Independence Day ripped off the far superior 1983 TV miniseries, V, correctly assuming that the public has only a short-term memory. The pervasive image of flying saucers hovering over every major metropolitan city in the world is undeniably creepy, especially when the visitors are not our friends. V's mice-munching lizards, disguised in human form as soap opera-friendly actors in bright red Nazi uniforms, wore false smiles and were much scarier than any computer generated menace proposed by ID:4.
What we're quick to forget is that TV movies from the early 80s were actually pretty frightening, what with Ronald Reagan threatening to bomb the Russkies and all. The Day After caused many a sleepless night as Jason Robards marched through a nuclear nightmare. While the good guys ultimately score a point for justice at the end of V, much of the film is devoted to the insidious alien plot to corral humans into concentration camps for food. Yum, yum, yum. A few supporting characters get picked off in the first hour or two when they try to prove that "the truth is out there." We're gonna snatch you, and then we're gonna eat you!
Marc Singer and Faye Grant make for credible freedom fighters, playing a news cameraman and doctor, respectively, but it's the aliens who make the deeper impression. Jane Badler's perpetually shrewish Diana was a Lady Macbeth for the space age, and even better was Richard Herd as John, the kind-faced and soft-spoken politician who speaks of peace in his marmalade voice while innocents are being rounded up in Earth's ghetto and natural resources are being plundered. Sly bastard.
Memorable subplots include the teenage girl (Blair Tefkin) who becomes impregnated by a swell looking alien (Peter Nelson), the smug young opportunist (David Packer) who turns traitor in exchange for a snazzy red uniform (and ultimately gets his just desserts, heh heh), and the wise old Holocaust survivor (Leonardo Cimino, in a small but memorable performance) who lets us know, in case we didn't figure it out already, that this is a ham-fisted allegory. Indeed, writer-director Kenneth Johnson had originally planned V as a World War II series, but when the networks balked he simply made them alien invaders. Clever, no?
As cool as V was, there are still a fair share of ridiculous scenes. I could never abide Robert Englund's cutesy alien, much preferring him as Freddy Krueger. V also didn't have the budget to pull off the elaborate final showdown between alien spaceships and gun toting freedom fighters, and there are some truly corny Star Trek moments with Marc Singer running around the alien spacecraft (read: wobbly set) with friendly alien Martin (Frank Ashmore). Nostalgia does strange things to a man, though -- it makes him more forgiving. V remains a surprisingly engrossing affair. (Avoid the sequel and lame TV-series that followed.)