The Importance of Smart Worldbuilding: An 'Independence Day' Case Study

Sure, we've seen alien invasion movies before, but not ones that take place in this postapocalyptic potential utopia.
Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

In many ways, the fact that the aliens attack once more is the least interesting part of Independence Day: Resurgence.

After all, the audience already knows what to expect when that happens, at least in broad strokes: Humanity will fight back, with great special effects, some inspirational speeches and a grim determination, before ultimately prevailing, at least until the next installment. Or, at least, so we hope.

While that will doubtlessly be enjoyable (not to mention, what much of the audience will be hoping for when they buy their tickets), it's something we've seen many times before, not least in the first Independence Day — and it's nowhere near as fascinating as the world in which Resurgence takes place.

Trailers and viral teasers for Roland Emmerich's upcoming sci-fi sequel have offered glimpses into the environment that Resurgence exists in, and it's an alternate world filled with potential for interesting stories.

For one thing, it's a world that is still, two decades later, recovering from an alien invasion that decimated humanity and destroyed landmarks across the entire globe, including many of historical and cultural significance.

That alone is the stuff of potentially great speculative fiction — with parts of its social history literally gone, what direction does humanity move in as it attempts to rebuild? — but, it turns out, there's much more to play with.

Take, for example, the fact that the most recent trailer for the movie revealed that humanity chose to rebuild using alien technology scavenged from the alien invaders. This is nothing new for readers of Scarlet Traces, of course; Ian Edginton and D'Israeli's graphic novel sequel to H.G. Wells' The War of The Worlds conjured a world in which the British Empire extended indefinitely after it retrofit Martian technology to jump significantly ahead of other nations. (There were, of course, somewhat dramatic problems with this plan, but to say more would be to spoil Scarlet Traces; on a related note, read Scarlet Traces.)

Nonetheless, there's something compelling — and filled with potential allegorical reading — in exploring what it means for the victors to pick over, and co-opt the spoils of war, especially when it means they come out arguably stronger than they started.

A curiously deleted viral video for the movie revealed more changes to the world post-first invasion: that it had not only restarted the space program — understandably — but led to the creation of a moon station to act as a a first response against any more space invaders who plan to come calling. (Heavy foreshadowing alert!) Oh, and post-invasion, all of humanity's leaders put aside their traditional political differences to work together, as well.

Forget watching humanity fight off aliens again; I want to know more about this world as-is. One viral website filled with backstory isn't enough.

This is, most likely, entirely intentional. By spending the time to worldbuild to this degree, Emmerich and the rest of the Independence Day: Resurgence team have not only created the framework that makes the familiar invasion tropes feel fresher and can ground the movie in an emotional reality that it might otherwise lack — the shadow of 9/11 hangs over much of the "we were attacked, we can rebuild" rhetoric on show to date, and shouldn't be ignored — but they have also created an ideal opportunity for spinoff comic books, novels and other storytelling, to keep the franchise in the minds of fans ahead of and following the release of the movie.

Again, this isn't anything new. Pacific Rim's backstory-laden opening chapter created the space for comic book prequels and animated spinoff ahead of the release of a second movie. The brave, if scarred, new world of Independence Day: Resurgence follows very closely in those footsteps, with good reason — it's a tactic that works. (Titan Comics' Independence Day prequel launched last month, it should be pointed out.)

The success of Resurgence will determine how many stories of the reality in which Jeff Goldblum wants to save the world in a number of ways audiences will get to discover.

Whether or not there's a humanity left after the events in Resurgence might remain an open question until the movie's June 24 opening, but even there isn't, there's still a lot to be told about the 20-year gap in which it recovered from one impossible event by accomplishing plenty of others. Here's hoping those stories won't stay a secret forever.

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