with parent issues
  • There is another scientist who turns out to both know about the aliens and has been examining them for many years, but is completely useless at helping them in their fight.
  • The authority figure is human, his failures (as a president) surpass his successes.
  • The character who makes the heroic sacrifice is an alcoholic and poor parent.
  • The cameo music star is Harry Connick Jnr, not really a teen idol.

Also given the more modern setting, we add some things from subsequent defining dramas, for example the whole Area 51/government cover up stuff a la the X Files.

So while not a spoof the film is essentially a mega budget B Movie, and belief should be suspended when watching, just enjoy the roller coaster ride.

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Not really sure what you'd classify as a "serious action movie" other than a movie based on a real-life war. Look at your typical Arnold Schwarzenegger movie of the time, e.g. Commando or The Running Man - Independence Day wasn't much more ridiculous. I'd suggest your disgust on walking out of the cinema was as much down to your teenage cynicism as any shortcomings in the film!

As to the sub-genre of action movie, I would compare it more to your average Marvel movie of recent years than, say, Platoon. It is, and was, quite common to put a lot of light-hearted moments and comic relief into action movies. e.g. It seems obvious that both the Randy Quaid and Brent Spiner characters were intended to be comedic, as well as Will Smith's "Welcome to Earth!" punch.

(As for the Mac-AnythingNonApple cross-compatibility, I'm not defending it, but misuse of computers was very common in movies at the time, right up to the mid-late 90s. Movie makers' opinions seemed to be that not that many people knew too much about computers (including them!) so they just didn't care.)

And sadly, product placement is a stain on every genre of movie.

Remember, movies don't have to be segregated into specific genres, and restricted to the tropes of those genres. It's quite fine to have an action movie with comedy, or horror, or romance.

So it's not a spoof, just a light-hearted action movie, which asks that you leave your brain very much at the door on the way in.

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