“The Perfect Scene” is The Flyover’s ongoing series discussing our favorite moments in movie history.
On June 20th, 1975, the film industry changed forever. It was on that Friday, 45 years ago, that “Jaws” swam its way into movie theaters around the country and created the summer blockbuster.
The following two decades of summers saw some of the most iconic movies in film history: “Star Wars” in 1977; “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in 1981; “Batman” in 1989; “Terminator 2” in 1991; and “Jurassic Park” in 1993.
In 1996, one movie attempted to eclipse them all by taking the best elements of all of these films and dialing them up to eleven. Aliens? Check. Dazzling special effects? Check. The Jeff Goldblum from “Jurassic Park?” Check.
“Independence Day” was a colossal hit, exciting audiences to the tune of $817 million worldwide. Sure, it was over the top, but what great summer blockbuster isn’t? It combined a compelling story with a perfect cast, catapulting Will Smith into superstardom and creating “Big Willy Summer.” This, of course, led to “Wild Wild West,” but we won’t discuss that here.
One of the great all-time cable movies, “Independence Day” was not only fun to watch, but fun to quote dialogue from. There is literally no reason to ever say the words “You don’t think they actually spend $20,000 on a hammer, $30,000 on a toilet seat, do you,” but because of the perfect delivery from Judd Hirsch, it’s a line that even my wife has recited back to me.
What makes “Independence Day” great, above all else, is that it knows exactly what it is, and it fully delivers. It’s completely ridiculous, yet wholly satisfying. And that is best reflected in its most perfect scene.
It’s July 4th. The aliens have spent two days wreaking havoc on Earth, destroying nearly every major city and killing Harvey Firestein. After President Bill Pullman inexplicably reads the thoughts of a captured alien (“I saw what they’re planning to do…Nuke the bastards!”) and Jeff Goldblum creates a virus from an old MacIntosh computer, the Americans finally have a plan to, as Goldblum says in a perfect line reading, “take ‘em…take ‘em down, take ‘em out, do your stuff.” The rest of the world, who has been sitting idly by waiting for said American plan (#America), is on board, and our boys fly an alien spacecraft to dock with the mothership.
“The Godfather” this is not.
Captain Will Smith and Cable Repair Man Jeff Goldblum upload the virus into the mothership, and once its shields are finally down, the battle commences down on Earth. A few things go wrong and they have to, um, hide, but it’s finally time for our heroes to launch their tactical weapon and leave the mothership to return home once and for all.
As soon as Goldblum, who is absolutely perfectly Goldblumian in this entire movie, says, “We’re loose, can you get us out of here in 30 seconds,” we’re off, and the perfect scene commences.
Why It’s Perfect
It’s perfect because there is great tension throughout the entire scene. Our heroes are trapped in an alien docking station, and once they’re freed the situation doesn’t get any better: they’ve got 30 seconds before this thing incinerates.
In a movie that redefines over-the-top, it isn’t enough for them to simply fly as fast as possible through a dizzying maze of columns and corners, they also have to be chased by several alien spacecraft. We know they’re going to make it, but we’re not entirely sure how, especially when they reach the quickly closing porthole. This is shot perfectly – it looks impossible that there will ever be enough time to reach space before it’s too late. A few maneuvers (“Boy, this guy really knows some maneuvers”), a trick of the camera, and a screaming Will Smith later, all of that tension is released: Elvis has left the building.
Speaking of that line, this is also a perfect scene for the impressive acting and hilarious dialogue between Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum. This isn’t the kind of stuff that typically makes the Academy stand up and take notice, but it is arguably some of the hardest stuff to convey in a movie.
Will Smith, for his part, shows you exactly why he is about to become a worldwide superstar: he can be funny, serious, sexy, and an action star, sometimes all in the same scene. But, he perhaps does his best work when the camera is placed in front of him during those familiar, “Star Wars”-esque cockpit shots. That’s a difficult task for an actor, to make the audience believe that he’s really in these dogfights, creating realism and emotion out of literally nothing.
But, as good as Will Smith is on his own, there’s nothing better than the two of these guys together. From the initial “Oops” scene prior to starting the mission, their chemistry is oddly perfect and perfectly odd. In this scene, they’re both doing what they do best: Will Smith is trying to save the world, being the sarcastic hero; and Jeff Goldblum is being, well, Jeff Goldblum.
Will Smith: I ain’t heard no fat lady!
Jeff Goldblum: Forget the fat lady, you’re obsessed with the fat lady! Drive us out of here!
These guys have known each other for only a few hours, yet they feel like an old married couple. It gets better, this Abbott and Costello routine providing relief in the midst of a life-or-death escape:
JG: We’re hit! We took a hit!
WS: We’re not hit! We’re not hit! Stop side-seat driving!
JG: Left! Left! Tunnel! Tunnel! Exit! Exit! Left!
WS: Where the hell do you think I’m going?
JG: Ok, ok. We’re we’re we’re uh… (referencing a joke from literally a few minutes earlier)
JG: Uh oh, they’re closing up on us… they’re closing…
WS: Shut up, shut up, shut up!
JG: Must go faster. Must go faster! Must go faster! Go, go, go, go! (referencing a movie from literally a few years earlier)
WS: Oh! Elvis has left the building!
JG: Oh, thank you very much. Oh, I love you man.
Can you imagine the pitch meeting for this movie, this scene in particular?
“So, I’m thinking the guy from ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ and the guy with the bare chest in ‘Jurassic Park.’ I know what you’re thinking, but it’s going to be perfect!”
And, so it was. The movie may have been a success otherwise, but no one could have been as perfect in these roles, and in this scene, as Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum.
Which is why, today, we celebrate our “Independence Day.”