The Visa Collector

A blog about travelling with a Filipino passport, and life overseas

BattleLA: “Blackhawk Down” meets “Independence Day”

Posted by VisaC on April 7, 2011 at 10:04 pm

After a particularly tedious day at the office, I decided to blow off some steam at a theater in a half-dead mall that was close to the office. The movie was Battle: Los Angeles, an alien invasion movie set in Los Angeles, California.

I’d summarize the movie as “Blackhawk Down” meets “Independence Day”. It sure wasn’t frakk’n Skyline.

Like War of the Worlds, film makers brought the story down to the level of the individual by focusing on the struggle of a single squad of Marines assigned to a rescue mission. The invasion, therefore, was not seen from a objectifying strategic level, but from the jarhead’s perspective.

Whereas Jaws thrilled their audiences with a hidden fear beneath the surface of the water, the aliens of Battle LA were cloaked in fog. But visual impairment was the least our hapless heroes’ worries. The bipedal villains were inexplicably resilient to their weapons. If those challenges weren’t enough, drop in the detail of having the unit led by a 2nd Lieutenant that was fresh out of training, and backed up with a replacement Staff Sergeant that was rumored to have caused the deaths of the men in his previous unit.

The inexperienced-lieutenant scenario had been used in many movies before. Within the SciFi genre for example, we have the likes of Lieutenant Gorman from Aliens whose gaff not only caused the near total loss of his unit, it created the situation around which the movie centers. While the mental lock-up-under-fire is a predictable story element when a character like this is introduced, the way it was done in BattleLA left the character room for redemption. Whereas Gorman simply become a pathetically despicable character that could only atone for his error through a heroic death, BattleLA’s lieutenant character’s error was couched within the classic war movie officer-sergeant dynamic. This turned it into a tragic, but sympathy-inspiring, growth pain moment. All human characters in the movie remain likable throughout. Which is just as well since the movie arguably makes for a good Marine recruitment film.

Without a doubt, the movie benefited from assistance by the US Armed service’s film offices. The sheer number of non-computer generated equipment definitely gave the movie that feel. Whereas Saving Private Ryan was a virtual video catalogue of US small arms available during the period, BattleLA is its equivalent for present-day US Marine hardware. Whatever effort the military extended, they definitely got their effort’s worth back because the military comes across very positively in this movie. The image of a lone, immobilized M-1 Abrams tank under fire from directed energy weapons, protesting each incoming hit with retaliatory roars from its cannon encapsulated the movie’s underlying message about the military’s fortitude and devotion to mission.

Movies about the end of the world seem to beg for big-speech scenes, and BattleLA complies. It has its own equivalent to the “Today is our Independence Day” speech from Independence Day; now regarded by some critics as one of the cheesiest movie scenes in film history. At least this movie’s speech-moment was for a much more smaller audience, and was more tightly integrated into the inter-character conflict that developed throughout the story. Not so much cheese here.

I’d always been fascinated with SciFi combat that pitted present-day weaponry with off-world arsenals, which is actually a difficult balance to maintain. The makers of Independence Day and War of the Worlds simplified their task by simply making the aliens overwhelmingly superior. Add deflector shields to the invader’s arsenal, and that pretty much sets the tone for the movie.

To make the movie’s characters relevant, infantry-level combat still had to be viable. So even though the alien’s superiority was still unmistakable, it was not devastatingly insurmountable. This made for a fair number of Blackhawk Down-type combat scenes.

BattleLA delivers. For me, it fulfilled the promise that Skyline implied . . . but fell horribly short. I still regret watching the latter movie. For those who made the same mistake, this movie will make up for it.

This movie was a sufficiently satisfying distraction . . . I was able to return to the office after the movie to continue the work that had turned tedious.

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