Film scores

Soundtrack review: Independence Day (David Arnold – 1996)

Independence-Day-Disc-1-cover

“Independence day” is one of my favorite disaster films of the 90s. I remember I was in awe when I saw it on cinema and I went back a couple of times during that week. I must have watched it a dozen times in total and the more I saw it, the more David Arnold’s music stood out. As much as was going on in the movie, as loud as the fighting got there was still that bold, testosterone filled music that still came at me and never got lost. David Arnold was in his state of grace period of the 90s when there was no other one who could dominate blockbuster actions movies like he could. Before Brian Tyler’s rise Arnold was my go to guy for intelligent and complex adrenaline rushes.

It starts with the military sounding main theme with the moody brass section that almost makes me see a flag being raised. The theme is an instant hook and sets the identity of the score but this is not the sound that makes “Independence Day” work so well. Somehow David Arnold found a way to blend the dark fantasy sound of Danny Elfman’s best scores with his own unique brand of powerful action. A cue like “The darkest day” shows me all the magnitude of the event at hand, the alien invasion. The composer takes his own army, the orchestra and charges into battle without restraints, without containing the music in any way. This is what makes this score a classic; the composer understood that a bombastic and spectacular movie like this needed a score to match, without half measures and without wondering if there is such thing as going too far with the music.

Even when the music gets quieter or emotional I still know where I am or what I am listening to. Be it one of the military motifs or the awareness that the power of the music never subsides, “Independence day” stays dark, urgent and potent for the duration. I am writing about the LLL complete edition released in 2010 and the addition of more cues just completes the image I already had of the score.

There are a lot of score and even deluxe editions that are more for completists and also include some filler cues that mostly please fans of the composer or of that particular score. It’s not the case here as every piece of music that comes above the official score only completes a puzzle of an ever bigger magnitude that the original one. Listening to this extended version feels like seeing the alien ship in the sky, coming to terms with how huge and threatening it is and then realizing that that was just the base of a much larger, much more threatening ship.

Cues like “Evacuation” or “Base attack” are lessons in epic film scoring: they mix dark action with emotional motifs and with the military weavings that let us know without a doubt that this is a war score. The entire section of the score that covers the battle scenes has as much fun and adrenaline as I’ve heard in film music.

Listening to “Independence Day” again makes me regret even more that David Arnold has been keeping a low profile lately. This score is a classic and, for me, one of the best and most fun, heroic and inspiring action compositions I’ve heard. David Arnold found the perfect balance between serious and fun and captured the essence of what the movie is about.

Cue rating: 96 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 87 / 99

Album excellence: 88%

Highlights:

S.E.T.I. – Radio Signal

Mysto Bridge /Satellite Collision /Destroyers Disengage /Russel Casse – Pilot

First Sighting /Awac Attack

The Darkest Day

Moving Day /Countdown

Cancelled Leave

Evacuation

Firestorm

Aftermath

Base Attack

Marilyn Found

Area 51 / The Big Tamale / Formaldehyde Freak Show

El Toro Destroyed

Target Remains / Rescue

The Death Of Marilyn / Dad’s A Genius

International Code

The President’s Speech

Just In Case / Attacker Fires Up

The Launch Tunnel / Mutha Ship / Virus Uploaded

Hide! / Russel’s Packin’ (The Day We Fight Back)

He Did It

Jolly Roger

Victory

End Credits

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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