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16 Earth-Shattering Facts About Independence Day

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In the summer of 1996, “Macarena” was on its way to becoming the year’s number one pop hit, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air had just wrapped its six-season run, and that show’s star, Will Smith, was just kicking off a period in his career that would see him star in one major film per year for the next dozen years. When Independence Day hit theaters on July 3, it quickly established itself as the year’s biggest film (easily trouncing Twister, Mission: Impossible, and The Rock in ticket sales), and rocketed Smith into the outer stratosphere of fame.

In its 20 years on Earth, you might’ve learned a lot about Roland Emmerich’s sci-fi blockbuster, but plenty of the film’s biggest secrets have remained hidden. Here are just a handful of Independence Day facts—rescued from Hollywood’s most top-secret underground bunkers—that might make you see this extraterrestrial classic in a whole new beam of light.

1. MANY SCENES WERE SHOT AT WENDOVER AIRFIELD, EX-HOME OF THE ENOLA GAY.

Independence Day features a number of scenes filmed at Utah’s historic Wendover Airfield, including exterior shots of “Area 51,” various moments of heroism and terror for the film’s fighter pilots, and President Thomas J. Whitmore’s (Bill Pullman’s) landmark pre-battle speech. The base has played host to numerous films and military projects over the years, and once housed the B-29 bomber Enola Gay, which became the first aircraft to drop an atomic bomb.

2. THE FILM LOST ITS MILITARY SUPPORT DUE TO ITS AREA 51 REFERENCES.

In its roundup of insights from the Independence Day DVD commentary, Film School Rejects points out that the U.S. military had initially agreed to support the film’s production by offering greater access to military facilities and consultation from real-life officers, soldiers, and pilots. However, according to the film’s producer and co-writer Dean Devlin, the military withdrew its support after learning about the script’s multiple references to Area 51 being a hub for extraterrestrial projects.

3. CALIFORNIANS THOUGHT THE “WELCOME WAGON” HELICOPTER WAS A REAL UFO.

When the production team tested out the light-rigged helicopter that would represent humankind’s “Welcome Wagon” for alien visitors, more than 150 Californians called the police to report UFO sightings.

4. THE FILM’S EL TORO AIRBASE IS A NOD TO THE WAR OF THE WORLDS.

Independence Day takes many cues from the 1953 sci-fi flick, an adaptation of H. G. Wells’ classic 1898 novel, which similarly sees aliens attack the planet and resist our heaviest weapons. In Emmerich’s film, Will Smith’s squadron of fighter pilots is stationed at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, a real-life California facility that was decommissioned in 1999. The site was also home base for the atomic bomber that tries (and fails) to destroy invading Martians in The War of the Worlds.

5. THE COMPUTER VIRUS THAT SAVES THE DAY IS ALSO A REFERENCE TO THE WAR OF THE WORLDS.

In both the novel and film versions of The War of the Worlds, mankind’s biggest guns fail to take down Martian attackers. Instead, it’s tiny viruses in our atmosphere—mostly harmless to humans, but foreign to Martian immune systems—that finally do the job. In Independence Day, too, Bill Pullman’s presidential order to “nuke the bastards” doesn’t even make a dent in the aliens’ front, but a cunning (if confusing) computer virus manages to destroy the invaders at last.

In the case of Independence Day’s viral “Hail Mary,” fans have raised criticism—and plenty of eyebrows—over the years regarding just how on Earth David Levinson (played by Jeff Goldblum) could have drummed up a computer virus that affects alien technology so quickly. Devlin offered some answers during a 2014 Reddit AMA:

"Okay: what Jeff Goldblum’s character discovered was that the programming structure of the alien ship was a binary code. And as any beginning programmer can tell you, binary code is a series of ones and zeroes. What Goldblum’s character did was turn the ones into zeroes and the zeroes into ones, effectively reversing the code that was sent."

Cracked notes that there was also a seven-minute scene that would’ve addressed this issue for viewers from the very beginning, and which suggests that modern computers in the Independence Day universe are descended from a reverse-engineered version of recovered alien tech courtesy Area 51. Unfortunately, that scene was cut from the final release of the film, only adding to viewers’ confusion.

6. THE ALIENS’ FOUL SLIME WAS REALLY K-Y JELLY.

As the New York Daily News reported in 1996, the very alien-seeming goo that slicked the surfaces of some Independence Day invaders was actually personal lubricant.

