So… yeah. Jets.
Happy 4th of July and such, everybody. As a man who’s watched Top Gun every week of this year so far, I needed a change. So I picked another over-the-top Hollywood blockbuster featuring fighter pilots.
First, some backstory. Independence Day was essentially my first big boy movie. I saw it on VHS when I was 12 or 13. Remember, the rating has nothing to do with the quality. But in my young mind, this was huge. PG-13! Mama was gonna let me watch New York blow up! This is almost as big a deal as seeing your first boob.
But we’ll talk about Titanic some other time.
Honestly, Independence Day is burned into my brain. Of course it’s terrible, but it’s in there. When I was a youngling, that was the greatest moment of my life. You tell those aliens, Will Smith! I even did a middle school project about violence in the media for which I had to count each explosion in ID4. My friend Jon and I had to split up the screen and frame-by-frame that sucker in some parts. Luckily, I have since given up on stupid movie-related experiments.
So, how does a Top Gun-addled brain handle the aerial combat cheese of Independence Day?
Pretty well, actually. I watched the movie with Becca, and we had a good time. We both had the VHS with the awesome holographic cover that blew up the White House. I think there’s something to be said for watching a movie over and over again as a child. (I interviewed an actual child to help confirm this theory.) At one point, Becca called Judd Hirsch and Jeff Goldblum “an excellent father-and-son dynamic.” Almost apologetically. And for good reason; this is not a movie to give praise to. But as the film progressed, I began to think that maybe be were watching an excellent B-movie. It’s really kind of enjoyable when you compare it to absolute trash like Transformers or Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen or Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
Here’s what really shocked me: I think it’s better than Top Gun.
From beginning to end, Independence Day gives you a crisis and follows it. Top Gun shows you some enemy fighters, then asks you to just forget about them for 90 minutes. Here, have a love story. Whatever. Okay, now here’s a climax, one that is literally handed to the audience in an envelope. None of that happens in Independence Day. Aliens? Aliens. Fuck those aliens. Credits. It’s focused, it’s exciting, it’s everything you need from the kind of movie that Top Gun should have been.
Also, I’ve watched An Officer and a Gentleman, Top Gun, and Independence Day within a few weeks of each other, and I have a message for any hopeful naval aviators out there… were you voted “Class Clown” in school? Do you own a pair of wind-up chattering teeth or a rubber chicken? Were you the “funny guy” at your summer job? You were? Okay, when you enlist in the military, if you start to become friendly with a cocky, charismatic, protagonist-y sort of guy, quit. Quit right away. That’s all.
There is one arena in which Top Gun wins every time: the dogfight scenes are absolutely incredible. Granted, I have many more films to see, but I think Top Gun might be a product of its time; it was made after the birth of the Hollywood blockbuster, but before the over-use of CGI. That means they were willing to drop the money to get actual jets with cameras mounted to them, instead of all greenscreen and models. Independence Day… yuck. I don’t know how I possibly believed there were real fighter jets in that movie. Everything is a composited mess. There is at least a decent amount of model work, but it looks terrible. That canyon scene honestly looks like a PowerPoint presentation using a photo of a plane. Now, full disclosure: I have not watched any of the “behind-the-scenes magic” features on the Top Gun Blu-Ray to see how they achieved their effects. But do I need to? Just because I can’t tell what’s a model and what’s real doesn’t mean that it doesn’t look the best. Right, Roger Ebert review of Innerspace?
Alright, Becca wants to get ice cream and see fireworks and dress up like Ben Franklin, so let’s wrap. I had fun watching Independence Day, nothing gave me any intense Top Gun flashbacks, and it’s gorgeous outside. Happy America!
Oh, wait, shit, I have to mention this… immediately after the credits of ID4, I had a severe case of “Mighty Wings” by Cheap Trick. That’s when I wondered: do all credits trigger that damn song for me now? I hope this side effect isn’t permanent. More on that in the Results section.
Okay, seriously, AMERICA!