Monday, March 21, 2011

Battle: Los Angeles

Like the thrilling Black Hawk Down, the battle is ON almost out of the gate.
I took in Battle: Los Angeles over the weekend trading my heavy heart over the human wreckage and sadness permeating the Japanese landscape for something completely escapist and fantastical. Events in the world have been so truly horrible of late, I'm not sure seeing Battle: Los Angeles was that much of a stetch. Aliens attacking Earth is about the only thing that hasn't happened on a global scale to date. I suppose for that we should be thankful.
The film is good. It's a solid genre film, but certainly imperfect. It's a mostly well-executed fusion of the war and science fiction genres. It's a little messy, sometimes poorly filmed or poorly lit, but only in spots. Director Jonathan Liebesman lacks the auteur touch of a filmmaker like Director Ridley Scott who brought the visceral realities of war to life in Black Hawk Down, but by and large he gets the job done and done well. The external, urban sequences are generally the best. In fact, I often wavered between exhilaration and unimpressed throughout the film, but fell mostly within the former camp.
For it's rating, PG-13, the film was surprisingly electrifying. These watered down ratings often aren't up to the task. Sequences were not bloody or graphic, but still crackling with energy in spots. It's the perfect twelve to fourteen year old picture. It's like Call Of Duty with aliens for the big screen and kids relate. There's no shortage of action and excitement and the special effects are outstanding. It reminisces of the quality effects established in Transformers, but this was a much more enjoyable, far less goofy and knuckle-headed film for adults despite being sometimes as loud and bombastic.

It's an uneven film as some of the camera work is not of the quality established in war pictures like Black Hawk Down, Saving Private Ryan or We Were Soldiers, but it's close. Interestingly, those war pictures mentioned were all rated R and took the intensity of war to the next level. This is certainly a necessary component of any war picture, but as it stands it remains more closely connected to a comic book-styled graphic novel. That's fine too, but it never quite achieves those moments of authenticity, that full impact, as a result of its limited rating. That Director's Cut for Blu-Ray may be the remedy. Perhaps it was the lack of character growth that left all of the action feeling a little hollow. Even in those aforementioned war pictures you got a better taste for character, than you do here. Aaron Eckhart is a good commanding lead and a nice choice for the film, but the story is hackneyed and thin. There's not a whole lot of new here. If you enjoy two hours of first person shooter, video game-styled action than the documentary-like, shaky camera, visual style actioner should serve as a pleasant diversion. For every poorly executed sequence, there is certainly an equally thrilling one to follow and there are more of the latter. Even the conclusion was more rousing than I had anticipated.

Ultimately, it's a decent film, but it never lives up to the promise of those trailers that had been teased to us for over a year. It wasn't the substantive science fiction of District 9, but it wasn't the childish, mind-numbing morass of Transformers either. This is a picture with marines fighting aliens. Comraderie against all odds. It's Aliens played out on a grand stage without quite the same delicious suspense and dread of that film. My friend Fritz "Doc" Freakenstein makes a great point about the alien designs found in Battle: Los Angeles over at Guardians Of The Genre. I prefer more imaginative creature designs myself like those detailed in District 9. Like that aforementioned film, Battle: Los Angeles does explore some fine sci-fi tech, which is always a pleasure for genre fans like myself.

The script delivers a strong linear tale of action, but the scriptwriting is uninspired. To give you an idea of just how weak the dialogue is in parts I give you my favorite cliched moment of the film. The platoon of soldiers attempts to determine how to kill these bio-mechanical invaders of purposefully ambiguous design. Frustrated, actress Bridget Moynahan enters the room, a rescued civilian, and straight-faced delivers this line: "Maybe I can help. I'm a veterinarian." Seriously!? Good grief. I rolled my eyes at that most cringe-worthy moment. Apparently, her work on dogs and cats should do the trick on this fully weaponized, organic beast, humanoid in build of course. Again, perfectly fine if your young and living in the moment or quickly drawn to the next, shiny new gun like your dog Spot. I was pleased the profanity was kept to a minimum. Maybe if there had been more exposition I might have liked it less.

That's right folks, just roll with it. This is not intended for enlightenment of the human mind.

Although, did you know the film was loosely based on events that transpired in 1942? Three months after the United States entered World War II a mysterious event occurred referred to as The Battle Of Los Angeles or The Great Los Angeles Air Raid. There's nothing like a strange, little minor event over a potential extra-terrestrial contact to ignite a fantastic action picture of this scale and magnitude minus any real military intelligence or any intelligence for that matter. Those damn government weather balloons wreak all kinds of havoc. But apart from the film's relationship to this article, the fact that this film is set in Los Angeles is hardly an important factor. It really doesn't matter.

