On July 2, 1996,an enormous alien mothership one fourth the size of the Moon enters orbit around Earth, deploying 36 smaller spacecraft, each 15 miles (24 km) wide, that take positions over Earth’s major cities, the White House, and other strategic locations. David Levinson, an MIT-trained satellite expert, intercepts a signal embedded in global satellite transmissions that he determines is a timer counting down to a coordinated attack. With the help of his estranged wife, White House Communications Director Constance Spano, Levinson and his father Julius gain access to the Oval Office and warn President Whitmore that the aliens are hostile. Whitmore orders large-scale evacuations, but it is too late; the timer reaches zero and the ships activate devastating directed-energy weapons. Whitmore, the Levinsons, and a few others narrowly escape aboard Air Force One as the White House is destroyed along with cities and military installations around the world. On July 3, a squadron of F/A-18 Hornets assaults a destroyer ship near the ruins of Los Angeles, but the craft is protected by a force field. Dozens of small “attacker” ships, also protected by force fields, are launched by the destroyer, and a dogfight ensues; the fighter squadron is wiped out. Captain Steven Hiller survives by luring his attacker to the Grand Canyon and sacrificing his plane, forcing the alien to crash-land. He subdues the injured alien pilot and flags down a convoy of mobile homes fleeing the devastation, hitching a ride with Vietnam War veteran and alien abduction victim Russell Casse. They transport the unconscious alien to nearby Area 51, where Whitmore and his people have landed. The government has known about these aliens since 1947, when one of their ships crashed in Roswell. Area 51 houses a refurbished attacker ship and three alien corpses recovered from that crash. As eccentric scientist, Brackish Okun, examines the alien brought in by Hiller; it regains consciousness. After knocking Okun senseless, it invades his mind and uses his vocal cords to communicate with Whitmore. Whitmore asks what the aliens want humans to do, to which it replies “Die”, launching a psychic attack against him. As Whitmore thrashes in agony on the floor, Whitmore’s security detail kills the alien. Whitmore says during the psychic attack, he saw that the aliens travel from planet to planet “like locusts”, destroying all native life and stripping the planet’s resources before moving on. Whitmore reluctantly authorizes a nuclear attack; a B-2 Spirit fires a nuclear cruise missile at a destroyer near Houston, but the destroyer’s force field holds and the ship is undamaged. Levinson realizes that the key to defeating the aliens is deactivating their force fields, and devises a way to do it using a computer virus, but to upload the virus, he must infiltrate the mothership. He proposes using the captured attacker ship to gain entry, and once the force fields are disarmed, plant a nuclear bomb on board. Hiller volunteers to pilot the attacker. He and Levinson succeed in entering the mothership, uploading the virus, and then deploying the nuclear device, destroying the mothership as they narrowly escape. With the alien force fields disabled, Whitmore orders an attack on a destroyer ship bearing down on Area 51. With available military pilots in short supply, Whitmore and Casse join the strike force. Although the alien ship is unprotected, the attacking fighters exhaust their missiles without disabling it. The aliens prepare to fire their primary weapon. Casse has one missile left, but it jams; he flies his plane into the directed-energy weapon port, kamikaze-style. The resulting explosion destroys the alien ship. The Americans share this critical vulnerability with the rest of the world’s countries, enabling them to defeat the other destroyer ships. People around the world rejoice against a backdrop of the smoking wreckage of the alien destroyers, as the wreckage of the mothership, burning up as it enters the atmosphere, creates a spectacular “fireworks” display.
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