Releasing Studio: Sony Pictures/Columbia
Disc/Transfer Specifications: 1080p 2.40:1; Region 1 (U.S.) Release
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Tested Audio Track: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Starring Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan
IT’S NOT WAR. IT’S SURVIVAL.
OSAGE'S PLOT ANALYSIS:
What? What’s that you say? “Harvey Dent” of The Dark Knight is playing a platoon-leading staff sergeant Marine charged with the duty of fending off an alien attack on the beaches of California?
Perhaps on paper you don’t buy it, but Jonathan Liebesman’s highly anticipated and much-ballyhooed Battle: Los Angeles was a refreshingly genuine take on the aliens-invade-Earth genre so commercially glazed over in a thick, heavy syrup via projects like Independence Day or, in certain aspects, War of the Worlds. The back of the Blu-ray cover quotes a critic who exclaims this film is like “Independence Day meets District 9 – only cooler.” But that’s not accurate. This is indeed – with no doubt – Black Hawk Down meets Independence Day for better or worse. Again, this was a film I was eager to see theatrically, but due to personal matters and a hectic work schedule, I missed it like so many other titles I was looking forward to. The hoopla surrounding Battle: LA was staggering, with blogs upon blogs of insight hitting infinite numbers of Internet “review” and “film discussion” sites; the film was often lumped into that “duality” syndrome, wherein certain films seemed to release together of similar genres, a la Armageddon and Deep Impact, being compared to Skyline which was released prior to Battle: LA. I didn’t care for Skyline, and thought this was a much better film, but, again, like so many others I have seen recently, something still prevents it from being “spectacular” or “ownership worthy” in my opinion.
If you listen to the commentary by the filmmakers and watch some of the behind-the-scenes features on the disc, you’ll learn all about how Battle: Los Angeles attempted to mix a documentary-style piece of film with a standard Hollywood drama flow – the filmmakers were indeed going for something different with this one, attempting to fuse the nail-biting excitement and pre-alien-attack tensions of ID4 and like-minded films with a more gritty, serious, “reality” angle, a la an actual Marine troupe going into battle against robotic aliens, seen through their eyes in the tradition of Black Hawk Down. The result was successful in that way, and instead of gooey, greasy and syrupy tentacles hanging down from these aliens, we get metallic-based organisms which are met by our armed forces with the equal intent of doing machine gun-to-machine gun battle with them. It was a refreshing take on the genre, “true dat” as one of today’s hip hop artists would say.
And, in fact, Battle: Los Angeles does feel very much like Black Hawk Down in its raw, rough execution – there’s that gritty, dirty look to the picture as the Marines are ducking alien gunfire and explosions and mud is being thrown into the air; the shaky camera jerks and angles that suggest you’re running right there with the actors…it’s almost as if Ridley Scott was given the green light to attempt a sci fi alien flick, minus Denzel Washington. Instead, we get a good lead performance from Aaron Eckhart, who plays the role of a Marines staff sergeant cool and straight-ahead, with some backup performances by Michelle “Fast and the Furious” Rodriguez and even Michael Pena World Trade Center). The film goes right for the throat upon starting – we get the perspective of a group of Marines stationed outside Los Angeles watching the news reports of strange meteor showers that are firing down on the Earth’s cities from space. The tension is gathered very nicely here, as we watch news reports – a la Independence Day, Day After Tomorrow[/i] and even 2012 – about these “cosmic attacks” and how they’re a mystery to everyone around the world, seemingly taking out people, structures and other elements of our planet as they rocket to the ground and explode. What makes this so frightening and effective is that we can actually imagine something like this happening one day…turning on our TVs and seeing reports from CNN and HLN between episodes of the Casey Anthony Murder Trial that strange beings have landed on our beaches and in our parks, taking out people with their ray guns and the like. And so, that “energy” built up by this opening sequence, as we watch the news reports of the strange meteor attacks, is extremely effective, mixed with the documentary-style shooting as we follow the confused Marines about their headquarters. What is even more genuinely frightening, however – and I said this about Independence Day as well, when the White House staff gathers around a TV to watch a news report about the space ships appearing – is the fact that our military powers actually get their intel from news shows and reports before getting it from their own leaders. Can you imagine? Marines and other divisions are made aware of what’s going on with an alien attack not by their own government leaders – but by a report on CNN or elsewhere. They get the scoop on what’s going down before our government does. That always bothered me.
