Don’t let the aliens distract you. BATTLE: LOS ANGELES is a war film. All of the conventions are of this genre, not an epic sci-fi blockbuster. That is, with one major exception, where one of the worst crimes of sci-fi films makes an unwelcome appearance. I’ll get to this later.
Our hero is Staff Sgt. Michael Nantz (Eckhart). He recently lost his entire platoon, and is now training new recruits. He intends to retire once his current assignment is over. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get his chance. As soon as the invasion begins, he is assigned to a new squad, and sent straight into the heart of the action.
The rest of the team also have generic back-stories. One is about to get married, one is new and has never fought before, and one is the brother of a soldier killed under Sgt. Nantz’s command. Lt. Martinez, the commanding officer, is green and must find his confidence and bravery. The characters aren’t deep or original, but then they exist simply to carry the action. The introductions are made quickly and efficiently so that we can crack on with the action.
The initial scenes of the invasion are suitably tense. Our team heads though smoky, battle-scarred streets, looking for survivors. The fighting scenes are messy, chaotic and realistic. Clearly, there is an influence from games like CALL OF DUTY and, in turn, news footage from Iraq and Afghanistan. The film is shot in ‘shaky-cam’ faux documentary mode. Whilst annoying for some, this approach does offer a refreshing way of looking at an alien invasion film. Of course, others have used this to an extent, DISTRICT 9, for example, moved between documentary and more standard styles of filmmaking. The technique is used to a much greater extent here.
As the film progresses, the influence of video games becomes even more unavoidable. There are even ‘bosses’ that our team have to defeat, before reaching the next level and a bigger boss. Eventually they reach the ‘big boss’ at the end of the story. The big sci-fi clunker that I mentioned earlier can be found here, at the climax. The superior enemy have, of course, one weak point that can be exploited. All our heroes have to do is take out the thermal exhaust port, sorry, I mean the alien command and control centre, with a missile.
Aaron Eckhart is likeable, and brings some warmth to Sgt. Nantz. Michelle Rodriguez knows her way around this kind of role without having to think, which is just as well, as apparently her character wasn’t added until a month before filming. Ramon Rodriguez manages to find a little meat with his role as Martinez, but is let down by some bad writing. The cast all play their parts well, considering what they have to work with. Some of the dialogue is astonishingly awful. “Maybe I can help. I’m a veterinarian” possibly being the worst offender. There are clichés aplenty – military slang, heartfelt speeches and lots of gung-ho attitude.
Brian Tyler’s music is effective, if unoriginal. It has the sound of a patriotic war film – which was undoubtedly the intention. If anything, the music is let down by our lack of compassion for the characters.
The effects are impressive, and not too over-the-top. Events are only ever witnessed from the point of view of our platoon, which brings a level of realism that is really the film’s main strength. They also work as well on DVD as they did at the cinema, due to this.
So, it’s a mixed bag. Does this add up to a decent movie experience?
Unfortunately BATTLE: LOS ANGELES is not written well enough to be good, and takes itself too seriously to be fun. That said, it does deliver plenty of action and maybe it’s unfair to expect any more. If this is all you want, then you will be pleased.
The DVD extras include four documentaries; Behind the Battle, Aliens in L.A., Preparing for Battle and Creating L.A. They’re pretty standard stuff, with various interviews and a little information about making the film, without going into much detail. There are also some trailers thrown in for good measure.