Sony // 2011 // 116 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Steve Power (Retired) // June 13th, 2011
It's not war, it's survival.
Black Hawk Down and Independence Day just had a baby. Break out the cigars!
Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight) is Staff Sergeant Nantz, a 20-year vet who's had just about enough playing G.I. Joe. Unfortunately, retirement is put on hold, as an extraterrestrial hostile force launches a coordinated and highly effective attack on the whole of planet Earth. Nantz and his unit must fight their way through the ravaged streets of Los Angeles and stay alive, while learning how to combat this deadly new foe.
Jonathan Liebesman's crack at an alien invasion flick owes a hell of a lot more to Black Hawk Down -- and the war genre in general -- than to any of Hollywood's past exercises in space invader ridiculousness. Much like Sir Ridley's look at modern combat in Mogadishu, Battle: Los Angeles wastes no running time on exposition, needless sub-plots, or excess character development. The bloated excess of flicks like Independence Day and War of the Worlds (either version) is absent and hardly missed, leaving us with a lean, intense run-and-gunner of a film that places its emphasis entirely on full auto rock-n-roll.
Non-stop action is a difficult thing to pull off, but Battle: Los Angeles gets several things right...
For one, it understands the value of characters in films of this sort; whether it's Nantz's gruff, experienced demeanour and hesitations spawned by a disastrous previous operation, or the cliched quirks and foibles of his unit. There's no doubt that Eckhart is the heart and soul of the film, but the marines in his troupe are all memorable in their own right. Liebesman and screenwriter Chris Bertolini (The General's Daughter) understand the value of the typical "war-film" cliches, actually making these guys a memorable bunch. Without the mystery surrounding Nantz's last op, he's just "That dude who played Two-Face," just like the guy with PTSD, the grunt planning his wedding, the fresh faced Lieutenant with the expecting wife, or the underage dork who's never experienced a woman. They're all just faceless uniforms without some kind of narrative (however cliche it may be) to wear underneath the olive drab. We've seen these war personas before, but the reason they get used is because they feel real, giving we-the-audience something to relate to. A film featuring a group of soulless, faceless killing machines is nowhere near as entertaining. Beyond that, the alien invaders are cool, sure, but they might as well be Red China, Chechnya, or pissed-off Canadians. Oohing and ahhing over alien tech and explode-a-tron death ships never shifts the focus too far afield from the boots on the ground.
Two, the action is relentless, and Liebesman is not above playing on our sentimentality to ratchet the intensity when it's called for. Rather than a film full of same-y gun battles, every engagement brings a little something new to the table, and our attachment to the characters maintains the urgency. Battle: Los Angeles never devolves into "a bunch of guys shooting shit!" and yes, much like a video game, the stakes get higher and higher until a final "last boss" confrontation that never becomes eye-rolling or outright silly (no Macbooks uploading viruses to alien motherships). I don't see a problem with it and quite frankly am fed up with the negative connotations that pretentious film critics love to associate with us unwashed masses who enjoy a "vidja game" or two.
Finally, I know the film took a lot of flack for its rating, and I'm actually glad the PG-13 label was mandated. The action is far from toothless and, when you get this kind of intense action, it may have been too easy to toss chunks of blood, guts, and snot at the screen. I enjoyed the hell out of District 9, but found the gorier bits were played too heavily and the resulting response was often out and out laughter. Take a look at Rambo, which attempts to deliver a poignant and heartfelt message about the plight of the people of Burma, but fails miserably in that final 20 minutes of .50 calibre carnage. Without exploding bodies every six and and a half seconds, the emphasis in Battle: Los Angeles is where it needs to be...on the players and not the violence.
Being a brand spanking new flick, Sony's Blu-ray offering is about what you'd expect. The image is a pristine 1080p transfer that holds up under even the tightest scrutiny. The fine detail is macro-level ridiculousness, and the color pops vibrantly off the screen. When the action hits, the gritty, smokey lo-fi look of the movie is maintained with a very delicate layer of grain and grime that upholds the "lived-in" war-documentary look perfectly. If there are any flaws beyond those intended by the filmmakers, I can't spot 'em. Equally impressive is a wonderfully boisterous 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix that booms and thunders appropriately. Battle: Los Angeles revels in its carnage, and the gunfire, explosions, shouts, and sweeping engines of the war machines all storm around your room in convincing fashion. It's a loud, aggressive mix that's sure to cause the neighbours to run for the hills.
On the bonus side, there's a healthy selection of featurettes included for your viewing pleasure. Each is relatively brief and presented in fluffy promotional style, but it all adds up to a surprisingly informative look at the film. Blu-ray exclusive features include the now standard picture-in-picture that showcases additional content throughout the film, including storyboards, trivia, pre-vis shots, and what not. It's thorough, but I generally find this convention to be more of a distraction.
Also in there, for those of you who play your Blu-ray discs on a Sony Playstation 3, is a single-player demo for Sony's upcoming shooter, Resistance 3. It's a suitably atmospheric, alternate history first person shooter about alien invaders (a-ha!) that's worth a look see. I'm a fan of the series and this surprisingly lengthy glimpse at the threequel didn't disappoint.
Battle: Los Angeles is a surprisingly effective and atypical war flick that tosses the typical tropes of the "alien invasion" genre into the rubbish bin. Excellent effects work, great performances, and a ton of kick-ass intensity makes it a recommended watch for anyone who likes things that go boom. Sony's awesome Blu-ray treatment ensures the things that do go boom, look and sound very pretty when they do.
Retreat? Hell! This disc just got here!
Review content copyright © 2011 Steve Power; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (French)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English, Descriptive)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 116 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Video Game Demo
* Cinema Verdict Review