Finally, science fiction films are stepping forward and begging to be taken seriously. With the release of “District 9” and its following Oscar nomination, aliens in particular have been given some highlights. In “Battle: Los Angeles,” the world is yet again invaded by evil aliens bent on stealing earth’s precious commodities, and the U.S. marines are there to make a stand against their technological tyranny.
I should begin by discussing the advertising for this film. Late last year the marketing was almost solely viral, very much like “District 9.” The title and basic idea of the film is taken from a real historic event that occurred in February 1942 during the post-Pearl Harbor scare. American forces thought they saw something over L.A. and opened fire into the night sky, and the event is still riddled with conspiracy.
Playing off of this event, the viral marketing was a series of interviews, maps and links to other websites discussing alien conspiracy theories from real-life conspiracy theorists. All of this marketing was clearly a page torn from the book of “District 9”; therefore, it worked brilliantly. However, it is very unfortunate that I must draw a comparison between these two films because, simply enough, one is shockingly original whereas the other is utterly clichéd. “Battle: Los Angeles” took a large pot of potential and dumped into the run-of-the-mill action movie dumpster.
Let me state this clearly: the opening and first 40 or so minutes of the film are stunning, possibly one of the most realistic portrayals of an alien invasion movie I have seen. We are introduced to the cast of marines, all of whom are just what you expect: the top of his class new lieutenant who has no field action, the young man whose brother died in Afghanistan. Most importantly, however, is Aaron Eckhart’s character, a staff sergeant with a troubled past of getting his men killed in the Middle East on a botched mission who is just days away from retirement.
Stereotyped characters aside, once the invasion begins and the Marines begin to piece together the seriousness of their situation, the film gets good. These are simply troops fighting for their lives and the lives of others. The audience gets just as much information on the invaders as the soldiers do, and early battle sequences are taut and rigid, shakily filmed and action packed. Their mission is to save a group of civilians trapped in run-down police station before the Air Force bombs all of Santa Monica, and that part of the story is strong, unique look at alien invasion flicks.
As soon as they get out of the station and are attacked again, Eckhart uses magic and wizardry to somehow ignite an entire gas station with a single grenade and does so to bring down an enemy aircraft. From that moment on, it was as if the filmmakers decided to stop what they were doing and instead make an action movie by the books. Dialogue is contrived with sorry attempts at humor and highly overcooked emotional sequences to the soundtrack of an epic orchestra, action sequences (while maintaining a high level of visual quality and intense camerawork) are simply one precarious situation to the next that these rough and tumble troopers are forced to fight out of with superhuman strength.
Not to mention the abrupt shift in theme. The film began with a simple “This is the story of the real Marines fighting aliens” look, and I believed it, but quickly shifted into “Look at these heroes fight their way to victory every time against all odds.” They are even the only ones that discover how to overcome the aliens; no one else in the military does so, just these simple troops. While the message is admirable, the believability is minimal. What begins as “District 9: The Marine’s Story” soon slips into “Independence Day-Black Hawk Down” without the good parts.
Needless to say, the result was not quality. It is a true shame that what began as a strong marketing campaign and opened with a surprisingly unique twist on alien invasion films couldn’t hold up what it claimed to be. If you want to see Eckhart shoot stuff with other people while yelling “Ooh-rah!” to explosions, here’s your film. If you’re looking for anything new to spark your interest, search elsewhere.