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Battle: Los Angeles (2011)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 6/14/2011
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/13/2011
I often find myself writing about the lack of originality in movies these days. But, this is no big revelation -- even the most oblivious filmgoer could tell you that many films seem to blur together. My biggest issue is that so many of these movies act as if they are original, even though we've seen it all before. Do they really think that we are going to be surprised by anything in a movie which is a carbon copy of something which has come out ever year for decades? Now, Battle: Los Angeles seems to be well aware of the fact that it's not original, and this is one of a few things which made the movie rather appealing.
As Battle: Los Angeles opens, we overhear TV news reports of a group of meteors, which had previously been undetected by scientists, heading for Earth. Meanwhile, Marine Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) has tendered his resignation after 20 years of service. However, Nantz is immediately called back into service when the meteorites are revealed to be an alien invasion force. The objects crash into oceans around the world, and an alien strike-force attacks nearby cities. A group of aliens lands off of the coast of Los Angeles, and Nantz is put in with a squad which is sent to Santa Monica that is being lead by 2nd Lieutenant Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez). The group is ordered to make their way to a police station in order to rescue some civilians. At first, all is quiet and seemingly safe, but soon, the Marines encounters the aliens, and quickly learn that they are difficult to kill and have some tricks up their sleeves...or whatever they have.
At first glance, it would be very easy to say that Battle: Los Angeles is a rip-off of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds and Independence Day, and I don't think that you would get much argument there. The story concerns a global alien invasion and we see that giant mother ships park themselves over major cities, just as we've in other films. And, of course, Nantz' situation with his retirement sounds just like the movies where the cop is one day away from retirement -- a plot device that become so hackneyed that it's often spoofed.
However, Battle: Los Angeles uses these familiar plot devices as a jumping off point to tell its own story. Again, at first, the movie doesn't really shy away from resembling other films, but once the story gets rolling, the differences emerge. First of all, we don't get the kind of slow story "unfolding" which was on display in Independence Day, in which it took a long time for the alien attack to begin. Here, the attack begins rather quickly and the Marines are suited up and ready to go. Secondly, the movie pretty much focuses just on Nantz and his fellow Marines and doesn't try for any global scope. Yes, we see the news reports from other parts of the world, but they are very peripheral, as the movie concentrates on this group who have to complete a short, but seemingly impossible journey. This makes the movie feel much more intimate and somewhat claustrophobic. Thirdly, the aliens' weapons aren't very advanced. They don't have lasers or heat rays, but weapons which appear to shoot bullets made of fire. (I guess that they were too busy mastering interstellar travel to worry about weapons.) So, we feel that, for once, our soldiers have a chance at a fair fight.
These somewhat unique aspects help to make Battle: Los Angeles an intriguing movie which does a good job of holding our interest. Another unique thing about the movie is its approach to the battle itself. Essentially, this is modern urban combat, similar to something which we would have seen in Black Hawk Down orThe Hurt Locker, but the Marines are fighting aliens instead of insurgents. We get a lot of scenes where people are running down streets, through buildings, and hiding behind cars, as the battle rages. The action scenes here are very well done, and nicely choreographed. In a nod to westerns, the Marines often find themselves on the streets while the aliens fire at them from rooftops, similar to cowboys who get ambushed while in a canyon.
I only have two real complaints about Battle: Los Angeles. The movie actually takes the time introduce each Marine at the beginning, and even goes as far as to have their names appear on-screen. Yet, once they fighting begins, they are very difficult to tell apart. (And, of course, within the group, we get all of the stereotypes: the guy who just got married, the "green" soldier who loses it, etc.) The second problem is that the movie's non-stop action becomes numbing and it feels as if it has multiple conclusions. I didn't check the running time while watching the movie and when it was done, I was very surprised to see that it was just shy of two hours, as I was convinced that it had been on for at least two and a half.
Battle: Los Angeles is not a perfect movie, as it's the kind of movie which reveals itself as shallow when you think about it afterwards, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it while it was on. Director Jonathan Liebesman, whose resume suggests that he was an odd choice for this film, does a fine job with the action scenes and actually brings some genuine emotion into the film. (There's a shot in the third act which should create a lump in everyone's throat.) Also, this is one of those rare movies where I felt that I was seeing every dollar spent on the screen. Is the movie a ripoff of other movies (and a shameless love letter to the Marines)? Yes, but just think of it as a side-story to the other alien invasion films and enjoy the action.
Battle: Los Angeles made me wonder how many clicks it is to my local police station on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 22 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no distracting grain and no defects from the source material. The movie was shot in a documentary style, but we don't get a grainy look to the film. The image is never overly dark or bright, and the colors look fine -- although the palette runs to the beige end of the spectrum. The image has a fantastic amount of depth which really pays off in the big battle sequences. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.8 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Despite the relatively low bitrate, the track still delivers. The action scenes sound fantastic, as we are bombarded by an array of surround sound and subwoofer effects. The stereo and surround effects are nicely detailed and clearly illustrate sounds from the right and left of the screen and those which are coming from behind the on-screen action. The subwoofer was rocking throughout the movie, as the constant explosion created a very pleasing rumble. However, these effects didn't drown out the dialogue.
The Battle: Los Angeles Blu-ray Disc contains an assortment of extras. "Command and Control" is a picture-in-picture option which allows the viewer to see information concerning the making of the film while watching the movie. The ten segments included in this can also be watched individually, and they run about 22 minutes total. These segments take us on-set to learn about specific elements of the film, such as the casting, the stunts, and the military action. "Behind the Battle" (7 minutes) examines the movie's story and how the aliens vs. Marines action unfolds. "Directing the Battle" (7 minutes) profiles Director Jonathan Liebesman, and we learn how he got the job (we see pieces of the presentation which he did) and hear how he approached the project. "Aliens in L.A." (18 minutes) looks at the design and creation of the aliens and the spaceships. "Preparing for Battle" (5 minutes) shows the action which the actors had to endure in the battle scenes, while "Boot Camp" (10 minutes) shows how the actors prepared not only for the physical aspects of the action, but how they learned how to handle weapons and explosions. "Creating L.A. in LA" (6 minutes) takes us behind the scenes to see how a Los Angeles based movie was shot in Louisiana. "The Freeway Battle" (5 minutes) takes us on-set to see how one of the movie's biggest scenes was done.
Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2011.