7. ITS “DEEP SPACE SATELLITE DEVLIN” REFERENCES STAR WARS.

Detail-oriented fans may have noticed that the “Deep Space Satellite Devlin” (named for the film’s producer and co-writer) that shows up on a Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) institute computer monitor looks eerily familiar. As Screen Rant points out, that’s because it’s a mini version of Star Wars' Death Star.

8. JEFF GOLDBLUM SAID “MUST GO FASTER” IN BOTH JURASSIC PARK AND INDEPENDENCE DAY.

Goldblum first uttered the famous line in 1993’s Jurassic Park, then tried it out again in Independence Day—at Emmerich’s request. Steven Spielberg, reportedly, was not pleased.

9. LOTS OF GOLDBLUM’S DIALOGUE WAS IMPROVISED.

According to Devlin, more than half of the dialogue Goldblum exchanged with Will Smith and Judd Hirsch (who played Goldblum’s father) was improvised. For example, most of Goldblum’s and Smith’s lines while they’re navigating the salvaged alien vessel into its enormous mothership were made up on the spot.

10. THE PRESIDENT’S ROLE WAS WRITTEN FOR KEVIN SPACEY, BUT STUDIO EXECS DIDN’T THINK HE WAS STAR MATERIAL.

As co-writer of the film and a childhood friend of Kevin Spacey’s, Devlin initially developed the role of Independence Day’s POTUS with Spacey in mind, but Twentieth Century Fox reportedly wasn’t having it. “We literally had an argument,” Devlin told The Hollywood Reporter, "and the executive, who's no longer there, said he just didn't think Kevin Spacey was a movie star."

11. MATTHEW PERRY DROPPED OUT OF THE FILM. BUT HIS DAD HAD A ROLE.

Film School Rejects reports that the role of Captain Jimmy “Raven” Wilder, which was eventually played by Harry Connick Jr., was originally offered to Matthew Perry. He pulled out before shooting began, though, making his father, John Bennett Perry, who played a Secret Service agent, the only Perry in the film.

12. JAMES BROWN HAD A CAMEO. (AT LEAST HIS VOICE DID.)

According to Devlin, the sound mix accompanying Randy Quaid’s heroic, self-sacrificial plunge into a ship’s weaponry includes a voice clip of the Godfather of Soul himself.

13. THE FILM FACED CENSORSHIP AND PROPOSED BANS IN LEBANON.

The Los Angeles Times’ 1996 review of Independence Day suggested that the film had a serious tendency to “marry schlocky plot elements to a cheerful insistence on stereotyping, among others, Jews, gays, alcoholics, scientists and residents of Los Angeles.” In Lebanon, negative reactions to Independence Day’s presentation of its characters were even greater, and led to censorship and proposed bans of the film.

In November 1996, The Washington Post reported that Lebanese censors trimmed the movie twice under supervision of their Interior Ministry’s Public Security Department, and that many cuts recognized Muslim/Jewish tension in the region. “Gone is the scene in which Judd Hirsch dons a skullcap and leads a group of White House aides and soldiers in a Hebrew prayer for mercy,” wrote Barton Gellman. “Gone, too, is the fleeting footage—a few seconds at most—of Israeli troops working side by side with Arabs in a desert redoubt.”

14. DUE TO LICENSING WORRIES, THE FILM WAS ALMOST TITLED DOOMSDAY.

People’s Choice notes that Fox execs weren’t initially thrilled about using the title Independence Day, the rights to which were still owned by Warner Bros. after the studio’s 1983 film of the same name. Speaking to Complex, Emmerich, Devlin, Pullman, and several of the film’s other key players explained that the ultimate line of Bill Pullman’s humanity-rousing speech was designed to show Fox just how affecting their preferred title could be. According to Pullman:

"[There] suddenly came some interest in pushing up the date in the schedule on when we would shoot the speech, because Fox was considering pushing the title ‘Doomsday.’ That would’ve been a horrible title, and I’ve gone through a couple movies that got stuck with bad titles. So it was urgent to get it in and to have the words, “Today we celebrate our Independence Day” to prove why that had to be the title. I felt the urgency to get it right."

