Battle Los Angeles Is Not A Terrible Movie

I recently finished watching Roland Emmerich’s visual and patriotic action movie Independence Day because I was bored and heard adequate things about it, and liked it. Actually, you know what? I don’t like that introduction. Let me try that again, except with something different. In a world where action movies are law, and people will spend 11.50 to get into a movie theatre to watch a summer blockbuster, one movie dares (-action beats-). To be (-action beats-)! DIFFERENT (-explosions, building kicks, etc.-)! That movie is Battle Los Angeles, a 2011 military science fiction terror ball that I talked about in yesterday’s TheWeeklyReview (I kinda butchered its premise then, but I focused on a more political point of view than a film point of view), and suffice it to say, it’s terrible. It is in fact SO terrible that the ONLY way I can get rid of the terrible aftertaste is by discussing said aftertaste in a lengthy review citing each and every single flaw that I felt the movie had, including directing, visuals, acting, cinematography and (to top it all off) plot.

So let’s start with the one problem I had that drove me up the wall when watching it, the shaky cam thing the camera had going for it, coupled with the way the entire thing was shot to make it look like a documentary reenactment on the History Channel. Allow me to explain, I have absolutely NOTHING against shaky cam movies mainly because those are the rare films where having a shaky camera effect adds to the overall ambiance to the movie; making it seem more like its being shot from a digital camera or video recorder (like in Cloverfield, for example) which actually would make sense in a movie about a group of kids looking for an urban legend or about a group of people who are being forced to evacuate their homes because the army accidentally released a crazy alien into New York. The shaky cam effect doesn’t work in a movie like this (correction, that’s entirely false, but I’ll get back to that later) mainly because this isn’t a documentary and the group of Marines aren’t being followed by a reporter where they’re being recorded to preserve human history before the invaders come and kill everyone.

The next problem I have with shaky camera effect (this is the correction) is the fact that it COULD work in this movie; in fact it could work VERY well, just not the way that the director intended it to. There’s a scene near the beginning of the movie, right before the Marines deploy and get into the chopper where the camera focuses on a television tuned to CNN (or some news station) talking about Britain also being under attack. I remember this scene in particular because it was at this exact moment that I thought to myself “Wow, can you imagine if the promotional material didn’t tell us that aliens were invading Los Angeles? Wouldn’t it have been so cool to have some big reveal near the end of the movie? Wouldn’t this have worked better if no one KNEW that the aliens were invading Los Angeles? Wouldn’t it have been COOLER if the movie took the audience in one direction and then curved ball an alien invasion SOMEHOW?” The answer to all of these questions is something of a “YEAH IT WOULD’VE BEEN COOLER” mainly because that’s how shaky cam SHOULD be used. Anyone who’s seen District 9 remembers the way the movie was shot in a mockumentary style that then became a science fiction movie near the end. Anyone who watched it should also remember that the camera was shaking all over the place, and the shaky cam effect worked out rather well mainly because it didn’t take away from the plot and it didn’t make the viewer feel like attacking the key grip (or the director, whomever decided to USE shaky cam in a movie that didn’t need it).

However, shaky cam was only part of the problem; the plot itself was rather lackluster and contained so many action movie staples that I’m surprised the entire thing wasn’t an ironic indie film. We’ve got the military man who’s only one lesson (that he needs to teach) away from retiring who’s thrust back into the line of duty for one more go; we’ve got the angry soldier who’s brother died thanks to the incompetent (or suicidal, whichever works really) work of another soldier; we’ve got the guy who’s getting married before he’s deployed back to wherever; we’ve got the guy with a wife who’s going to give birth before he leaves the house in the morning (though in a nice twist, this is also the guy who just graduated from military school with top honours and a fancy title that has NO idea what he’s doing) and finally we’ve got Michelle Rodriguez. I’m not kidding here, they literally had to throw in Michelle Rodriguez because the movie wasn’t cliche’d enough. Though it’s nice to note that her standard camisole has been replaced with an airman’s uniform (though her presence still isn’t enough to fix this abomination. Quite the opposite, it only shows the audience how hard this movie is trying to be something that it can’t possibly hope to become, and it quite literally TAUNTS us by saying “See? This could’ve been SO much better!”).

