Making the Grades
Ever notice how often aliens have large craniums? Supposedly that’s a sign of their superior intelligence allowing them to repeatedly orchestrate attacks on Earth. But we know little else of these one-dimensional stock characters, other than, without question, they will be defeated by the end of the movie.
Unfortunately the soldiers in Battle: Los Angeles are almost as superficial as the space invaders. We know just enough about these military officers to distinguish them from the drones, but not enough to have any emotional connection. One of the soldiers is soon to be married: another to become a dad. One young recruit receives frequent teasing concerning his virginity and another is under psychiatric care for posttraumatic syndrome. There’s the soldier from Jersey (apparently a good place to be from if you need to hotwire a bus), an aspiring medical student from Nigeria and a few others whose defining features I don’t remember. The most development (and it’s still negligible) goes to the battle-weary Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) who is preparing to retire from the Marine Corps. However when the aliens attack, he is pressed back into service.
Despite being heavily decorated, Michael earned a dark reputation on the base after he lost a number of his men during a mission. Without many details of the event, it is hard to know if we should share the concern these troops have when their lead officer dies and Michael takes over as second in command.
For many viewers, however, these minor individual details are as irrelevant as the token plot line. Oozing with testosterone, this ammunition and explosion riddled film is all about the action. Set up much like a video game—with increasingly difficult operations to accomplish and some extra complications thrown in (like five civilians played by Michael Peña, Bryce Cass, Bridget Moynahan, Joey King and Jadin Gould)—it’s all about being quick on the trigger. The use of a handheld camera gives the war zone an up close and in-your-face feel. But it may also contribute to increased levels of queasiness among audience members.
Devoid of any reality (land lines, the Internet and even cell phones still work despite the city’s core being completely destroyed) and full of continuity issues (the soldiers go underground in the middle of the night, shoot some aliens and ascend a few minutes later into full daylight), this film demands that viewers check their brains in at the ticket counter. Exposure to non-stop profanities, constant warfare and explosions that result in piles of dead and burned bodies strewn on the beach and in the streets are the rewards for sitting through this mayhem.
As much a promotional piece for the Marines as it is a long advertisement for the soon-to-be-released video game (coming to a PC, Xbox360 or PS3 near you), Battle: Los Angeles is one long, loud theatrical experience (either at a cinema or home) that is best suited for lots of subwoofer power. On the other hand, this military operation will likely send many families looking for a viewing option that won’t leave their ears ringing or their stomachs rolling when the action’s over.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Battle: Los Angeles.
How do moviemakers include other cities around the world in these alien attacks? Why is it good business to focus on other locations in addition to North America?
How would this story be different if the soldiers’ personalities were more developed? How does the lack of character development contribute to feelings of emotional disengagement? Is it easier to watch a war movie where we don’t care as much about the people on screen? How does that translate to characters in video games?
According to some news reports, this fictional account of space invaders isn’t the only time the city of Los Angeles has come under attack by aliens. Footage from February 1942 shows purported sightings of other interplanetary visitors.