Soon, reports of these “meteors” turn to excited warnings of attacking “things” on the planet, which have come down from the skies and have begun killing humans and destroying our cities. Eckhart is somehow “reduced,” temporarily, in rank, for the mission of meeting these aliens for a conflict, instead having to take orders from a rookie platoon leader, but who looks to Eckhart for leadership advice anyway. Battle: Los Angeles then heats up into the mission that its namesake title implies, as we experience, through the eyes of these Marines, a battle between these attacking aliens and our armed forces on the burned-out streets of L.A. As aforementioned, the aliens appear as metallic robot-like beings that have weapons and guns “fused” onto their chassis – it’s almost like Terminator meets ID4. The soldiers engage in an all-out gunfight with the beings, shooting their assault rifles at them while the attackers shoot machine gun/laser-like rounds back at them, turning the fogged up, smoked out streets of L.A. into a total war zone (which isn’t much of a stretch to begin with anyway). We eventually meet Michelle Rodriguez’s character, who plays a tough-edged Marine, as well as Michael Pena’s character, who dies at the hands of an alien attack in front of his young son – but the focus always remains on Eckhart and his troops, as the aliens eventually wipe out nearly every Marine in the vicinity, leaving him and a small band of diehard soldiers left to battle the creatures to the death. The sense of “never giving up” amongst the Marines in the film is explored thoroughly, and keeps the narrative’s pace engaging. We also get an out-of-nowhere performance by Bridget Moynahan, who I haven’t seen in anything personally since she played John Cusack’s pretty fiancé in Serendipity.
Soon, the metallic-like aliens roll out a specialized weapon, which they push down the war-torn L.A. streets towards the Marines, and which shoots incredibly powerful rockets of some sort, instantly destroying whoever is in the way of the weapon. As day turns into night during this campaign, Eckhart and the others realize they must find the source of what’s controlling the other “drones” – there must be a central brain for these aliens (just like the “mother ship” in ID4) and they eventually stumble upon it beneath the ground. Massive and nearly the size of a city, this contraption rises from beneath the ground – and one must wonder how the aliens got these beneath our feet, much like in War of the Worlds – as the Marines figure out a way to destroy it, thereby crippling the other alien contraptions being controlled by it. Meanwhile, all around the world, the aliens are destroying major cities like London, as they do in all these flicks, but once the small group of American Marines figures out how to bring these suckers down, they pass the word along…does this sound familiar?
What made Battle: Los Angeles so different from other alien invasion stories was the way it relied on the gritty, from-the-military perspective in the documentary narrative. The ending was a bit abrupt, what with the Marines figuring out how to defeat the alien beings as we hear what is seemingly Eckhart’s voice into a headset proclaiming ”Let’s retake Los Angeles!” after the whole city is in total ruins (it always amazes me how at the end of these films no one questions the possibility that these aliens are going to return after the ones from their planet figure out the other ones sent to Earth to attack it and destroy it didn’t return) but all in all, it was a decent ride, and better than the one it’s always compared to, Skyline. The biggest issue with Battle: LA, for me, was the ongoing, drawn out battle sequences which get so gnawing after awhile as you’re dropped in the middle of that meat grinder in L.A. for nearly two hours and it’s relentless…but many will say that’s the point of the film, and what made it, as did the drawn out war sequences in Black Hawk Down. This just seemed excessive here, and made me wonder just how often I’d take it off the shelf to rewatch – although I rewatch Black Hawk Down on Superbit pretty often, so…
VIDEO QUALITY ANALYSIS:
Sony/Columbia presented Battle: Los Angeles in a ridiculously clean 2.40:1 1080p transfer that really strutted its appealing stuff during facial close-ups – my Lord, the upclose shots of Eckhart and some other actors were stunning with eye-popping, realistically rendered detail to the point you could make out every mole, hole, pimple, shave mark and imperfection on their faces, especially Eckhart’s. As the film progresses, the battle sequences with the aliens get a bit gritty – in the fashion of Saving Private Ryan and of course Black Hawk Down -- so the transfer loses a bit of its clarity and essential high def polished look. But these photographic elements are completely appropriate given the subject material – and we’re never once really taken out of the story due to the grit and dirty flying around the frame.
AUDIO QUALITY ANALYSIS:
I can’t tell you why, but a trailer for Battle: Los Angeles on the DVD for I Am Number Four, featured in Dolby Digital audio, sounded punchier, heavier and more aggressive than in the DTS-HD Master Audio mix of the Blu-ray – given the subject matter, I was surprised this wasn’t a more aggressive, tuned up track. Bass seemed a bit shy on my system, and there wasn’t a whole lot of energy to the mix until you brought your master volume up a bit higher than normal. I didn’t understand that.
Surrounds were used aggressively, as expected, but it was the ultimate shallow bass that left me a bit underwhelmed here. This was not a poor mix, by any means – I just expected more. I’m sure there are plenty of you who are going to tell me what you thought about that!
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATIONS:
Definitely entertaining, and a refreshing take on the alien invasion story, as told through the eyes of American Marines in L.A. as they battle these robotic, aluminum-covered things – it was very much like Black Hawk Down meets the X Files, and for that, it deserves applause. As a buy, I’m just uncertain…I personally don’t see much rewatch time on this one, but I’ve been finding that of most every title I come across these days.
I’ll be reviewing the Jennifer Aniston/Adam Sandler comedy Just Go With It next! Tell me what you thought about your experiences with the much-ballyhooed Battle: Los Angeles!