Independence Day: Resurgence delivers global spectacle on an unimaginable scale.
For director Roland Emmerich, Independence Day: Resurgence marks a return to the universe he and co-writer and producer Dean Devlin created two decades ago. They captured cinematic lightning in a bottle—electrifying audiences around the around the world with drama, action, fun, unforgettable characters, and a presidential speech that’s still quoted today.
In short, the film was nothing less than a game-changer: it became part of our pop cultural conversation, and reminded us why we go to the movies.
We always knew they were coming back.
After Independence Day redefined the event movie genre, the next epic chapter delivers global spectacle on an unimaginable scale.
Set twenty years after the alien invasion that nearly decimated the planet, Independence Day: Resurgence presents an alternate reality to our world today.
Using recovered Alien technology, the nations of Earth have collaborated on an immense defense program to protect the planet. But nothing can prepare us for the Aliens’ advanced and unprecedented force. Only the ingenuity of a few brave men and women can bring our world back from the brink of extinction.
Notably, the new film is Emmerich’s first sequel.
“This world is very special to me, and I wanted to do right by it and the characters,” says the filmmaker. “Enough time has passed that it all felt fresh to me.” Also nudging Emmerich back to the world of Independence Day was the chance to employ visual effects that were light years ahead of those available twenty years ago.
With Independence Day: Resurgence Emmerich notes, the characters and fun are now taking center stage. “Audiences really like these characters,” he explains. “We’ve expanded the universe of Independence Day, and I can’t wait for people to experience it.”
Screenwriter Nicolas Wright notes that he and writing partner James A. Woods wanted to capture the first film’s “innocent and honest humor and tone as much as possible,” noting that since ID4’s release, many other big studio franchises “have jumped on that kind of humor. They have a great rhythm—intense action punctuated with humor and then underlined with emotion.”
Adds Woods: “The dramatic moments and spectacle land that much better if they’re supported by humor and great characters.”
Independence Day: Resurgence expands the mythology of the Independence Day universe by putting the band back together—reuniting original cast members from the first film—as well as introducing new players from around the world.
For director Roland Emmerich, the ensemble is a dream team. “It’s exciting to see this handover from one generation to the next,” he notes. “We have veteran heroes from the first film making way for a team of new ones. With the original cast on set, and off, it’s like a 20-year class reunion—the class of ‘96.”
Dean Devlin notes: “The most rewarding part of the project is being on set with these actors again and seeing that they are not just as good as they were then; they’ve gotten even better. When you’re writing the script, you wonder, ‘What’s it going to be like 20 years later?’ Then, our returnees work on this film, and they just light up the screen and our new team shines, as well. It’s the perfect mix.”
Liam Hemsworth heads the cast of newcomers, portraying Jake Morrison a hotshot heroic fighter pilot of Alien-human hybrid jets, and enjoyed exploring the character’s motivations to be at the front lines of this new battle against the Aliens. “Jake’s parents were killed during the War of 1996, so he has a bit of a chip on his shoulder in this fight.”
The looming Alien invasion may just do that for Jake, just as it changes the life of David Levinson, again portrayed by Jeff Goldblum. In Independence Day, it was Levinson who figured out how to stop the Alien threat in the great War of ‘96. In doing so, he was propelled into the spotlight as a world hero. After the war, Levinson spent 20 years trying to prepare us for the next attack he always knew was coming, using the Alien technology acquired during and after the first invasion.
Goldblum loved further exploring the character’s many nuances. “David Levinson is complex. He’s a wildly romantic person with an abiding love for the planet and for all living things. Most of all, he’s humble and curious. So all these things come into play as he receives jaw-dropping, life-changing, species-changing information about where we are and who else is out there and what could happen to us.”
Goldblum further notes that while the Alien invaders have more advanced weaponry and vehicles than humans, they lack a fundamental trait that could mean hope for the brave men and women taking the fight to them. “The Aliens are advanced militarily, but in some ways they reflect some of our own smallest stupidities. They have a disregard for a living planet’s inherent beauty, and a need to exploit resources at the planet’s expense. That could be their undoing, as it could be ours in our real, non-movie world.”
While David Levinson is shouldering new and impactful responsibilities, he remains at heart the character we met in Independence Day. But his former commander-in-chief has undergone some seismic changes.
Bill Pullman reprises his role as former U.S. president Thomas J. Whitmore, who led the planetary defense in 1996. Due to his close encounters with the Aliens at that time, Whitmore has undergone what medical professionals refer to as Alien Residual Condition. Severe internal changes have left Whitmore haunted and disturbed, and “knowing” what the Aliens know. He has visions of their impending return and dark premonitions of the Aliens’ plans for Earth.