15. THE PRESIDENT’S SPEECH WAS BASED ON SHAKESPEARE’S HENRY V.

“The speech is obviously very derivative of Shakespeare’s Henry V and his St. Crispin’s Day speech before the Battle of Agincourt, where King Henry leads his outnumbered men into battle,” Michael Waldman, who served as Bill Clinton’s Director of Speechwriting from 1995 to 1999, told Complex. “In the Independence Day speech the president says, ‘July Fourth will no longer be known as an American holiday…’ Henry the Fifth says, ‘This day is called the Feast of St. Crispian, he that outlives this day and comes safe home will stand a-tip-toe when this day is named.’ Basically, they took that and rewrote it. Shakespeare wasn’t gonna sue.”

Added Devlin: “Roland turned to me and said, 'Oh great. We only have to write a speech as great as the St. Crispin’s Day speech. How are we going to do that?’ … I said, ‘Let me kind of just vomit out something really fast now and then we’ll spend a lot of time on it later and really rewrite it and make it perfect.’ So I went into the other room and literally in five minutes I whipped the speech out, put it into the script—we didn’t even read it. It was just a placeholder.”

In the end, though, the only change the duo made was the last-minute addition of its final line.

16. IN ALL, THE SCRIPT TOOK JUST FOUR WEEKS TO WRITE.

As the Los Angeles Times noted, Devlin and Emmerich penned the script for the 39th biggest box office hit in U.S. history (adjusted for inflation) in just four weeks. Not bad for a month’s work.

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Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
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15 Must-See Holiday Horror Movies
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment

Families often use the holidays as an excuse to indulge in repeat viewings of Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Elf. But for a certain section of the population, the yuletide is all about horror. Although it didn’t truly emerge until the mid-1970s, “holiday horror” is a thriving subgenre that often combines comedy to tell stories of demented Saint Nicks and lethal gingerbread men. If you’ve never seen Santa slash someone, here are 15 movies to get you started.

1. THANKSKILLING (2009)

Most holiday horror movies concern Christmas, so ThanksKilling is a bit of an anomaly. Another reason it’s an anomaly? It opens in 1621, with an axe-wielding turkey murdering a topless pilgrim woman. The movie continues on to the present-day, where a group of college friends are terrorized by that same demon bird during Thanksgiving break. It’s pretty schlocky, but if Turkey Day-themed terror is your bag, make sure to check out the sequel: ThanksKilling 3. (No one really knows what happened to ThanksKilling 2.)

2. BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)

Fittingly, the same man who brought us A Christmas Story also brought us its twisted cousin. Before Bob Clark co-wrote and directed the 1983 saga of Ralphie Parker, he helmed Black Christmas. It concerns a group of sorority sisters who are systematically picked off by a man who keeps making threatening phone calls to their house. Oh, and it all happens during the holidays. Black Christmas is often considered the godfather of holiday horror, but it was also pretty early on the slasher scene, too. It opened the same year as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and beat Halloween by a full four years.

3. SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984)

This movie isn’t about Santa Claus himself going berserk and slaughtering a bunch of people. But it is about a troubled teen who does just that in a Santa suit. Billy Chapman starts Silent Night, Deadly Night as a happy little kid, only to witness a man dressed as St. Nick murder his parents in cold blood. Years later, after he has grown up and gotten a job at a toy store, he conducts a killing spree in his own red-and-white suit. The PTA and plenty of critics condemned the film for demonizing a kiddie icon, but it turned into a bona fide franchise with four sequels and a 2012 remake.

4. RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE (2010)

This Finnish flick dismantles Santa lore in truly bizarre fashion, and it’s not easy to explain in a quick plot summary. But Rare Exports involves a small community living at the base of Korvatunturi mountain, a major excavation project, a bunch of dead reindeer, and a creepy old naked dude who may or may not be Santa Claus. Thanks to its snowy backdrop, the movie scored some comparisons to The Thing, but the hero here isn’t some Kurt Russell clone with equally feathered hair. It’s a bunch of earnest kids and their skeptical dads, who all want to survive the holidays in one piece.

5. TO ALL A GOODNIGHT (1980)

To All a Goodnight follows a by-now familiar recipe: Add a bunch of young women to one psycho dressed as Santa Claus and you get a healthy dose of murder and this 1980 slasher flick. Only this one takes place at a finishing school. So it’s fancier.

