Friday, March 11, 2011

Battle Los Angeles

Why are Americans so fascinated by the idea of our nation being invaded? Whether it's by our on-world enemy du jour or by aliens from another planet we seem to enjoy seeing our home getting destroyed by foreign aggressors. We seem to enjoy it so much that even if the rest of the world is attacked as well, all we focus the movie on is what is happening in the U.S.. That is the case in the new science fiction war movie “Battle Los Angeles”.

Staff Sergeant Michael Nance (Aaron Eckhart: “The Dark Night”, “Thank You for Smoking”) has served his time in the Marines and is ready to get out. Unfortunately for him, the universe has other plans. Meteorites are falling to Earth off the coast of major cities all over the planet, and when the military is mobilized to help in evacuating the Southern California coastline, he finds himself attached to a squad headed up by a young lieutenant who is fresh out of officer school.

Before the Marines even hit the streets, the situation changes drastically. As suspected, the meteorites were not natural at all; this is confirmed when the television news shows footage of vaguely humanoid figures marching up out of the surf and, by way of greeting humanity for the first time, open fire on the crowd. There's no warning, no deception, no attempts at diplomacy or requests for surrender, they just start attacking.

Where most alien invasion movies (“Independence Day” and “Mars Attacks” come to mind) generally start out showing you different characters in different places dealing with the attacks, “Battle Los Angeles” keeps its scope much smaller. The camera stays firmly on Nance and his squad as they are sent to rescue civilians caught in the combat area. Your knowledge of what is happening in the rest of the world is limited to that of the characters, which is to say whatever they happen to see on televisions as they make their way through the war-torn city.

This sense of isolation works really well for the film, managing to give it a sense of reality that most alien invasion flicks could never achieve. In fact, this movie felt more to me like “Blackhawk Down” or and the last half of “Full Metal Jacket” than it did “Independence Day”, which is to say it feels like a straight war movie where the enemies just happen to be space aliens instead of humans. The film takes the subject matter just as seriously and respectfully as if it were “Saving Private Ryan”.

There are no one-liner spewing ubermen in this film; no Wil Smiths dragging an alien around without any cover from enemy fire while commenting wittily about the invader's odor. This isn't to say that there are no humourous lines to be found here, just that they are only used where they seem natural for combat banter. No one runs around like they are bulletproof, or at least no one runs around that way for long. The characters are well aware of their mortality and the disadvantage they are at with their enemies, and in one of the few instances of Hollywood heroics that the character actually survives, he comes away not saying something witty, but shaking in absolute terror.

In order to help create the sense of urgency and isolation, the entire film appears to have been shot in a pseudo-documentary style using handheld cameras. This is the only problem I had with the film, and the camera jerks around so much that it made me nauseous (I am not exaggerating, I actually felt sick to my stomach), and I am not one to suffer from motion sickness. If you are someone who has problems with this, then try to sit as far back as possible, and perhaps see if one of the theaters near you is playing it on one of their smaller screens (I saw it on a nearly floor to ceiling screen, and sat far too close to it). This doesn't make me dislike the film, but it can be a major issue for some viewers.

With fantastic alien designs, a gritty realistic style, believable characters, and almost non-stop action, it is not at all difficult for me to tell you to go see this film. This is not your average invader-from-the stars type movie, this is a hardcore war movie... with aliens. Just remember to take your Dramamine.

“Battle Los Angeles” is in theaters now.

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