' ' Cinema Romantico: 10 Best Reaction Shots In Independence Day

Thursday, July 10, 2014

10 Best Reaction Shots In Independence Day

Gareth Edwards version of “Godzilla”, which was released in early May which in modern-day Hollywood Years means it was released nearly twenty-five hundred days ago, contained what might just go down as my favorite duo at the movies in 2012. No, not the ‘zilla and Mothra – or whomever that was supposed to be – but Drs. Ishiro Serizawa and Vivienne Graham played by, respectively, Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins. This is not in any way meant to suggest they possessed deep characterization because they didn’t, but to say these two did not create characters is woefully out of order. These two knew what time it was. These two knew what movie they were in. These two played like Sherlock & Watson if Sherlock & Watson had nothing to do but stand off to the side of the crime scene and gape. Reaction shots, kid, that’s where Ken & Sally made their money! “There’s crap, you two, on a blue screen and you can’t see it but ACT like you can see it!” And they did. Lord have mercy, did they. 

I thought about Dr. Serizawa and Dr. Graham as I watched Roland Emmerich’s “Independence Day” this past weekend. I had so much fun re-watching “ID4” last year over 4th of July and re-embracing by pre-film snobness, that I decided to do it again. And as I did, I realized what was more prevalent than even aliens and fireballs and Jeff Goldblum “Umms” and “Aahs” – that is, reaction shots. It’s the Golden Corral of reaction shots! They’re everywhere! The first 45 minutes of the film is one part exposition, one part special effects, one part reaction shots. Alien spaceships are pretty cool, I suppose, but do you know what’s cooler? A bunch of slack-jawed humans staring up at those alien spaceships! “There’s crap, you guys, on a blue screen and you can’t see it but ACT like you can see it!” And they do. Lord have mercy, do they. 

So I got to thinking. What are the best reaction shots in “Independence Day”? 

10 Best Reaction Shots In Independence Day

Well, this one’s the tone-setter. This one gets the party started. We’re hardly into the thing and the two dudes at S.E.T.I. are staring at the black speaker emanating strange sounds like that wonky equation Stellan Skarsgård puts on the blackboard in “Good Will Hunting”.

There is a Randy Quaid-specific joke to be made here but I will not be the one to make it. Instead I will observe that Mr. Quaid is called upon to react to a forthcoming spaceship as a character who has pronounced for years that he was once abducted by aliens, and that is what makes this reaction shot so exquisite. He is dumbstruck but not dumbstruck because he is in the midst of realizing the human race is not alone in the universe. He has always known the human race is not alone in the universe. He’s dumbstruck more in that way of “Well, well, well, the prodigal aliens return.” (Also, who’s thirsty for some Coors?)

When you're a character actor like Bill Smitrovich called upon for about 57 seconds of screen time, what do you do? You nail that reaction shot.

Classic Emmerich. From left to right we've got a cab driver, a young kid who was just shooting hoops and listening to rap and, I assume, an IBM salesman. #RedWhiteBlue

I love the little girl to the left. She makes it. She knows these aliens are up to some nefarious shit.

Whoops! Wrong movie!

You will notice the gentleman to the left with the as-expected mouth-agape face at the sight of a spaceship engulfing the sky above the biggest city in the world. You will then notice the gentleman to the right registering the presence of a spaceship engulfing the sky above the biggest city in the world by quizzically raising his eyebrows. Gentleman To The Left < Gentleman To The Right

One detail I adore about “Independence Day” and that had not so forcefully occurred to me previously, is how often sequences conclude with reaction shots, like a soap opera. You know, one character says something foreboding and then the film cuts to the other character listening to this foreboding pronouncement as the camera gauges his/her melodramatic reaction just before transitioning to the next scene. This happens several times with Bill Pullman’s President Whitmore, and this is my favorite. It happens the instant after POTUS has been told the alien spacecraft are twenty-five minutes away from entering Earth’s atmosphere. I like to imagine James Madison being told the British are twenty-five minutes away from breaching the White House and looking at John Armstrong Jr. just like this.

Admittedly Harvey Fierstein’s casting and subsequent performance as Jeff Goldblum’s cable company superior might well be the broadest element of an exceptionally broad film. And Harvey Fierstein stuck in Midtown traffic and lamenting “Oh crap” as he watches the fireball from the just-exploded Empire State Building roar down the street toward where he sits in his car might well be the single broadest moment of the broadest element of an exceptionally broad film. Yet as I have matured over the years from a crotchety twenty-something to a romantic thirty-something I have come to view this moment with much more fondness. If (when?) I am staring down a fireball from the just-exploded Willis Sears Tower courtesy of an enemy alien spacecraft, I hope I have the efficacy to wryly say to myself "Oh crap."

Well, Goldblum obviously wins the Reaction-Off here.


Alex Withrow said...

This is amazing. The Harvey Fierstein one is by far my favorite. So damn broad, but oddly kind of perfect. Love Harvey Fierstein.

Kevin Powers said...

Excellent List!

Nick Prigge said...

Alex: It is perfect! I laughed so hard when I saw this most recent time!

Kevin: Thanks!