Though the action movie staples aren’t nearly annoying enough for me to take issue with when compared to the acting. The audience gets to hear such fantastic lines as “You’ll be surfing soon” (delivered by one soldier to another soldier. I didn’t even bother with their names) and “Cool it Simmons” (said to, presumably, a soldier named Simmons who needs to, for all intents and purposes, “Cool it” so as to maintain a sense of, oh I don’t know, let’s say “Soldiership”). My personal favourite moment was when Aaron Eckhart looked at one of the other actors with a scowl. Let’s face it, casting Harvey Dent as a lead in this movie was NOT smart. He doesn’t have the action look, his face is too tall for action movies and yes, his chin is VERY manly and gruff, but it doesn’t make him look anything more like Vin Diesel. Now normally, I would NEVER criticize an actor’s looks, but when we first see him, we already know that he’s resigned himself from working on set. He delivers his lines like he’s being forced to (though, in all fairness, that wouldn’t surprise me. Even actors need to pay their rent) and frankly? I’m surprised he doesn’t just yawn through most of the film.

The next problem with the film are the visuals. Well, that’s not fair because the sets are actually gorgeous and the movie does a fantastic job of throwing in various brands that are synonymous with urban living (things like Shell gas stations, Fed Ex offices, and I’m pretty sure I saw a Kinko’s too, so that’s always nice.) and the audience is made dutifully aware that this is happening in America. I can respect a well built set, especially one that conveys just the right amount of emotion (sadly though, the set was probably the best actor). The visuals I’m referring to are the alien designs and their ships. Yes, the big climactic reveal is GORGEOUS (not the individual shots with the aliens on the streets, or their smaller ships), but that’s the problem I have with this movie. The reveals aren’t what they’re supposed to be. The movie tries to pick a route to take with the aliens (at first, all we see are silhouettes, nothing but figures in smoke) and the movie slowly works its way up to the major reveal. Instead of this all encompassing “EeeGad” moment, the audience is treated to a single alien being shot by Marines, and another alien that gets to be a guinea pig. There’s no major “Oh wow” factor and the worst part is that it doesn’t even bother with the District 9 method of revealing the aliens immediately and letting it all sink in for the audience. The movie tries to piggyback on the success of both Cloverfield and District 9, except that in the process, it doesn’t make any improvement on the original formulas. Quite the contrary actually, Battle Los Angeles ONLY makes the mistakes that these two FANTASTIC movies make; over and over again without any intention of stopping. To the title, Battle Los Angeles is NOT a terrible movie; it’s an absolutely HORRIBLE one and it’s a travesty that should NEVER have been released.

On a brief note, the cinematography is decent. It isn’t fantastic, but I can live with the few aerial shots and tricks the camera decides to pull. It’s certainly not enough for me to say that the movie is worth watching, but it isn’t the UGLIEST use of a camera I’ve seen. Fixed camera techniques that is; the shaky cam methods are absolutely revolting.

Though, on a final note, I’d like to point out that Battle Los Angeles falls prey to the “Get rich quick” method that many of us like to believe in (not to mention the one that movie producers have been benefiting off of since the beginning of the industry). That is to say: come up with a fairly decent idea that people will be interested in (for a certain amount of time) and then sell it to them at an exaggerated price where, even if it doesn’t last, at least you’ll make enough to cover your losses and end with a tidy profit. Which is exactly what this movie did, and sadly, seeing as how it doubled it’s budget, the get rich quick idea worked out rather nicely. However, I will say this: there are no bad movies; only bad actors, bad directors, bad producers, and poor decisions. Seeing as how the actors are well known to do GOOD work, I place the blame on the director and the producers. Well, that and ALL of their poor decision making skills.

As always, this is your Admin; comment and criticize and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

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