Tuesday, March 15, 2011

(SPOILER ALERT) Battle: Los Angeles 1, Aliens 0

You know how the start of some movies can provoke an emotional reaction from the audience just because the curtain opens? Justin Bieber has such power, seemingly over the whole nation. But the subject matter of other movies are localized enough so as to appeal to a particular portion of the population. Battle: Los Angeles is one such movie - after the cold open, depicting various bytes of newscasts reporting on the brutal alien invasion juxtaposed with images of surfers by the Santa Monica Pier and the Downtown skyline getting blasted by extra-terrestrial artillery, our native Los Angelino audience burst into applause.

The applause didn't continue throughout, however. The movie was entertaining enough, but the audience was quickly disenchanted as we quickly lost any visible landmarks that would identify the movie's location as LA. Nondescript streets, abandoned buildings, big explosions that could have occurred anywhere - I guess the filmmakers didn't care much about exploiting the locale after they drew the west coast-based audience into the theaters.

But despite all that, Battle: Los Angeles proved a perfectly serviceable alien invasion mindless action military thriller, perfect for just sitting back, shutting your brain off (except for the part that thinks of snide, rifftrax-esque comments), and enjoying a couple hours of easy entertainment. Plus, seeing as aliens are all the rage these days, it's always interesting to compare and contrast the different filmic interpretations.

The movie was a relatively straightforward military actioner. After a lengthy introduction to our lead character (Aaron Eckhart), we are introduced rapid-fire to no fewer than nine distinct marines in approximately five minutes, each with his own name, backstory, and personality. I must say, I was impressed with how well-defined (read: one-sided) the characters were so that we could both tell them apart and grow emotionally attached to each in his own right. The acting was about as good as it could have been, given the stilted dialogue and the fact that Eckhart's character's arc was so shallow that a bowling ball could've completed his dramatic journey all by itself.

As for the story of a ragtag band of humans fighting their way through an invasion-ravaged landscape to find the secret of destroying the hostile aliens - we've seen it before, most notably in Independence Day and War of the Worlds. Once the action started, the movie followed a pretty standard format: our heroes sneak around, get spotted by aliens, make a stand, bring in some heavy artillery, move to a new place, repeat three or four times.

In the world of the movie, alien ships had attacked more than 20 different coastal cities, and yet we focus on only Los Angeles. This is obviously because the forces fighting in Los Angeles had the most interesting story: after all, out of all the potential ragtag bands, it was that particular city's that figured out how to cripple the enemy's drones by destroying their command and control centers. I enjoyed the shout out to my home town, but I also felt like the local references made LA the only relevant city in which to see this movie.

Or, at least, that would be the case if the movie were shot anywhere near LA. Actually, that's not completely accurate, as the movie was shot in LA... the state, though, not the city. Filming took place in Shreveport and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, presumably because of the tax breaks and other financial incentives offered by the state to encourage its burgeoning local film industry. And while I'm all for supporting Louisiana's economy after all that's gone down in the Gulf, I can't help but feel like there was something lost by not shooting the movie where it obviously took place. I mean, references to Lincoln Blvd. and the 10 Freeway are great, but I would have liked a little authenticity to go with the green screen and CGI longshots of downtown LA in flames.

Where was the Hollywood sign toppling to the ground? Where was Graumann's Chinese Theater in flames? Where were the alien ships hovering over Dodger Stadium? If you're going to have a tactical military thriller focusing solely on Los Angeles, shouldn't the layout of LA play a part in the movie? The movie just as well could be called Battle: Anywhere-town USA. A missed opportunity, but seeing as it opened at #1 at the box office with $39 million, I don't think the producers are sweating too much.

Last year, District 9 provided an interesting social commentary about what would happen if aliens were treated less as threatening invaders and more like disenfranchised immigrants. Pretty soon, Paul will depict a comedic story about a single anthropomorphic extra-terrestrial who befriends some willing humans in his fight against the feds. And Cowboys and Aliens will explore what might have happened if visitors from outer space had invaded during a time period far removed from our own. Who knows, maybe all this cultural focus on aliens will  draw the attention of some actual aliens who will finally reveal themselves to check out what's going on down here. Let's just hope that they're not interested in colonizing us for our resources...