Welcome (Back) to Earth: What Roland Emmerich Can Learn From Independence Daysaster

Based on its production values, it seems entirely possible that the SyFy Original Movie Independence Daysaster was written, shot, and produced in the short weeks since Roland Emmerich divulged his plans for a pair of sequels to his 1996 blockbuster Independence Day. (That would be Independence Day Forever Part 1 and Independence Day Forever Part 2, for those of you scoring at home; although it’s safe to assume these titles will be shortened to ID4ever1 and ID4ever2 for familiar and promotional purposes.) IDsaster premiered last night, almost as if getting it out before the July 4 holiday was in itself the only goal of the production.

The film certainly smacks — like so much of SyFy’s cinematic oeuvre — of being conceived in a smoky what-if-a-possum-was-crossed-with-a-snake-and-also-solved-crimes* haze and crafted on a dare. But unlike the channel’s better offerings — your Sharktopuses, your Chupacabra vs. The Alamos — this one is marked with a dirgeful sense of “Let’s get this over with.” The majority of the cast seems painfully cognizant of the sort of project they’ve undertaken, but would do well to learn from Lorenzo Lamas’s work in Raptor Island and take a vague stab at acting in accordance with their surroundings.

SyFy’s checks don’t bounce. Show some respect.

(*PossumConda, Okeechobee Detective is not at this moment a real thing, but will surely air on SyFy by 2017.)

Yet there are lessons to be gleaned here, from even this joyless detritus — lessons we hope Emmerich will take to heart as he crafts his latest love letter to the decimation of the human race.

1. Pick Your President Wisely

This is the likeliest pitfall in the crafting of ID4Ever. Emmerich’s track record with commanders in chief is motley. With varying degrees of success, he’s gone young and hale (Bill Pullman in ID4, Jamie Foxx in the forthcoming White House Down) and old and crusty (Kenneth Welsh in The Day After Tomorrow and Danny Glover in 2012). What he really needs to do in ID4Ever is not make Independence Daysaster’s mistake of casting a guy who embodies the worst qualities of both directions. Tom Everett Scott doesn’t supply the necessary cragginess to pull off a convincing POTUS. Even worse, like Glover, he seems at all times to be mildly bewildered at finding himself on a movie set.

If you must cast a commander in chief with nonthreatening good looks, get one with some made-for-TV bona fides. Dean Cain, as evidenced by his performance in the seminal NBC miniseries 10.5 and its sequel, 10.5: The Whole Fucking Planet Cracks in Half, is both willing to stoop to this kind of thing and game for at least looking like he doesn’t bitterly resent his lot in life.

We never thought we’d reverse our positions on this, but we must add: Do not make Channing Tatum the president.

2. Make the Aliens Relatable

Actual extraterrestrial lifeforms are not visible for most of ID4, content largely to zip around in classic-looking flying saucers and kill Harry Connick Jr. IDsaster turns this notion on its side by literally turning what looks like an armada of flying saucers on their sides and adding spinning metal teeth and fire, not unlike those in Battleship.

Emmerich has said the ID4 sequels will see how humans have made technological advancements inspired by the invasion. Might we see an eventual banding together between man and alien to battle a robot uprising? You could pluck the invading space force from IDsaster and recast it as a marauding band of mechanical Langoliers without too much trouble, and stage next summer’s fireballiest big-screen fight with stakes not just of life, but reality. We’re just spitballing here, but that’s how IDsaster got made in the first place.

3. Keep the Disaster Intimate — for Now

ID4 set human trials and relationships against backdrops of large-scale disaster in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. IDsaster pays special attention to President Tom Everett Scott’s remote hometown, where men are men and giant alien drills are giant alien drills. Emmerich spent some screen time in isolated communities in 2012, and it’s a premise he’d do well to explore further at least in the first sequel: That even amid the destruction of America’s most-populated cities, there’s still America out there, filled with American Americans who love their lives even though they’ve never seen a Zipcar and whose limbs sear and snap in the toothy Langolier robot invasion even if they don’t have a Trader Joe’s.

We recognize we’re suggesting this to a guy who sent starving wolves from the Central Park Zoo chasing high school quiz bowl teammates through a Russian cruise liner stranded in the frozen, flooded streets of Manhattan, but it couldn’t hurt to pace yourself, like, a little.

Filed Under: Independence Day, White House Down

Holly Anderson is a staff writer at Grantland.

Archive @ HollyAnderson