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The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags are used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.
For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for Independence Day can be found here.
While huge alien spacecraft hover over the earth's major cities, the world population watches in fear and wonder. It turns to just fear when the alien force begins to attack and their definses prove to be impenetrable, forcing ex-fighter pilot Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman), now President of the United States, along with U. S. Marine Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith), ex-scientist turned cable technician David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), and crop duster with a drinking problem Russell Casse (Randy Quaid) to engage in a daring counterattack in hopes of saving humanity.
Independence Day is based on a screenplay written by American screenwriter Dean Devlin and German film maker Roland Emmerich (who also directed). The idea for the film is said to come from a question asking Emmerich and Devlin, who were in Europe promoting their film Stargate (1994), whether they believed in aliens. Emmerich stated that he was fascinated by the idea of an alien arrival, and further explained his response by asking the reporter to imagine what it would be like to wake up one morning and discover 15-mile-wide spaceships hovering over the world's largest cities. Emmerich then turned to Devlin and said, "I think I have an idea for our next film." A sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence, is due for release in 2016, and Independence Day 3 has been announced, but no release date has been set.
The story takes place over the U.S.'s independence holiday, beginning on July 2nd when the aliens first arrive, moving through July 3rd when they begin destroying the world's major cities, and ending in the counterattack on the actual Independence Day, July 4th. The implication is that the U.S.'s independence day has now become the world's Independence Day because of all the world's countries banding together to defend the existence of humanity against alien invaders.
David came to realize that, just like the the aliens' use of our satellites to transmit signals to their attack force, he could plant a computer virus in the mothership that would disrupt their shields and filter down to the corresponding ships, making them all vulnerable to attack. It was considered daring because it required Steve, along with David, to fly and dock the Roswell craft in the mothership approaching Area 51, download the virus, plant a nuclear bomb with a 30-second time delay, and escape from the mothership before the explosion occurred.
The beam probably hadn't reached full strength by that point. If you watch the scene of the White House's destruction, the beam does start causing damage before the big blast travels down and blows up the structure—you can clearly see fires erupting in the White House before the big blast. However, given that David had uploaded the virus to the Mother Ship, and it had infected the saucers enough to launch the attack, the saucer that Casse destroys could have been set enough in disarray that the beam wasn't up to full power. That gave Casse enough time to perform his kamikaze maneuver.
In an action film such as this, anything is possible. David is a brilliant computer and communications scientist. He was solely responsible for cracking the code used by the invaders to corrupt our satellites. If he'd figured out how that code worked, it was probably easy for him to invent a new code that would reverse or corrupt it. Although it seems that the aliens would have anticipated how we'd react and launch our counterattack, it's reasonable to say they couldn't think of everything. It's also implied that all of our current day technology is based on things we've reverse-engineered from the crashed craft. Thus, our computer technology would be based on the alien technology, which suggests that they should be compatible and that data should be able to transfer between systems easily.
The most straightforward answer is natural resources. While it would seem more logical to avoid causing mass destruction and fallout across the Earth, the aliens assume that it's better to extinguish as much life on Earth as possible, decimating cities worldwide to put the human race in disarray and unable to launch an effective counterattack. The resources the aliens yearn to plunder would primarily be fuel sources such as nuclear material. Seeing as the aliens have no regard for human life whatsoever, it would seem unfathomable to predict why they would travel light years across the universe to destroy life rather than research it. A clue to their behavior may lie in comparing how humans themselves treat their surroundings in order to survive. The aliens may have consumed everything available on their own planet, so they now wander the universe for survival rather than curiosity. There's actually a line in the film where President Whitmore explains what the aliens are doing after his telepathy attack. He says that the aliens are like locusts, moving their whole civilization to a planet until every resource is consumed and then they move on to another planet. The aliens could have been fleeing from their planet due to a dying star or some other sort of catastrophic threat to their world. Their mothership was certainly big enough to have carried a whole civilization and could have been seeking out another planet similar to their own or gathering the resources to start elsewhere. In a 1983 TV miniseries, V, a race of reptilian aliens invade and occupy Earth in order to steal all of Earth's water and kidnap the human race to use as food. They arrive on Earth in ships similar to the saucers the aliens in this film use, although they aren't as large and they don't come from a mothership out in space. In many sci-fi stories, films, and TV shows, the existence of water on Earth suggests that it's a precious resource among many on Earth, so the aliens in this film could have been after our water. An exception to this would be Signs where water is actually toxic to the aliens.
After David successfully uploads the virus into the mothership's computer, the air strike led by the President begins. It soon becomes apparent, however, that the size of the mothership is too big to inflict widespread damage and that the air force team's supply of missiles is running out. As the mothership prepares to return fire on the Area 51 base, Russell Casse decides to fly his plane directly into the alien weapon. Russ is killed, but the resulting explosion does massive damage to the mothership. Meanwhile, David and Steve have managed to plant the bomb and escape from the mothership within the 30 second delay. A message is immediately sent around the world to alert other nations how to destroy the alien ships hovering over their countries. In the final scene, David and Steve are congratulated by the President and re-united with their families.
Dr. Okun (Brent Spiner) was last seen laying motionless on the floor with Major Mitchell (Adam Baldwin) checking his pulse. According to Brent Spiner (when asked at a UK convention in 2008), when Mitchell checks Okun's pulse the line, "He's dead, sir" was filmed but then cut out of the movie. This was done in anticipation of a sequel where they could bring Okun back and he would still be possessed by the alien which would spark another invasion. The DVD Commentary makes it clear that he is in a coma.
He fired his Secretary of Defense, and there were no other Cabinet members accompanying him. The Vice President, Speaker of the House and all other Cabinet members were in NORAD, which the aliens destroyed. He could have appointed General Grey as acting SecDef, but he would have had to resign his military rank (only civilians can hold an office that is in line for Presidential succession). General Grey is still in uniform when they are up in the air. But in case Whitmore would have been killed, the law indeed specifies that he be succeeded by the Vice President, the Speaker of the House, or a Cabinet member. There are probably no clear regulations nor precedents in case all these persons are unavailable. The remaining authorities would probably have to declare some state of emergency or martial law, which would give local authorities (state governors etc.), the military and institutions such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) temporary power to form small (local) governments. In the meanwhile, a national government would have to be reassembled, elections arranged, etc. In short, the remaining authorities would have a field day determining the legitimate body in charge, so executive power is most likely shared among several persons and agencies. It's possible or even likely that there would simply be no successor President, whereby a military council assumes leadership or a special dictatorship emerges out of an unlawful coup.
The theatrical version runs more than 2 hours. Nevertheless there's also an extended version which contains more than 8 minutes of new footage. Those scenes are only plot scenes for a deeper characterization or to make the story itself more logical. Some of the scenes are quite interesting, some just redundant, but fans can purchase the extended version without seconds thoughts. A detailed comparison between both versions with pictures can be found here.
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