“Whitmore has been exposed, in an unfiltered way, to the entire consciousness of the Alien fleet,” Pullman explains. “It’s like a shockwave to his brain. But he’s still a hero to the world, even though he’s been sequestered off by his daughter Patricia and a close circle of associates, because Whitmore is convinced, through his visions and intuitions, that the Aliens are coming back—and no one believes him.”
Emmerich adds that Whitmore “has lost himself. In classic drama, this character would be referred to as the fool, a crazy person. The Aliens still occupy his mind. Whitmore was changed by this experience and is now connected to the Aliens’ huge hive-like mind. He knows they’re coming back, and he thinks this time we cannot beat them.”
Says Devlin: “I always loved this idea that the bravest, most heroic leader on the planet has seemingly lost his mind over the past 20 years because the Aliens have been in his head. To see Bill Pullman reach down deep and explore this new facet to Whitmore, and at the same time bring back all the strengths and power of the character we’ve come to know and love, is a joy.”
Whitmore’s signature moment in the first film was his delivery of a rousing speech to rally the nation’s forces against the Alien invaders. Twenty years later, in our real world, those remarks remain iconic, and were even quoted in a recent Super Bowl spot. When Forbes Magazine compiled a list of the best-ever presidential speeches, President Whitmore’s rhetoric was at the top.
“The popularity of this speech blows my mind,” says Devlin. “When we were writing the original movie, we wanted to do a scene like the Saint Crispin’s Day speech in Shakespeare’s Henry V, where the king sees his men all ready to go to battle but they’re nervous. And he knows he has to rally them if they’re going to succeed…”
Emmerich interjects: “…so we only had to write a speech as good as the Saint Crispin’s Day speech? No problem!”
Devlin continues: “I said, ‘Look, let’s not get hung up on it now. Let me just go in the other room, I’ll whip out something in a few minutes as a placeholder. Later, we can rework it and spend serious time and get this speech right.’ In a stream of consciousness, I wrote a speech in about five minutes. I put it in the script, and we moved on with making the rest of the movie. Well, the day comes to shoot the scene and I suddenly realized, ‘Oh, my God. We never really worked on this speech!’
“So I came running down to the set to see if I could fix it and work on it, and as I got to the set, Roland was in mid-rehearsal with Bill. As he performed the speech, everybody on set started cheering and applauding. And I was like, ‘I… think that works. We’ll go with that.’”
The filmmakers knew that recreating that soaring oratory in the new film would be difficult, if not impossible, so they went in another direction. “It’s never a good idea to try and replicate something that’s so perfect, like that speech,” says Woods. “So, in a wink to the audience, we decided to take a different and more subtle approach,” instead having Whitmore give a kind of pep talk to David, who’s despairing at Earth’s chances of stopping the invasion. “Whitmore has to motivate the fixer—David—and the fixer is his best friend,” adds Woods.
Roland Emmerich is a master at mixing grandeur and fun. As production designer Barry Chusid notes: “Roland thinks big. When you dream up something big, he would think of something even bigger. He’s always pushing boundaries of scale and scope.”
Emmerich humbly credits advances in computer generated imagery in helping him create spectacular scenes, with producer Devlin adding, “The beauty of what Roland did in the first film is that he has married old-fashioned visual effects techniques with digital techniques. Today, the only limits are your imagination, and Roland has an incredible visual imagination.”
Another key player in bringing the fun and epic scale to life is production designer Barry Chusid, who worked with Emmerich on The Day After Tomorrow and 2012. “Roland is one of the bolder directors I’ve ever worked with,” says Chusid. “He allows you to take chances that you might not take and sometimes you end up dangling over the cliff but most often you end up on a wondrous road that you never even imagined.”
Under Emmerich’s direction and vision, Chusid approached the design of IDR as a stand-alone film, and not as a sequel. “Roland loves sci-fi, as do I, and one of the best things about working with him is he will push the boundaries of what the shot can be,” notes Chusid. “The scope is so vast that it’s not fathomable. When you’re trying to quantify things, you’re tasked with making them plausibly live in the world that now has issues with light, darkness and gravity.”
Chusid notes that he particularly embraced the Alien-human hybrid designs. “Early on, we had the idea that humans had harvested the technology from the downed Alien Destroyer ships,” he explains. “Humans can understand some, but not all of it, which they’ve used to help them in the coming Alien invasion. Whether humans are building a jet or a tug or weaponry, like a cannon or just a rifle, they can use that Alien technology and it’s like a spice… it just makes everything better.”
Humanity’s utilization of Alien technology points to one of the film’s bigger themes. “One of the things we are trying to portray was the idea that all the world’s nations are now united against a common enemy,” Chusid adds. “They’ve done it once before; they will do it again. Moreover, there’s no longer a divide between civilians and military, and between countries. We will use whatever we can get our hands on to fight the Aliens.”