“Battle Los Angeles”: a brief review (w/spoilers)

| March 11, 2011

My sweet wife Sandra is not a particular fan of SF films (though she’ll certainly watch or go see them with me), nor of war movies. Yet after we saw this movie today, she talked about how engrossed she was during the entire film. (I’ll note that she went with me to see “Skyline” last year, and her reaction afterward was: “Really?”)  That speaks well for how this film is likely to do at the box office.

What makes “Battle Los Angeles” work is that it is first and foremost a war film about Marines. My son Jon spent four years in the Corps and did a tour in Iraq; my nephew Darren is still in the Corps and is on his second tour of Afghanistan; so the Corps has a special place in my heart. I claim no particular expertise in matters of the Corps, but the film seemed very authentic all the same; some of the younger Marines looked and sounded like my son and my nephew. War film cliches abound — the grizzled staff sergeant (Aaron Eckert, in a great performance) on the verge of retirement, the young lieutenant just out of OCS, the rumors among the men about how Eckert live while his men died on his last combat tour, the mission to rescue some civilians and bring them back out of harm’s way, the steady attrition of the members of the squad — but that provides a frameworkon which hangs the rest of the story.

And the rest of the story is that it’s these human Marines vs. alien Marines, who are making an amphibious assault, coming literally up out of the waves after having landed just offshore in cities around the world. The aliens are tough, but not invincible — still, they’re chewing up everything in their path as they make their way inland. And each time the Marines think they may have things under control, the alien assault escalates.

The film uses a bit too much shaky-cam early on, but settles down  reasonably as the movie goes along. Eckert is outstanding in his role as the staff sergeant and vanishes into it far better than he did as Harvey Dent/Two Face in “The Dark Knight”. The set pieces are very intense, and the filming and art direction is outstanding: you really think you are in the ruins of Los Angeles (most of the film was shot in Louisiana, to take advantage of areas still devastated from Katrina). My only complaints — which I’ll address specifically in the spoilers below — have to do with the rationale for the alien invasion and the ending of the film.

It’s not a great enough film to make me say, “Gee, I want to turn around and go see that in the theaters again.” But it is good enough that I’ll almost certainly buy the BluRay disk when it comes out. All in all, a well-done effort. Spoilers after the jump.

SPOILERS! BE WARNED!

OK, I just about put my face in my hands when — halfway or so through the movie — the Marines, holed up in a building, find an outside ‘net link, find a TV feed, and hear a news report that scientists have determined that the aliens are here for…our water! Which they use to power their ships and themselves! And, furthermore, that (a) Earth is the only planet in the galaxy (or maybe the universe) with so much liquid water on the surface, and (b) our sea levels had already started dropping. Y’know, the director went to great lengths to achieve some level of USMC authenticity (the actors went through a mini boot camp, etc.) and yet comes up with a rationale that is not only patently false but profoundly stupid, and that any 12-year-old reader of science fiction could have set him straight on. Sheesh. The aliens could simply have landed on Europa, drilled through the ice, and pulled out all the liquid water they needed. And there are probably literally millions — and possibly billions — of planets in our galaxy alone that have liquid and/or frozen water. And…water for energy? Srsly? It was all just so profoundly stupid that it sucked a lot of the enjoyment out of the rest of the film. The director would have been far better off not having any explanation at all than to come up with that idiocy.

The second big flaw in the film (IMHO) involved the fact that the alien aircraft turned out to be drones. All the drones in an area (e.g., Los Angeles) are hypothesized to be controlled by a command ship somewhere. The last part of the film has the surviving Marines hunt for the LA command ship, then call in a missile strike on it — at which point drones start dropping out of the sky. Once again: srsly? A race capable of interstellar travel can’t build an autonomous drone? We can build an autonomous drone now, and we can’t even get humans beyond low earth orbit any more. And in an echo far, far too reminiscent of “Independence Day”, once the alien control ship in LA is taken out, the news is radioed to the other cities being invaded, so that they can take them out as well.

I think it should be mandatory for anyone making an alien invasion movie to read and heed this article over at Cracked. I think that “Battle Los Angeles” made just about every mistake listed here. It is a tribute to how well done the movie was that I enjoyed it anyway. As always, your mileage may vary.  ..bruce w..

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About the Author ()

Webster is Principal and Founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at bwebster@bfwa.com, or you can follow him on Twitter as @bfwebster.

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