14 March 2011


The makers of Battle Los Angeles have intimated that the Brothers Strause, the directors of Skyline, bailed out of their jobs as special effects artists on this one to make that one. It's an interesting story if true, but now that Battle Los Angeles has been released, it reveals that it is in fact on quite shaky litigious grounds. Skyline might be a little bit like Battle Los Angeles, but then Battle Los Angeles is a lot like many other films.

Aaron Eckhart plays Staff Sgt. Nantz, a Marine who's just handed in his resignation after 20 years of service and has a bad reputation after his last tour of Iraq went badly wrong. Before Nantz can say his goodbyes, however, a meteor shower in close proximity to the coast of Los Angeles prompts a military evacuation of the city, and he's drafted in to help out. But similar meteor showers have occurred all over the world, and it soon transpires that the meteors are cover for an invasion of Earth.

It's unusual for me, to hear a film's music score speak so comprehensively of not only the film's content, but of the film's quality. Brian Tyler, a composer on the likes of the Fast and the Furious franchise and the Final Destination franchise, has turned in the most generic and lazy assault my earholes have endured in a long, long time. We've recently seen a score elevate a film just by its presence, seeing as how Daft Punk's soundtrack to Tron: Legacy was the best and only reason for that film to exist, but Tyler actually creates a problem that brings the film down.

My hatred of the score is the most prominent thing to mention about Battle Los Angeles, because it's really just a big, loud and disengaged disappointment of the worst kind. I went in with a fair bit of anticipation for the film- I had liked the trailers, and I like Aaron Eckhart, and I was absolutely in the right mindset to enjoy it. My experience of watching the film was like constantly running after it and trying to get involved with it, but always being left some distance behind.

It's not that it's an especially complicated film, although its subplots tend to convolve the action, but it was like I was sitting in orbit of the action rather than ever becoming involved with it. There are films that have been likened to watching somebody else play a video game, and to me at least, this film is absolutely that. The cascade of disposable war movie characters are trotted out from the outset, to the point where it's impossible to tell who's getting killed off as the death toll ramps up, at least until the ending where there are only a handful of Marines surviving.

The Battle of the title is definitely the operative part, because the action is near enough relentless, in true video game style. As usual, we're siding with the humans in this battle, even though we get a very interesting aside at the outset of the action. Two snipers sitting atop a building and watching the encroaching aliens mutter about how they don't seem so different, pondering the thoughts and feelings of their opponents, which shows something of the war film the filmmakers were hoping for. The film then drops that thread as though it's a matter of total disinterest to the viewer.

Instead, we're asked to find some kind of relatable quality with characters who bitch about their personal issues with Nantz at a point in which the entire world has gone to hell. These remarkably self-centred characters are utterly ignorant of the huge world-changing events happening all around them. Just as soon as they're not shooting at them or blowing them up, that is. Aaron Eckhart gives a classy performance in a role that fits him like a glove, but Nantz is the only character whose name I wouldn't have to look up afterwards- that's how poorly these characters are developed.

The disinterest in the aliens is staggering. Some might like the way that we never get what anyone would call a satisfactory idea of what these adversaries look like, because they're only ever seen in long shots or extreme close-ups. I can see how some would appreciate being distanced from the aliens in that way, and left to come up with their own idea of what these world-invading bastards look like, but I can appreciate that someone, somewhere, actually gave some thought to the design of these things. So it's all the more maddening that we're supposed to be more interested in the human characters, who all come from Michael Bay's US military porn stock, Nantz excepted.

Battle Los Angeles has a couple of bits of properly exciting action and a decent performance from Eckhart, but all else seems so obnoxiously loud as to actually become quiet. Maybe that's what the excellent trailers were hinting at all along, because there's little of the implied subtlety of the Johann Johannson-scored trailer in the final film. The score is horribly incompetent, the camerawork is shaky and Bourne-like even in supposedly subdued moments and the character development is so negligible that you start to root for the aliens. However this battle turns out, everybody lost in the battle between this film and Skyline.

Battle Los Angeles is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Battle Los Angeles, why not share your comments below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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