Thursday, March 17, 2011

Battle: Los Angeles

Spoiler Level: Medium-High

First off, I want to apologize to all my readers.  It's been a good ride, I'm glad you've kept reading my posts, and I'm going to miss you all.

For, according to Roger Ebert, I am an idiot and you should consider spending less time around me.  Because I can not tell a lie; I enjoyed this movie.

It's not high art or anything; from what I've read, director Jonathan Liebesman wanted to do an alien invasion story that treated the military more realistically, something along the lines of Saving Private Ryan with aliens.  Now I will confess I have yet to see Saving Private Ryan (it doesn't have spaceships in it), but I always got the impression that was a very emotional film, which this film definitely is not.  We get to meet every single member of the platoon before the fighting begins, but to be honest once they got into their combat gear I couldn't really tell which one was which or remember who had what story.  So I really wasn't able to have a whole lot of empathy for them as characters once they start getting killed in combat.  But once the platoon is reduced to four or five soldiers and they start referencing each others histories I was able to figure out who was left and keep track.

No, what Battle: Los Angeles succeeds at is giving us a very gritty take on War of the Worlds, completely from the military angle and with lots of boom.  We get the occasional TV news footage to show us that this is happening all over the world, and there are some civilians that our heroes have been ordered to rescue, but even those civilians are seen solely from the perspective of the marines' interaction with them-- they have no opening shots telling us about their lives, and when they're rescued and handed off they're out of the film.

Which, for me, is where this movie succeeds over Spielberg's 2005 War of the Worlds.  Spielberg tried to do an alien invasion story that was a family feel-good movie, with the estranged dad trying to reconcile with his wife and kids.  Now I can respect that the original book focused on a man having been physically separated from his wife during the invasion and trying to get back to her, but an end-of-the-world alien invasion story is no place for a feel-good "get to know your kids again" kind of story.  By contrast, there are kids in Battle: Los Angeles, but they're obviously going through a traumatic experience and, while one little boy and his father are featured quite a bit, their relationship is not intended to be the main part of the film.

The movie suffers from the usual Hollywood conceits; this one platoon manages to learn all the critical intel and has opportunities to attack all the right spots to turn the tide in the war.  And of course, the invaders have the crucial weakness of a Master Control Center, but at least in this case it only controls the spaceships in the LA area and not the entire alien army all over the world.  In that sense, this movie does a little better, in that it doesn't have a lot of the glaring flaws in logic that always seem to be in movies these days. (Such as Jeff Goldblum's laptop being able to interface with an alien computer network in Independence Day, for example.)

Speaking of the spaceships, I loved their design.  They could all join together as a disc or have sections that would break off into individual fighter drones.  The aliens themselves looked fine; it was a design that looked very alien, but what I really enjoyed was their tech.

So with no disrepect intended to the esteemed Mr. Ebert, who's a real critic and not just some fanboy with a blog, I got out of this movie exactly what I was hoping for-- a shoot-'em-up between humans and spaceships with lots of cool special effects.


greatplaidmoose said...

I think Mr. Ebert missed the point of the film. Obviously the director was trying to show a chaotic semi-realistic war film but with aliens instead of humans. I'm not a big proponent of this style of directing but I can appreciate what he was going for and the attempt to do something different than just repeat the same type of alien invasion movie we've seen time and again.

I also think that it was the director's intention to leave a lot of plot elements vague because in such a situation we might well be guessing what the intent of the attack was and what they were after if they refused to communicate with us.

And as far as the aliens' abilities to hold a baby (which has to be one of the oddest things to be thinking about while you're watching aliens kill people), I think it's safe to assume that the aliens we were seeing were some kind of cyborg troops and probably not the typical aliens on their home planet sitting around chillin with their family sipping pan-galactic gargle-blasters.

Its not a fantastic film and I had some problems with the plot as well but I did enjoy it.

I'm not going to stoop to Mr. Ebert's level and insult him for not liking the film or not being intelligent enough to figure out what was going on. Instead I'll simply say its time to retire when you're telling people they are idiots for enjoying something or that women should break up with their boyfriends because they enjoyed a movie. He's obviously been doing this for too long at this point and has forgotten "It's Called Entertainment".

Fer said...

Yeah, I just assumed that the soldiers were equipped specifically for fighting. Maybe they also have a nanny breed that has a baby-wipes dispenser attached to its arm! I like your visual of them "sitting around chillin with their family sipping pan-galactic gargle-blasters."

I wasn't a big fan of the "in wartime you don't know what's going on" approach in the remake of Battlestar Galactica, but I think it really works here. The 24-hour news networks are always filling up airtime with guessing at what's going on, of course they'd be doing it during an alien invasion!

And speaking of NuBSG, I also think this movie is a good example of "if you're going to change most of it, go all the way and make it unique," in that for as much as I compare this movie to War of the Worlds, it doesn't try to be War of the Worlds. So I can accept it more for it being its own thing and not feel like it needs to have the key points that WotW has.

greatplaidmoose said...

Glad you liked the Hitchhiker's reference.

It just occurred to me that if Ebert was wondering how the aliens took care of babies, wouldn't an alien reviewer of the film think "How do those earth-females breast-feed through those cumbersome flak-jackets? Clearly this film is flawed as they have left no room with those backpacks to strap an earth-child to it. This film makes no sense." ;)