Battle: Los Angeles

(2011) * 1/2 Pg-13
116 min. Sony Pictures Releasing. Director: Jonathan Liebesman. Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Bridget Moynahan, Michelle Rodriguez, Michael Pena, Adetokumboh M Cormack.

/content/films/3991/2.jpgIf what you’re looking for is two hours of things-go-boom jingoistic claptrap, Battle: Los Angeles is for you. On the other hand, if you’re at all concerned that you may have seen it all before, trust that instinct. The science-fiction actioner opens with a cacophony of media voices, cheesily punctuated with the commentary “One thing is clear: the world is at war.” I’d call that line “'Battle: Los Angeles for Dummies,'” but it’d be just as clear to call the movie itself “Battle: Los Angeles for Dummies.'” Here’s what happens: a meteor shower off the coast of Tokyo turns out to be the first salvo in an alien invasion. With San Francisco and San Diego conquered, Los Angeles is the last bastion of the West Coast: only the US Marine Corps can save us now!

The details are entirely predictable, from the broad swath of macho theatrics right down to the insectoid rattling of the aliens. It’s mostly “Hoo-rah!” and “We’re at Threatcon Delta. That’s right!”, with regular urban shootouts occasionally interrupted for pep talks and weary feints at character drama. (Most laughably, screenwriter Christopher Bertolini pauses for thirty seconds to provide a token discussion between Marines about how the aliens are probably just like us, then returns to blowing them to bits.)

Aaron Eckhart plays Marine Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz, who—get this!—just turned in his retirement papers (go ahead, roll your eyes—I’ll wait). For good measure, Nantz carries Survivor’s Guilt from recently losing his platoon overseas, including the brother of one of his newly assigned charges. (Awk-ward!) The rest of Nantz’s new unit is full of characters with Conspicuous Reasons They Can’t Die, including unclaimed virginity and an imminent wedding.

A few familiar faces crop up: Michelle Rodriguez (Avatar), Bridget Moynahan (I, Robot), Michael Peña (Crash), and pop star Ne-Yo. But the affordable cast isn’t the draw. Rather, Battle: Los Angeles follows the playbook of Independence Day and Godzilla, as filtered through the more manageable budget of the likewise shaky-cam Cloverfield: monsters come to your town and take heavy artillery, as Soldiers and Relatable Innocent Civilians duck for cover.

Directed with reasonable but never surprising efficiency by Jonathan Liebesman (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning), Battle: Los Angeles feels like a shoot-’em up video game crossed with 24, since the gun-toting prowling occurs mostly in real time, under the countdown threat of a bomb set to raze Santa Monica. Though Battle: Los Angeles may or may not bomb with audiences, it is neuron-rotting brain candy: an empty action exercise made up of empty calories. That'd be fine, if only it were sweet.

[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]

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Aspect ratios: 2.40:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 6/14/2011

Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Sony unleashes another stellar transfer with its Blu-ray release of Battle: Los Angeles. The image is crisp as can be, pinpoint sharp in detail and awash in palpable textures. The picture quality has no distractions to speak of, instead delivering perfectly calibrated black level and contrast and accurate color, with a light grain that contributes to a natural look. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix impresses with astounding attention to detail, precise directionality, and an overall powerful sonic impact that never unduly drowns out the dialogue.

The selling point of the single-disc Blu-ray release is the Resistance 3 PlayStation 3 Playable Game Demo (available for a limited time). The demo comprises a thirty-minute level involving a boat ride through a flooded Missouri town.

For the non-gamers, Sony has whipped up the likewise Blu-exclusive Command Control, an interactive track with Picture-in-Picture (including behind-the-scenes footage, interview clips, and making-of segments), storyboard comparisons, and "Battle Points" pods (22:23 as a separate "Play All" menu option, HD): "Staff Sergeant Nantz," "Marine Behind the Scenes," "Aliens Ambush the Marines," "Battling Unknown Forces," "Technical Sergeant Santos," "Alien Autopsy," "Gas Station Explosion," "Visual FX on the Freeway," "Do You Believe in Aliens?," and "Alien Command & Control."

"Behind the Battle" (6:44, HD) is a brief EPK-style overview of the film, with cast and crew comments.

"Aliens in L.A." (17:57, HD) focuses on creature design and the actors' work with practical effects and green screen.

"Preparing for Battle" (5:15, HD) details the prep of the actors playing military characters, while the Blu- exclusive "Boot Camp" (10:18, HD) looks specifically at the actors' boot-camp-style training exercises.

The punnily titled "Creating L.A. in LA" (5:45, HD) explains how Louisiana stood in for Los Angeles.

Blu-exclusive "Directing the Battle" (6:33, HD) looks at director Jonathan Liebesman's vision for the film.

Blu-exclusive "The Freeway Battle" (5:18, HD) hones in on the making of a specific action sequence.

For PS3 owners, there's also Battle: Los Angeles PS3 Wallpaper. Sony also includes their standard features: MovieIQ and BD-Live access.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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