6. KRAMPUS (2015)

Although many Americans are blissfully unaware of him, Krampus has terrorized German-speaking kids for centuries. According to folklore, he’s a yuletide demon who punishes naughty children. (He’s also part-goat.) That’s some solid horror movie material, so naturally Krampus earned his own feature film. In the movie, he’s summoned because a large suburban family loses its Christmas cheer. That family has an Austrian grandma who had encounters with Krampus as a kid, so he returns to punish her descendants. He also animates one truly awful Jack-in-the-Box.

7. THE GINGERDEAD MAN (2005)

“Eat me, you punk b*tch!” That’s one of the many corny catchphrases spouted by the Gingerdead Man, an evil cookie possessed by the spirit of a convicted killer (played by Gary Busey). The lesson here, obviously, is to never bake.

8. JACK FROST (1997)

No, this isn’t the Michael Keaton snowman movie. It’s actually a holiday horror movie that beat that family film by a year. In this version, Jack Frost is a serial killer on death row who escapes prison and then, through a freak accident, becomes a snowman. He embarks on a murder spree that’s often played for laughs—for instance, the cops threaten him with hairdryers. But the comedy is pretty questionable in the infamous, and quite controversial, Shannon Elizabeth shower scene.

9. ELVES (1989)

Based on the tagline—“They’re not working for Santa anymore”—you’d assume this is your standard evil elves movie. But Elves weaves Nazis, bathtub electrocutions, and a solitary, super grotesque elf into its utterly absurd plot. Watch at your own risk.

10. SINT (2010)

The Dutch have their own take on Santa, and his name is Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas travels to the Netherlands via steamship each year with his racist sidekick Zwarte Piet. But otherwise, he’s pretty similar to Santa. And if Santa can be evil, so can Sinterklaas. According to the backstory in Sint (or Saint), the townspeople burned their malevolent bishop alive on December 5, 1492. But Sinterklaas returns from the grave on that date whenever there’s a full moon to continue dropping bodies. In keeping with his olden origins, he rides around on a white horse wielding a golden staff … that he can use to murder you.

11. SANTA’S SLAY (2005)

Ever wonder where Santa came from? This horror-comedy claims he comes from the worst possible person: Satan. The devil’s kid lost a bet many years ago and had to pretend to be a jolly gift-giver. But now the terms of the bet are up and he’s out to act like a true demon. That includes killing Fran Drescher and James Caan, obviously.

12. ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE (2015)

Another Santa slasher is on the loose in All Through the House, but the big mystery here is who it is. This villain dons a mask during his/her streak through suburbia—and, as the genre dictates, offs a bunch of promiscuous young couples along the way. The riddle is all tied up in the disappearance of a little girl, who vanished several years earlier.

13. CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980)

Several years before Silent Night, Deadly Night garnered protests for its anti-Kringle stance, Christmas Evil put a radicalized Santa at the center of its story. The movie’s protagonist, Harry Stadling, first starts to get weird thoughts in his head as a kid when he sees “Santa” (really his dad in the costume) groping his mom. Then, he becomes unhealthily obsessed with the holiday season, deludes himself into thinking he’s Santa, and goes on a rampage. The movie is mostly notable for its superfan John Waters, who lent commentary to the DVD and gave Christmas Evil some serious cult cred.

14. SANTA CLAWS (1996)

If you thought this was the holiday version of Pet Sematary, guess again. The culprit here isn’t a demon cat in a Santa hat, but a creepy next-door neighbor. Santa Claws stars B-movie icon Debbie Rochon as Raven Quinn, an actress going through a divorce right in the middle of the holidays. She needs some help caring for her two girls, so she seeks out Wayne, her neighbor who has an obsessive crush on her. He eventually snaps and dresses up as Santa Claus in a ski mask. Mayhem ensues.

15. NEW YEAR’S EVIL (1980)

Because the holidays aren’t over until everyone’s sung “Auld Lang Syne,” we can’t count out New Year’s Eve horror. In New Year’s Evil, lady rocker Blaze is hosting a live NYE show. Everything is going well, until a man calls in promising to kill at midnight. The cops write it off as a prank call, but soon, Blaze’s friends start dropping like flies. Just to tie it all together, the mysterious murderer refers to himself as … “EVIL.”

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10 Surprising Ways Senses Shape Perception
The American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History

Every bit of information we know about the world we gathered with one of our five senses. But even with perfect pitch or 20/20 vision, our perceptions don’t always reflect an accurate picture of our surroundings. Our brain is constantly filling in gaps and taking shortcuts, which can result in some pretty wild illusions.

