Sunday, 13 March 2011



Whizz crash thud bang takkatakka takkatakka aaaargh bang boom kaBOOM whoosh thud aaaaargh! This is pretty much the most relentless two hours you're going to spend in a cinema this year and, if you see it on a big enough screen with a particularly punchy sound system you're going to emerge with a pounding headache from the constant gunfire and pounding explosions, as well as significant motion sickness from the jittery handheld photography. And because, after the first ten or fifteen minutes of character setup, it performs entirely on the loudest and bangiest of levels accompanied by an equally loud and bangy orchestral score with almost no let up, you are going to be slightly punch drunk from the sheer impact of it all.

Battle Los Angeles basically redoes Skyline except with a crack squad of US Marines instead of some dumb tourists in a hotel. One morning, meteor storms brew up out of nowhere around the world's major cities, before gigantic alien robots rise up out of the oceans and start destroying everything. A crack team of US Marines, most of whom have a quickly delineated character touch that instantly signals whether they're going to make it to the end of the movie or not, is assigned to venture into what's left of Santa Monica and rescue some civilians from the wreckage of the police station in the three short hours before the area is to be razed by the US Air Force. But the invasion force has deployed countless armoured death robots and "unmanned" aircraft to kill off what's left of the populace, even as what's left of the city crumbles and burns around them, and the Marines aren't going without a fight....

Incredibly, it's a film that manages to be more gung ho than Independence Day: an unabashed, unashamed love letter to the USMC. It's also typically US-centric to the point that we only get near-subliminal glances of TV sets showing the devastation anywhere else in the world - London is glimpsed for maybe four frames. (By tragic mischance, the film starts with the "meteors" devastating Japan, and it was released on the same day as the Japanese earthquake.) We're told early on that various American cities have been destroyed, "and Los Angeles Must Not Fall." Frankly I'm unsure why - what's so special about LA that doesn't apply to any other city? Indeed, why not Battle Memphis or Battle Chicago? (Admittedly they would have rejected Battle Seattle as just sounding silly.) Hell, where's Battle Godalming?

For all its overdone flagwaving and for all its plotholes, I think Independence Day is still the best of the genre, and I also have fond memories of the two miniseries of V, though emphatically not the weekly continuations (I haven't watched the lastest rebooted incarnation). Much of the dialogue in Battle Los Angeles is basically Marine-speak as they bark orders at one another and come up with on-the-spot planning ideas, and despite the opening bits of character stuff (one grunt is about to get married, another blames the Sarge for his brother's death in combat) you never get enough of a sense that they're actually human beings under the uniforms because it's very simplistic, daytime soap writing.

The action sequences, or in other words the last 105 minutes of the film, have all been shot using hand-held jerkycam AND the fast-shutter camera technique, but to what end? Partly it makes the film feel like a video game - you sometimes get the sense you're supposed to take control of Aaron Eckhart's no-nonsense veteran yourself - and it's clear the makers wanted to make you feel what it would be like to actually be there. Certainly they achieve that: the noise, the gunfire, the chaos, the not really knowing what's going on. And the effects are absolutely superb, as they should be. But the constant, continuous crash boom wallop is ultimately wearying and you do come out of the cinema staggering slightly. It's not a bad film, but it is pretty full-on and once the aliens attack the film is operating at full blast and doesn't let up. Don't sit in the front five rows, and occasionally glance at the Exit signs to give your eyes something to focus on. (Note that there's also a new DVD entited Battle Of Los Angeles, which looks to be an Asylum ripoff of this film.)


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