- Composed by David Arnold
- La-La Land / 2010 / 129m (score 100m)
Roland Emmerich’s incredibly successful Independence Day came out in 1996 surrounded by hype and seemed to me to be very much enjoyed by audiences, even as critics were sneering at it. More pretentious types now seem to have retrofitted a kind of post-modern satire onto Emmerich’s intentions with the film but I highly doubt it was ever intended to be anything other than a highly enjoyable piece of popcorn entertainment, which it is despite its frequently dumbfoundingly ridiculous nature.
Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin had forged a very successful relationship with British composer David Arnold on 1994’s Stargate but it was this film that really launched all of them into the stratosphere. When it came out, it was still a time when you could go to the cinema, watch a film and not know until you saw the credits who had provided the music, which is what happened to me. I remember sitting through the film, enjoying it, and noticing the music (kids of 2016 might not realise what that means – but there did actually used to be big summer blockbusters where you would notice the music). Fascinated to see which of my favourite composers had written the score, I was amazed when I saw Arnold’s name in the credits, since I’d never actually heard of him (ah, pre-internet ignorance). But it was obvious to all concerned that he was a major talent and shortly afterwards he found himself doing James Bond and a host of other big movies (though for whatever reason, twenty years later, he is sadly almost entirely absent from the world of film music).
Independence Day is a huge score. It’s evident from the album’s excellent liner notes, which feature lengthy interview quotes from both Arnold and Devlin, that the composer took his responsibility the film very seriously but knew how ridiculous it was and knew he had a great opportunity to tap into that ridiculousness (the morse code of “International Code”, one of the silliest sequences ever shot for a film, is just great) and write music with a huge scope designed to be memorable, big, thematic, timeless – and that is precisely what it is.
There are multiple big themes which play through the action music. A noble trumpet theme represents humanity’s spirit in fighting off the alien invaders and clearly owes a debt to Dances With Wolves‘s John Dunbar Theme, written by one of Arnold’s musical heroes; it’s the first theme heard in the score but perhaps its finest moment comes in “The President’s Speech”, written to accompany a scene which provoked prolonged laughter from the entire audience when I was in the cinema in a way I’ve never seen before or since (even in films which are actually meant to be funny). But there are plenty more themes besides. There are some lovely, tender, emotional moments (not that many admittedly, but they are there, and provide some welcome relief from all the thrills) and I love the darker theme for the aliens, but the highlight is the grandly heroic theme which dominates the action music.
And the action music is something else, it really is – absolutely barnstorming, epic, stupendously good. It’s so deliciously overblown, so enthusiastic, so brilliantly-orchestrated. “Evacuation” (which at one point acts as a precursor to some of the composer’s biggest Bond action cues) is glorious; the grand finale “The Day We Fight Back” even better, everything coming together with the broadest strokes, the grandest gestures – it’s breathtaking. But there’s still more – Arnold saves the best till last, his magnificent nine-minute end title piece, so big and bold and brassy, with the kind of trumpet and horn playing that would make lesser men and women pass out. Just when you think it can’t get any bigger, you realise you were wrong, when the choir pitches up to join in the fun just before it reaches its climax.
The 50-minute soundtrack album released at the time was incredibly satisfying but lots of people were clamouring for more and finally in 2010 La-La Land put out this comprehensive set featuring the whole 100-minute score along with various bonus material. It’s an almost obscenely entertaining piece of entertainment. This is what the music for a daft summer blockbuster is supposed to sound like, it remains the crowning glory of Arnold’s career to date but to be honest it’s not just him who hasn’t written anything quite like it in the twenty years since (he hasn’t worked on a film that would have sustained it) – nobody has. Sadly the La-La Land album sold out a long time ago and is now expensive to obtain, but I’m sure a reissue will be along at some point. This is the type of score that demands a place in any film music fan’s collection.
See also: Independence Day: Resurgence Thomas Wander and Harald Kloser