Independence Day UK: the audio film that tied in with the US blockbuster

Independence Day
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Ahead of the release of Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day, an audio film was commissioned, made and broadcast in the UK…


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Independence Day was the huge summer blockbuster film of 1996. Directed by Roland Emmerich, the film told the tale of an alien invasion of Earth, and how computer viruses could be relied on to protect our civilisation. That’s because in the film, technological expert David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) discovers a way to defeat the aliens along with the help of US Air Force pilot, Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith).

In Independence Day, it’s the Americans who save the day and pass on the message of how to do it around the world. There is a short scene in which we see several British Royal Air Force pilots in Saudi Arabia listen to the key message as it comes in via Morse code. This is one of the few moments that reminds you the alien invasion was indeed a global phenomenon and not limited to a small part of the planet.

Back to the real world, the studio behind the movie – 20th Century Fox – was looking for ways to promote the film in the UK and it had heard about BBC Radio One audio dramas. These weren’t audiobooks, but full-blown productions with music, sound effects and more. Think of them as a film without the visuals.

Producer Dirk Maggs, who labelled them as audio movies, was the man behind these productions. He also wrote and adapted the stories for radio. Maggs’ work included a run of comic book audio dramas that were created for and broadcast on BBC Radio One that included Batman, Superman, Spider-Man and Judge Dredd. These audio movies were broadcast in short three to five minute segments in the afternoon drivetime show over the course of several weeks between 1993 to 1995.

20th Century Fox contacted Maggs and asked if he was interested in making an audio adaptation of its new film, Independence Day. He was sent a script to read, and of course he had to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement before he could go any further. As Maggs revealed in an interview with The DreamCage, “this is an updated War Of The Worlds, we could do something with this and pay homage to Orson Welles with it.”

Maggs wasn’t interested in creating a straight-up adaptation, but as Independence Day was all about a global event he wanted to create a parallel story to the film revealing how events were unfolding in the UK. Under the rules from 20th Century Fox, several story elements would have to be kept secret so as not to spoil the upcoming film.

In keeping with his homage to Orson Welles’s War Of The Worlds, the first half of the audio drama plays out as an authentic Radio One broadcast called “UFO Watch”. The show is presented by the then-Radio One DJ Nicky Campbell (and a little of Mark Goodier too) and he’s joined by the late famed astronomer Patrick Moore.

The story? Well, they’re flying high above the skies of the UK in an RAF Sentry aircraft, and there’s a large jumbo jet with the iconic spinning radar dome upon its roof near the rear of the vehicle. They’ve detected a mysterious alien signal, just like Goldblum’s character had in the film, and they’re trying to establish its point of origin. On board the aircraft is RAF Group Captain Phil Johnson, played by Colin Baker. To us Doctor Who fans, perfect casting.

These three characters discover that one of the huge alien spaceships is entering the Earth’s atmosphere and is centering itself over London. Just like the film, the alien craft fires its devastating laser weapon upon London. In a homage to the original War Of The World’s broadcast, there’s a poor reporter describing the effects of the alien weapon on London’s cityscape as he watches from the roof of BBC Broadcasting House. The audio cuts out and becomes deathly silent when the giant wall of fire reaches the reporter’s location.

Apparently, there were a few worried phone calls to the BBC inquiring if this was actually happening.

From this point on, the audio drama – which you can hear above – comes into full effect, dropping the pretense of being a BBC Radio One broadcast. The drama was enhanced with authentic aircraft sounds that Maggs himself recorded at RAF Coningsby and Waddington. Combined with alien sound effects supplied by 20th Century Fox and David Arnold’s score for the film, it’s certainly an entertaining ride for your ears.

The second half hour features the RAF in dogfights with the alien fighter craft, featuring the wife of Captain Phil Johnson – Flight Lieutenant Becky Johnson who was played by Toyah Wilcox. Again, perfect.

There’s even a sequence where Patrick Moore takes on one of the aliens in hand-to-hand combat, which is both ridiculous and as entertaining as it sounds. The alien creature even gained its own unique scream which came from the sibling of a very famous Australian singer. As Maggs told The DreamCage, “as we were preparing to make the audio movie, a kid’s TV programme asked to come and watch us at work pre-recording sound effects for whatever we might be working on at the time. They sent a camera crew and presenter to The Soundhouse (Maggs’s recording studio) and she helped me create the ‘alien dying’ sound effect that was used in the final production. So, the ‘alien dying’ scream you hear in ID4 UK isn’t just any alien. It’s Dannii Minogue.”

While Independence Day had its film premiere in London on July 4th, the general UK release wasn’t until 9th August. The broadcast of Independence Day UK occurred on the previous Sunday, 4th August at 7pm, so it’s understandable why it’s essentially spoiler free. The British setting also allowed the characters to have a little dig at the all-action American heroes. As Captain Phil Johnson remarks during the final moments, “When this is all over and we’ve defeated these monsters, the yanks will take credit for it. You wait and see.”

As Maggs explains, “of course this had to be the case – the producers of Independence Day forbade us to defeat the aliens, we had to leave that to Randy Quaid!”

Independence Day UK was only ever broadcast once, but did receive a physical release on audio cassette (remember those!).

If you found this interesting, you may also like to search for more of Dirk Maggs’ projects. He also adapted An American Werewolf In London for radio with Jenny Agutter, John Woodvine and Brian Glover reprising their respective roles from the classic 1981 John Landis film.

One more adaptation was the second draft of William Gibson’s screenplay for Alien 3 which stars Michael Biehn and Lance Henriksen and is very different to the film that finally hit the big screen under the direction of David Fincher in 1992. Alien III is available via Audible….

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