Independence Day (1996) Beat Sheet
Written by: Dean Devlin & Roland Emmerich
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Genre: Monster in the House
Opening Image: July 2. A plaque rests before a motionless American flag on the moon declaring, “We came in peace for all mankind.” As the dust stirs and the astronauts’ footprints are disturbed, a massive shadow covers the surface.
Catalyst: The Catalyst comes early for several of the main characters. In New Mexico, SETI receives a signal from space. In Washington, D.C., the Pentagon’s Space Command monitors an anomalous object near the moon, which is slowing down.
Set-Up: The Set-Up shows the things that need fixing in each character’s life. As President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman) talks to his wife, who is in L.A., the television screen glitches, a sign that something is wrong with the satellites. His staffer Connie (Margaret Colin) addresses the current political concerns of the pundits on TV, but Whitmore won’t be moved by their criticisms.
In New York, David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) meets his father Julius (Judd Hirsch) for chess. The cable repairman/environmentalist refuses to move on after splitting from his wife.
Vietnam veteran Russell Casse (Randy Quaid) mistakenly flies his plane in a drunken stupor, crop dusting the wrong field and earning him the ire of his three teenage children.
These characters are about to leave their thesis worlds in which they are alone with their problems. Soon, they will come together to face a common enemy.
Theme Stated: The theme isn’t directly stated as it is in other films. However, the clear message is unity in the face of a common danger. This is reflected in the diversity of the characters from different walks of life, religions, occupations, and social classes.
Catalyst (Double-Bump): The Catalyst for the rest of the world occurs as massive spaceships arrive in the skies. No longer can the president and the higher-ups hope to keep the events a secret. The monsters have entered the house.
Debate: As the president consults his advisors, panic erupts in the city streets. Russell Casse nurses a hangover, only to be harassed by local men who question him about his abduction experience. More spaceships arrive over major cities, and David Levinson finds a signal inside Earth’s satellites that is causing the disruption to the television service. He soon discovers that it is counting down, but to what? As President Whitmore addresses the nation, David tries to contact his ex-wife, the president’s staffer.
Air force Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith) awakens to find a spaceship hovering over L.A., and soon he must report to El Toro for duty. His life has things that need fixing as well: he is afraid to commit to his girlfriend, and he has been rejected by NASA numerous times for admission into the space program. After David and his father travel to D.C. to reach Connie and to warn the president about the countdown, the White House is evacuated.
Break into Two: The ships open, and the countdown ends.
B Story: There are several individual B Stories, including those of Steven and Jasmine, David and Connie, and the President and First Lady. But it is the relationship of all of humanity, coming together despite their differences, which will help them defeat the invaders.
Fun & Games: The aliens destroy the cities (with a special focus on the landmarks). In the upside-down antithesis world, the characters will learn that they are not alone.
July 3. The cities lie in ruins. Steven Hiller and other pilots at El Toro mount a counterattack, but all of the alien ships have force fields. During the dogfight, Hiller succeeds in causing an alien fighter to crash, allowing him to knock out and capture the creature.
The president and his advisors argue about what to do next, only to be interrupted by Julius Levinson, who refers back to the knowledge they learned in Roswell. While President Whitmore at first discounts the stories of Roswell and Area 51 as no more than myths, he soon learns from his defense secretary that there is some truth to the rumors. It’s the sin of keeping secrets that has allowed the monsters to gain the upper hand.
As Hiller drags the alien across the desert, he encounters a caravan of RVs and hitches a ride to a nearby military base. Meanwhile, his girlfriend Jasmine picks up survivors in Los Angeles, finding the president’s wife among the wreckage.
At Area 51, the president and others see the crashed Roswell ship and its deceased alien passengers, discovering what was learned about their species. They are physiologically like us, which is why they probably desire our planet for the taking.
Midpoint: Hiller arrives with the caravan, the unconscious alien with them. It appears to be a victory for the humans, because it means that the invaders can be overcome… but as they will soon realize, it’s a false victory, because the alien won’t go down without a fight. Meanwhile, while those in Area 51 are safe, other cities are destroyed, and the time clock appears as they realize that they are looking at the destruction of every major city within the next 36 hours.
Bad Guys Close In: Hiller learns that the base at El Toro, where he was supposed to meet Jasmine, has been destroyed. Only 15% of the armed forces are left. Dr. Okun (Brent Spiner) and his team attempt to learn about the alien’s physiology, but the alien regains consciousness in the process. As the president and his team arrive at the destroyed lab, the alien uses Okun as a puppet to communicate with the president. Telepathically, it tells Whitmore that there can be no peace, and that they only want the humans to die. Whitmore sees their plans, in which they will move from planet to planet, devouring resources like locusts. He decides to resort to nuclear weapons to take out the ships, beginning with the one over Houston. While the blast levels the city, it leaves the hovering ship unscathed.
David confronts his inner bad guys, wondering whether love was enough to sustain his relationship with Connie. Hiller pushes back against overwhelming despair by stealing a chopper and going to El Toro on the chance that he will find Jasmine alive and waiting for him. He finds her, and filled with hope, he brings the survivors to Area 51, where President Whitmore and his daughter are reunited with the First Lady. Unfortunately, the doctors can’t stop her bleeding.
All Is Lost: The First Lady dies, but this is not the only whiff of death. As the president mourns his wife, David is in despair at the thought of losing the planet, questioning the point of his environmentalist efforts if the earth is to be overtaken anyway.
Dark Night of the Soul: David and his father have a heart-to-heart conversation, in which his father confides that everyone loses faith at some point in their lives, but they must press on and look toward the good that is left. He jokingly reminds David to remember what he still has: his health. However, it’s enough to plant an idea in David’s mind, one that can help them defeat the invaders.
Break into Three: David shows the president and his team his plan to pilot the recovered alien fighter into the mother ship and release a computer virus, enabling the humans to take out the destroyers over the cities. In their synthesis world, A and B Stories meet as humanity realizes they are not alone. Our differences are meaningless when we come together as one race, the human race.
Finale: Gathering the Team, the U.S. activates armed forces around the world using Morse Code. President Whitmore rallies the pilots with a speech, while David and Hiller take the alien ship into space.
Executing the Plan, the offensive begins, with fighter planes attacking the alien destroyer in Nevada after David and Hiller dock with the mothership, uploading the virus. It’s a success, and the destroyer and fighter ships are now vulnerable. But there’s a High Tower Surprise for David and Hiller as their ship won’t un-dock from the clamps, meaning they won’t be able to escape after launching the nuke meant to bring down the mothership. Meanwhile, on Earth, the destroyer prepares to fire its primary weapon, and the fighter planes are almost out of missiles.
Digging, Deep Down, pilot Russell Casse sacrifices himself to take out the destroyer, marking Earth’s first victory. Hiller and David also prepare for the Execution of the New Plan: to make the ultimate sacrifice by launching the nuke. But when their ship is jolted loose, they are able to escape and destroy the mothership.
Final Image: In the desert, the team finds Hiller and David walking away from the crashed alien fighter. As pieces of the destroyed mothership enter our atmosphere, raining down through the sky, they resemble “fireworks,” a reminder of humanity’s true “Independence Day.”