This podcast contains spoilers for Independence Day and Independence Day 2: Resurgence.
We had 20 years to prepare.
That's the tagline for Independence Day 2. It refers to Earth, and how long we had to get ready for a second alien invasion. But it also applies to Roland Emmerich and the team behind the sequel.
Independence Day in 1996 was an unqualified smash hit. But Independence Day in 2016 is, apparently, a flop. I went to see the movie with Motherboard staff writer Jason Koebler and supervising producer Chris O'Coin. (The movie was not made available to press for screening; not a good sign.) The theater was almost completely empty. "This movie is not going to make money," Chris said.
Back in the first half of 1996, advertising for the special effects-heavy Independence Day was inescapable. A 45-second trailer showing a massive shadow over Washington, D.C., followed by a spaceship blowing up the White House was so successful that the studio followed on with a Super Bowl ad ("Enjoy the Super Bowl. It may be your last"). The movie broke box office records when it finally came out and arguably made Will Smith's career.
It was big. It was fun. It featured a prescient hacking scene. So what happened?
We had 20 years to prepare, and yet, Independence Day 2: Resurgence, like The Matrix: Revolutions, is a letdown. (Also like The Matrix, there is a third installment coming.) The plot is even more logically confused than is usual with summer blockbusters. The cast suffers for lack of a character as bouncy as Will Smith. A subplot between a tribal warlord and a John Oliver-lookalike is uncomfortable and unfunny.
"I never read any reviews. If I would read reviews, I would probably not make movies anymore, and I like making movies."
However! There are many bright spots.
For the first half of the movie, I was pretty rapt. The Earth in alternate-2016 is pretty cool. It's bright and peaceful, with alien anti-gravity technology support infrastructure. Jeff Goldblum comes on screen right away (a plus!) and Brent Spiner (Data from Star Trek) returns as the scientist who is awakened from a coma by his goofy boyfriend (opinions differed on whether this gay relationship, which goes uncommented on in the movie, was sweet or regressive). The movie features a second alien species that uploaded their consciousness to computers. Points for cool world-building and good characters, points off for bad characters and trying to be Star Wars.
Regardless, Roland Emmerich is a delightful person and a great interview. He talks about how he doesn't believe in aliens, how negotiations over the film went down with the US military, and why he felt it was time to do a sequel now, even though he hates sequels. ("It's like, so weird for me," he said.)
Apologies for the audio—it drops out a few times, but when fancy directors take 20 minutes of their time to talk to you which their handlers are very strict about, you take what you can get.
00:00 - There are spoilers in this podcast.
1:44 - This is the clip.
1:50 - I admit that I watched Independence Day for the first time as a 29-year-old. These trends just pass me by.
2:05 - The movie makes a big deal of explaining how Will Smith's character died, but glides over the fact that another main character, White House press officer Connie Spano (Margaret Colin), is mysteriously absent. Emmerich admitted why Smith isn't in the movie; he asked for too much money. I couldn't find out why Colin didn't come back, however. If you have a tip email adrianne at motherboard.tv.
2:44 - Roland Emmerich!
"It's like if you left somebody 20 years ago and revisit them in their life and everything has changed."
4:13 - Does Roland Emmerich know what the website Reddit is? Yes, he does.
5:50 - "My feeling is yes, if there would be a common enemy which would endanger us as a human species, we would finally unite."
7:36 - "I don't personally believe we will ever see aliens. I kind of like to make movies about aliens because I think it's fascinating."
8:20 - The military declined to work with the filmmakers after Emmerich declined to make changes to the script. But after the film was released, the military changed their mind. They particularly loved a "recruiting" video made for the fictional Earth Space Defense agency, which the Army posted on its YouTube.
11:15 - Emmerich pledged not to destroy buildings after September 11. His friends called him and said "This looks like one of your movies!" When you look at Day After Tomorrow, there is a huge wave that crashes over a city, and not one building came down. But then Emmerich saw other films continuing to show destruction—"even Superman destroys more buildings than I do"—so he changed his mind.
14:30- The most common question Emmerich is getting about the film is, "Why, after 20 years?" Answer: He had other stuff to do, and isn't that hot on sequels.
15:22 - Emmerich recounting how he talked to a scientist about how to make up an explanation for "earth crust displacement" for 2012 is hilarious.
16:20 - "I don't think when aliens come all this way they will do what my aliens are doing. I don't think any higher life form can be as aggressive as that. But it's great movie characters."
17:30 - "I never read any reviews. If I would read reviews, I would probably not make movies anymore, and I like making movies."
18:35 - Jason Koebler, Chris O'Coin, and I narrating our walk to Independence Day 2: Resurgence. Chris remembers that Independence Day, the original, actually came out a day before it was supposed to. "It was everywhere. It was the biggest movie event I can actually remember, pre-Star Wars," Jason said.
22:40 - The team is flabbergasted by the movie. "I was kind of on board for the first hour," Chris said. (Cut from the final: Chris ranting about it turning into a "giant creature movie.")
That's our show! Tell us what you thought of Independence Day 2 at firstname.lastname@example.org. Subscribe on iTunes! Rate us! Thanks for listening.