Alien invasion films are as old as the day is long, but an effective alien thriller can be delivered with the right director and writers on board. Just look at Steven Spielberg's PG-13-rated War Of The Worlds for a strong case in point. This may not be that good, but it comes close. The film, put simply, is a great, self-contained bit of science fiction/ war entertainment especially for those with the attention span of a flea. The One To Be Pitied insists it's the perfect film for me. Nice, thanks. Hey, what was that?

Battle: Los Angeles: B [for Battle]


Fritz "Doc" Freakenstein said...

I’m surprised by your review, Sci-Fi Fanatic. From your comments on my review over at Guardians of the Genre, I thought you’d like it better than you did. I really don’t understand yours and other reviewers’ referencing it to a video game-like film. Just because it doesn’t contain R-rated violence, doesn’t mean that its portrayal of war is any less accurate than an R-rated film. Quite honestly, I’m tired of all the ultra-violence that I have to see, just to watch a “modern” war movie. Maybe that is why I enjoyed Battle: Los Angeles so much. It gave me the tense action and mortality of war, without having to watch people’s limbs being blown from their bodies or their intestines falling out of their abdominal cavities. Call me old fashioned or a fuddy duddy or what have you, but I don’t find those things entertaining or dramatic - just repulsive.

I’m also a little disappointed that you fell into the reviewer’s trap and compared the film to several other films. What value is there in comparing the battle scenes in a science fiction (aka: Fantasy) film where humans are being shot at or blown apart by advanced alien technology, to films that show a more realistic combat of humans killing humans with very recognizable technology. The only thing it proves is that you liked those films better than Battle: LA, but it doesn’t tell me why you didn’t like it as an SF film.

You then go onto compare it to District 9, Aliens, Transformers and even Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. The only film Battle: LA even remotely resembles is War of the Worlds and the POV characters are completely different. Each of the SF films you mention has different goals that they are trying to achieve and for the most part they succeed. But they are all different from one another, just as Battle: LA is different from them. I can understand if you think Battle: LA didn’t achieve its goals – which it seems you did – but I can better understand that you just didn’t find its inherent themes entertaining or even remotely thought provoking. Personally, I thought Battle: LA did a good job at recreating the drama of SFinal military combat; developing relatable if slightly underdeveloped characters to drive the plot; and tied it into our current fear of world politics, the environment and the economy.

I watch films two ways: viscerally and intellectually. The trick is to allow yourself to be swept up in a film’s emotional impact, while still allowing your intellect to process why certain aspects of a film work and don’t work. When someone says that they liked a film because they could turn their brain off for that time, it tells me that they didn’t really understand the film well enough to process it intellectually. Even some of the worst films ever made have some sort of intelligence behind them; they just don’t do a very good job of conveying it because of the filmmaker’s lack of skill at their craft. There is a definite lack of craft to Battle: Los Angeles, but there is enough there to create a film that is worth every science fiction film fan’s time and intellectual as well as emotional investment to enjoy.

Thanks for your honest assessment of Battle: Los Angeles, Sci-Fi Fanatic! Just because we don’t agree on its merits as a film doesn’t mean I didn’t find your review interesting. At least you took the time and money to go see it and make up your own mind.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

I knew you might feel this way. Just a gut feeling.

Well, I can't disagree that I didn't use other SF as a barometer, but I like to think I made my points on some of the problems with the film. I conciously decided to look at a number of science fiction fims to give a sense of quality, but I do think Battle: LA holds its own as a war picture [as you rightly placed it mor einto that category].

I don't agree that I need to have ultra-violence. Not true, but I do think in some ways it does echo the video game violence I see my kids playing because there isn't blood splattering or the reality of the killing around the action.

Personally, I still enjoyed the film and found myself reflecting back on it more positively over the last 48 hours. I do think it achieved its goals as well and was quite satisfied at the end of the film. It was good.

I think viscerally and technically it was excellent. Intellectually it was weak and thus a good film.

I did like the subtle take on resource depletion and colonization and those aspects of the film but they felt a bit perfunctory. Still, it was a good enough.

I personally like fuddy duddies. I don't think we're that far apart on why we like the film, but we're definitely taking away from it different things.

I suppose for a film like this to get genre fans talking must be doing something right, because if it was wholly forgettable like Transforners [ouch- there I go again], then we wouldn't be discussing it or its merits at all.

It's solid.

I think we agree more than we disagree but how we are arriving at it is a little different. Thanks, you've got me thinking.

J.D. said...

