Independence Day (1996)
[RP] Starring:Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Margaret Colin, Judd Hirsch, Randy Quaid, Vivica A. Fox, Mary McDonnell, James Rebhorn, Harvey Fierstein, Robert Loggia, Harry Connick Jr., Bill Smitrovich
Directed by:Roland Emmerich
Written by:Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin

A nasty gang of insensitive aliens arrive in an intragalactic recreational vehicle (RV) a quarter the mass of the Moon and proceed to systematically trash Earth. They park the mother RV in geostationary orbit and send forth a bunch of lesser RV saucers (only fifteen miles across) which park over major cities.

Just having the aliens show up would totally disrupt the natural order. Lawrence Krauss, in the book Beyond Star Trek, points out that an object with a quarter of the Moon's mass, parked in geostationary orbit would create a tide-producing gravity force twenty-five times higher than the one caused by the Moon. This would flood coastal areas and disrupt geological formations, resulting in earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, not to mention extreme weather changes.

According to Krauss' calculations these disasters of biblical proportions would only be the beginning. If it took the mother RV an hour to slow down, the energy released by its engines would be about ten times greater than the entire luminosity of the sun. We'd be fried before the aliens even arrived. In the movie, however, we are somehow miraculously spared from these inconveniences.

Once in place, the alien RVs are synchronized by Earth's very own communication satellites, since the aliens evidently lack clocks. At the appointed moment they turn on blue death beams and mercilessly blow up about a dozen of Earth's major cities.

Fortunately, it's possible to outrun the expanding wall of fire from an exploding city on foot and escape unharmed just milliseconds before the fireball arrives. This assumes that you have a reasonable head start, don't have too far to run before reaching shelter, and are the beautiful girlfriend of one of the movie's heroic fighter pilots.

Unfortunately the physics say otherwise. A flame front several miles wide and hundreds of feet tall would emit an enormous amount of radiant heat. This would sear people well before the fireball arrived. Those who were sheltered enough to survive the heat would most likely be asphyxiated. The massive fireball would consume all the oxygen in the area.

The blast itself would probably be caused by some form of antimatter. Perhaps the blue light would be a containment field. If it were charged, the antimatter could be transported to the bottom of the field using an electrostatic force. If the containment field were then switched off, the antimatter would contact ordinary matter and turn directly into an enormous amount of energy. A mere ten pounds (4.55 kilograms) of antimatter would release almost twice as much energy as the largest hydrogen bomb ever built (100 megatons). The resulting blast would also release a huge amount of cell-killing gamma radiation in addition to the radiant heat already mentioned.

After the initial loss of a few dozen cities, it's fighter pilots to the rescue! Our boys saddle up their jets and fly out en mass to teach these unruly guests a lesson. They fire a barrage of air-to-air missiles at one of the RV saucers and we wait confidently as the missiles speed toward the target. But, alas, they explode harmlessly on the RV saucer's forcefield shield (duh). The alien craft had previously set off a hydrogen-bomb-sized city-destroying blast a few thousand feet directly below the craft and escaped without a scratch. There is obviously no way this could have happened without a nearly miraculous shielding system.

The whole idea of shooting down a fifteen-mile-diameter saucer with puny air-to-air missiles is silly even if the saucer had no shields. Air-to-air missiles are designed to down airplanes like the F-16, which are only forty-nine feet, five inches long. 1600 of them parked end to end would be slightly less than 15 miles long. Didn't the script writers ever read about David and Goliath or at least watch the Star Wars episodes in which the Death Stars were destroyed? One must find and exploit a weak spot to defeat an obviously superior enemy.

The lesser RVs are filled with alien fightercraft which swarm like bees to engage our fighters. The aliens rather incompetently fire bursts of blue lights from the wing tips of their fighters. These often miss their intended targets. Evidently no one in their race has yet discovered computer-controlled servo devices for aiming the blue lights. Nor have they discovered that drone craft or guided missiles can maneuver faster and shoot down enemy craft with greater efficiency. Perhaps downing Earthling fighters in person is just too much jolly good fun. The alien craft are, after all, equipped with shields, so it's not like there's any real risk involved.

When one of the aliens is captured, the president attempts diplomacy and politely asks it what they want of us. The captured alien tersely replies, "to die," without so much as a please or thank you. On top of all this the aliens look icky and smell bad. Clearly these guys are the galactic trailer trash from hell.

Eventually the task of saving the world falls to the misfit genius and environmentalist David (Jeff Goldblum). During the movie Goldblum has made a name for himself by figuring out how the aliens were using our satellites, saving the president, and recycling aluminum cans while spouting annoying truisms about saving the environment. Goldblum prepares himself for the task of saving Earth by getting drunk. While staggering around in a fit of drunken frustration he has a sudden stoke of genius.

Goldblum sits down with his Macintosh laptop and knocks out the code for a virus which, when implanted in the mother RV, will download itself into all the others, causing them to lower their shields. Luckily the Earthlings have an alien saucer which crashed in Roswell in the 50s. Naturally it's in perfect working order and Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith) can fly anything. Goldblum loads his Macintosh on the craft along with a nuclear bomb and flies off with Smith to upload the virus inside the mother RV.

Once inside the mother RV Goldblum connects his Mac to the alien computer. Fortunately, the alien computer's operating system works just fine with the laptop. This proves an important point which Apple enthusiasts have known for years. While the evil empire of Microsoft may dominate the computers of Earth people, more advanced life-forms clearly prefer Macs.

Meanwhile, the President has recruited a group of pilots from his own RV army camped outside his temporary headquarters. These include drunks, ne'er-do-wells, and loudmouths who would strike fear in the hearts of any invaders. The Earthlings fly off in fighter jets to bravely engage the alien foes who have now been stripped of their shields thanks to the computer virus.

As is our policy we won't reveal the exciting conclusion but will offer a parting thought. Downing a fifteen-mile-diameter saucer would be a disaster. Krauss estimates it would weigh about 100 billion tons and that dropping it from a height of about a mile would release more than 10,000 times as much energy as the nuclear bomb used on Hiroshima.

However, that would be minor compared to the effects of releasing the antimatter fuel aboard the ship. The saucer would still be loaded with enough antimatter fuel to toast several cities as well as return to the mothership. The return trip would lift the saucer thousands of times higher than the one mile fall described. Hence, there would be thousands of times more energy stored in the antimatter fuel than released by a one-mile saucer fall. Breaching the antimatter's containment field would cause one gigantic explosion. Do this to saucers all over the globe and Goldblum would have to recycle an awful lot of aluminum cans to compensate.


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