That’s the subject of “Our Senses: An Immersive Experience,” a new exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Mental Floss recently took a tour of the sensory funhouse to learn more about how the brain and the senses interact.

1. LIGHTING REVEALS HIDDEN IMAGES.

Woman and child looking at pictures on a wall

Under normal lighting, the walls of the first room of “Our Senses” look like abstract art. But when the lights change color, hidden illustrations are revealed. The three lights—blue, red, and green—used in the room activate the three cone cells in our eyes, and each color highlights a different set of animal illustrations, giving the viewers the impression of switching between three separate rooms while standing still.

2. CERTAIN SOUNDS TAKE PRIORITY ...

We can “hear” many different sounds at once, but we can only listen to a couple at a time. The AMNH exhibit demonstrates this with an audio collage of competing recordings. Our ears automatically pick out noises we’re conditioned to react to, like an ambulance siren or a baby’s cry. Other sounds, like individual voices and musical instruments, require more effort to detect.

3. ... AS DO CERTAIN IMAGES.

When looking at a painting, most people’s eyes are drawn to the same spots. The first things we look for in an image are human faces. So after staring at an artwork for five seconds, you may be able to say how many people are in it and what they look like, but would likely come up short when asked to list the inanimate object in the scene.

4. PAST IMAGES AFFECT PRESENT PERCEPTION.

Our senses often are more suggestible than we would like. Check out the video above. After seeing the first sequence of animal drawings, do you see a rat or a man’s face in the last image? The answer is likely a rat. Now watch the next round—after being shown pictures of faces, you might see a man’s face instead even though the final image hasn’t changed.

5. COLOR INFLUENCES TASTE ...

Every cooking show you’ve watched is right—presentation really is important. One look at something can dictate your expectations for how it should taste. Researchers have found that we perceive red food and drinks to taste sweeter and green food and drinks to taste less sweet regardless of chemical composition. Even the color of the cup we drink from can influence our perception of taste.

6. ... AND SO DOES SOUND

Sight isn’t the only sense that plays a part in how we taste. According to one study, listening to crunching noises while snacking on chips makes them taste fresher. Remember that trick before tossing out a bag of stale junk food.

7. BEING HYPER-FOCUSED HAS DRAWBACKS.

Have you ever been so focused on something that the world around you seemed to disappear? If you can’t recall the feeling, watch the video above. The instructions say to keep track of every time a ball is passed. If you’re totally absorbed, you may not notice anything peculiar, but watch it a second time without paying attention to anything in particular and you’ll see a person in a gorilla suit walk into the middle of the screen. The phenomenon that allows us to tune out big details like this is called selective attention. If you devote all your mental energy to one task, your brain puts up blinders that block out irrelevant information without you realizing it.

8. THINGS GET WEIRD WHEN SENSES CONTRADICT EACH OTHER.

Girl standing in optical illusion room.

The most mind-bending room in the "Our Senses" exhibit is practically empty. The illusion comes from the black grid pattern painted onto the white wall in such a way that straight planes appear to curve. The shapes tell our eyes we’re walking on uneven ground while our inner ear tells us the floor is stable. It’s like getting seasick in reverse: This conflicting sensory information can make us feel dizzy and even nauseous.

9. WE SEE SHADOWS THAT AREN’T THERE.

If our brains didn’t know how to adjust for lighting, we’d see every shadow as part of the object it falls on. But we can recognize that the half of a street that’s covered in shade isn’t actually darker in color than the half that sits in the sun. It’s a pretty useful adaptation—except when it’s hijacked for optical illusions. Look at the image above: The squares marked A and B are actually the same shade of gray. Because the pillar appears to cast a shadow over square B, our brain assumes it’s really lighter in color than what we’re shown.

10. WE SEE FACES EVERYWHERE.

The human brain is really good at recognizing human faces—so good it can make us see things that aren’t there. This is apparent in the Einstein hollow head illusion. When looking at the mold of Albert Einstein’s face straight on, the features appear to pop out rather than sink in. Our brain knows we’re looking at something similar to a human face, and it knows what human faces are shaped like, so it automatically corrects the image that it’s given.

All images courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History unless otherwise noted.

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