Interesting review, SF Fanatic! I've been on the fence about seeing this film and with SUCKER PUNCH coming out this Friday I'm even more inclined to give it a pass and wait until DVD.

Have you seen MONSTERS? I thought it was interesting variation of themes presented in DISTRICT 9.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Hello JD.

Yes, I am excited for Sucker Punch too. I almost ended the review with "UP NEXT: SUCKER PUNCH."

It's definitely a film I intend on seeing next weekend or the weekend after. I look forward to it.

Battle: LA and Sucker Punch were the the two highlights for me. I do want to see Monsters. In fact, I like what both you and Doc have offered on Monsters, but I need to make the move on that DVD soon.

And Doc, I know your remarks about my comparisons is a fair one, but I guess what I don't care for is when people make comparisons in brief, terse, little reviews without anything else surrounding the remark. You see these trite little reviews and I think those are lazy and often they compare to whatever else is out at the time.

Cheers to you both and thank you.

John Kenneth Muir said...


A great review (as usual). I must confess, I am very intrigued by Battle LA, but haven't seen it yet. It seems be a movie that divides the critics and audiences, and was a topic of discussion in one of my lectures over the last weekend, with a lot of students commenting about it, mostly in negative terms.

So I'm extremely curious, but having you and Flick Filosopher both see at least some value in it is an extremely good sign, I think.


The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Thank you John. Welcome back from the lecturn my friend.

Yes, I think there is value here and I appreciate the comments. I hope I delivered my case effectively.

I did like the film.

I understand why older students would dissect it and roll their eyes. Their far "too smart" for this sort of thing. ;) But seriously, it has some problems and is definitely a good film for teenagers.

I think if you look at it objectively it has its grand moments.

I think the filmmaker did a good job with his vision and the PG-13 rating. He really does give it a sense of scope and opens up the landscape, which was good.

Thanks again John.

Fritz "Doc" Freakenstein said...

I’m curious, Sci-Fi Fanatic. Several times in your review and your comments you referred to Battle: Los Angeles directly or indirectly as a film for teenagers – like this somehow makes it a less serious film. Is it because of the PG-13 rating that you just automatically assume that it is a teenager flick and is for entertainment purposes only? Or is it the actual content and context of the film itself that drives your remarks. Just because a film is directed at a certain age group does not necessarily mean that it should not be taken as a serious or dramatic presentation. I could list many examples of films aimed at this group that should and have been taken as serious drama, but I’m sure you are already familiar with them.

I know I have probably overstated Battle: Los Angeles’ dramatic and metaphoric aspects, both in my comments here and in my review of it on my blog. It’s most likely just a reaction to the stream of (mostly critical) reviews that use B:LA’s teen-worthiness as a way of putting the film down and making it seem like unintelligent garbage. Teens now are a lot more educated than we were back in our time: especially in regards to their understanding of the language of visual media like films.

I will now climb off my soap-box and return to the comfort of my darkened lab.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Well, I think War Of The Worlds is a little more effective at reaching beyond the teen set.

Having said that, I think Battle:LA is definitely geared to that group, but it's certainly accessible to the older set. I'm not denying that.

I do get a little frustrated with rating because I feel like if you're going to make a movie like this just go all the way.

I had problems with Aliens versus Predators for being PG-13 after the many Alien pictures that were solid, but rated R. That rating killed the film.

I agree, kids are certainly well educated and it's no knock on them, but the money makers have no problem dumbing down pictures when they can- unfortunately.

But just to be clear and I certainly understand your reaction to a stream of negativity to a fairly decent film. I feel that way when critics attack my Milla and Resident Evil. : )

Seriously, I think it's fair to say I don't believe this is "unintelligent garbage." I know you're not saying I think that, but I want everyone to know that Battle: LA is better than that.

But comparing it to the kinds of media my own son plays with isn't necessarily a knock. It may be a little much for me, but it definitely has the feel of a video game. My son definitely connected to that aspect, but like you he thought it was much more.

And in the end, again, I don't think we are that far apart really but for whatever reason we're arriving at our take on it via different avenues. I think anyway. Cheers Doc, SFF

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

By the way, part of me wonders if I'm not terribly desensitized to the violence from seeing films like Black Hawk Down and Saving Private Ryan.

I mean, if those films didn't exist, Battle: LA might actually blow me away.

It's all a matter of perspective isn't it?


I was reading the latest SciFiNow #51 which features an interview with Director Jonathan Liebesman who really underscores my point of the docu-style and video first person nature of the film I wrote about.



And his love for it shows. He even references Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare which I referenced in the review, not that it's a stretch. It's certainly nothing to be ashamed of and I love that he embraces this similarity.