The Entertainment Chuckwagon: When Aliens Attacked

alien_extraterrestrials_190653Aliens. Are they among us and, if so, are they the friendly types who love to snack on Reese’s Pieces or would they rather eat us?

Over the years, Hollywood has offered up several different types of movies and TV shows portraying aliens, from wacky, well-meaning aliens named Mork or big brained Martians bearing laser guns that vaporize everything in sight.

Twenty years ago, two big budget, highly anticipated alien invasion movies appeared on the silver screen. While the films differed on many levels, both featured decidedly antagonistic aliens who wanted to vaporize the human race into dust. Bummer!

Travel with me back in time to the 1996 Super Bowl. During a commercial break, an announcer’s voice told us “July 2nd, they arrive,” and we saw the shadow of a huge, city wide spaceship approach the New York City skyline. The same announcer told us “July 3rd, they attack,” and images of aliens laying waste to major cities flashed before our eyes,  followed by what may be the film’s most iconic shot, the alien ship blowing up the White House.

The title of the film was revealed to be Independence Day, and we were warned to “enjoy the Super Bowl, it may be your last.”

Many viewers, myself included, were terribly excited when the trailer aired, and the next day’s conversation at school centered around our anticipation for the film’s release.

It’s important to note that in 1996, if you wanted to see a movie trailer, you had to wait for it to air on TV or before another film in theaters.

The trailer for Independence Day successfully helped hype the film for a number of reasons. It was brief, and it left much to the imagination. It didn’t feature any of the film’s actors, leaving viewers no clue Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum and even the Fresh Prince of Bel Air himself, Will Smith, starred in the movie. Simply put, it left viewers wanting more, helping to ensure they would plant their derrieres in a theater seat come summer.

Independence Day was released on the July 4th holiday of the same name and was the highest grossing film of 1996. Though Will Smith’s acting career predated his role in the movie, Independence Day was the film that launched him as a leading man. The following summer, he took on the alien threat again in Men in Black.

This coming summer, a sequel – Independence Day: Resurgence – will hit theaters June 24. Pullman, Goldblum and Smith were all asked to reprise their roles; Pullman and Goldblum agreed while Smith declined.

Vivica A. Fox, who played Smith’s wife in Independence Day, is also returning for the sequel.

According to an interview with director Roland Emmerich in the February 2016 issue of Cinema Blend, Smith was originally on board to return but after the box office failure of After Earth, another science fiction themed film in which he appeared in 2013, Smith wasn’t eager to revisit the genre, not to mention he was tired of sequels. After Earth was, in Smith’s own words, “the most painful failure of my career.”

15870725062_0ea83c2746_oAnother alien invasion film was released in 1996, this one in December. Mars Attacks had a lot going for it at first glance, with direction by Tim Burton (Batman, Beetlejuice, and Edward Scissorhands, including others), and an all star cast featuring Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito, Sarah Jessica Parker, Martin Short, Pierce Brosnan, Annette Benning, Michael J. Fox, Glenn Close and Natalie Portman.

Mars Attacks was based on a series of trading cards by the same name that first debuted in 1962. Featuring a Martian attack on Earth, they were popular with kids, but many adults found the graphic depictions of the Martian invasion too violent and inappropriate for children so the cards were pulled from shelves and banned. Years later, they had reached cult following status, and Burton played on some of the cards original themes in the film.

Mars Attacks wasn’t as successful as Independence Days and was met with mixed reviews. Gene Siskel liked it, but Roger Ebert did not.

When aliens attack again this summer, what will be the fate of our heroes?

Find out when we celebrate yet another Independence Day.
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Story by Chuck Brutz for Pennsylvania Bridges