Thursday, 24 March 2011
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman
Written by Christopher Bertolini
Starring Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez
Release date(s) Out Now
Running time 116 minutes
And so we have the first big flop of 2011. Battle: Los Angeles is an old school alien invasion movie that endeavours to blend the classic war movie and science fiction genres, but only manages to capture the worst elements of both.
Battle: Los Angeles was billed as an amalgamation of 2009's poignant District 9 with the cheesy jingoism of a Top Gun, but suffers from amateurish production and a script of pure cracker barrel chedder that would make Roland Emmerich blush.
When District 9 arrived in cinemas to critical acclaim many predicted that it would become something of a trend setter, spawning a new wave of intelligent sci-fi with a style of gritty realism. Those predictions appear to have been well founded, but I doubt anyone could have foreseen the precession of cynical imitators that have come and gone, each one convinced that sticking a shaky camera on any old drivel is enough to turn a film into a deep, thought-provoking masterpiece.
Well this film may be the worst culprit of this most obnoxious of conceit that I have yet encountered. Shaky cam is absolutely fine when it's in context and justified, but here it arbitrarily dominates every single scene: walking down the road? Shaky cam. Two marines playing golf? Shaky cam. Buying flowers at the supermarket? Oh you better believe there's shaky cam.
What's worse is that the technique isn't even well implemented, with the camera jumping about unnaturally like someone's having a seizure. Actually it rather makes me want to watch the behind the scenes footage just so I can see the cameraman wobbling all over the place like a jackass.
The effect in itself would already be fairly nauseating, but the death-metal music-video style of direction only compounds the problem. Every scene is is a mish mash of incoherently cut, split-second shots, shaking and awkwardly zooming (if you want a comparison, think Alien vs Predator 2). It makes for unpleasant, and frankly difficult watching. The intention was clearly to give the film a kinetic, action packed feel, it's just a shame they made such an uneven mess out of it.
Where the film stood an honest chance of redeeming itself was character. The focus is wisely placed on the marines rather than the conflict or the aliens, an idea that could have lent itself to some high quality Hurt Locker-esque war-time drama or even a commentary on real life events. As it happens, their time is mostly spent shouting hackneyed one liners back at each other and pulling their most "intense" face for the cameras. In fact after the opening twenty minutes I'm pretty sure there is only about a dozen or so lines of dialogue for the remainder of the film. Instead the "narrative" just ambles awkwardly from one incoherently shot action set piece to the next with little or no logical thread running between them.
The characters themselves are not badly acted. Aaron Eckhart is a decent enough actor, and I can honestly say that Michelle Rodriguez performs the standard "Michelle Rodriguez" role better than any other actor. The trouble is that there is nothing here for them to work with. The opening exposition segment of the film hints at some potential for development or interpersonal relationships, and then the script promptly seems to forget all about it when the action starts. Rodriguez in particular gets surprisingly little screen time... I think... With the way the film is shot it's often pretty hard to tell who exactly is on screen at any one time.
It seems odd for me to try and critique the narrative or setting after I've already mentioned that there isn't much of one in this film, but anyway. The title says "Battle: Los Angeles" and yet the chosen locale is sadly squandered, with very little sense of place. They could switch Los Angeles with any other city in the world and I don't think a single frame in the movie would have to be changed.
As for the aliens themselves, it doesn't bother me so much that nothing is ever explained about them. What is a problem, however, is just how faceless and unremarkable they are. There is none of the awe or menace that one gets from a film like Independence Day, and as a result it's hard to get caught up in the struggle or really care when the aliens eventually lose. There is one scene in particular where they capture and torture an alien until they find out how to kill him (surprisingly stabbing him a few dozen times seems to do the trick), and if anything I end up feeling more sorry for the alien. On the plus side at least he got to leave the film before I did.
At the very least one would expect that this genre could yield way to some entertainingly cheesy US Army (oo-rah) bravura that typically turns an otherwise bad movie into a decent popcorn stuffer. But they couldn't even get that right. The dialogue here tragically lands on the wrong side of too much and makes the likes of 2012 and Top Gun look like Dostoyevsky, cramming as many clichés as possible into each exchange. Some scenes honestly look like a Seth Macfarlane parody.
It could have been a good film, it could have at least been a fun film. It's neither.
Decent special effects
Opening sequence sets the scenes for some mindless fun
That "fun" never materialises