Monday, March 14, 2011

Battle: Los Angeles review

By N.R. Ahern

GENRE: SCI-FI/ACTION
RATING: PG-13
STUDIO: COLUMBIA PICTURES
THEATRICAL RELEASE: MARCH 11, 2011
DVD RELEASE: JULY 2011

As with all alien invasion films, it begins with a bang. Through the patchy smog and suffocating traffic, Los Angeles is as popular with the intergalactic community as a college student in Cancun during Spring Break. When mysterious (to the characters, not the audience) meteors strike the ocean outside Santa Monica, Los Angeles suddenly becomes the favored vacation spot for a whole host of extraterrestrial tourists whose favorite pastime is a little carpet-bombing on the side.

In the fray we have SSrt. Michael Nantz (Harvey Dent—err, Aaron Eckhart), a traumatized marine looking to get out and begin a new life. Pulled back in by the short hairs, Ssgt. Nantz must find a way into warn-torn Santa Monica to save trapped civilians before the Air Force bombs Santa Monica back into the Golden Age of Hollywood. Thus, time—and humanities expiration date—are on the line.

Battle: Los Angeles wants to be different. The problem is, we’ve seen the beginning before: shaky-cam archival stock footage designed to express exposition in the same way one would have Morgan Freeman give a voice over monologue. The cinematography echoes District 9 and anything directed by Paul Greengrass, except the shot composition is amateurish and distracting, often zooming in and out for no apparent reason other than to add “tension.” Couple this with kinetic editing that doesn’t last on a shot long enough to give you any memorable detail and you have an exhausting and aggravating technical grievance.

One of the most intriguing parts of Battle: Los Angeles was the aspect of psychological warfare on the part of the aliens. When the marines enter Santa Monica and encounter resistance, it is unusually quiet. The tactics of the aliens—hiding and distracting marines with otherworldly noise—worked extremely well. Especially with the aliens maintaining the high ground. From a tactical perspective, the film worked incredibly well. Crawling through the ravaged suburbs, the intensity is palpable and often intensely engaging struggle to stay alive against an unknown enemy.

Though saddled with inane dialogue and a less-than original character, Eckhart makes Ssgt. Nantz empathetic enough for us to give a gnat’s fanny whether he lives or dies. Channeling fierce loyalty and intelligence, his performance stands out beyond his faceless fellow soldiers (Ne-Yo, Michelle Rodriguez) who are simply there to scream, shoot and run away.

Battle: Los Angeles tries to put a unique spin on the alien genre by combining the “end of the world hysteria” of ID4, the war tension of Black Hawk Down and the shaky-cam of District 9. However, while the film matched my expectations in the thrilling department, it failed in fully executing the technical capabilities and resorted to cheap clich├ęs of the screenplay variety. In many ways, this film is a disappointment. However, for a film to give aliens tactical advantage and intelligent reasons for an invasion, this deserves praise. So. I welcome all extraterrestrial life to come to Los Angeles to join us in an epic Spring Break. Just stay out of the water and try not to breathe too much.

The review can be read at:

http://www.thechristianmanifesto.com/index.php/2011/03/14/film-review-battle-los-angeles/

--Nick

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