This was a good, possibly great, movie. NOT a great science fiction movie – the science in it really was quite awful. But it was a damned fine combat movie.
The short form of it: aliens drop from the skies next two 20 coastal cities and start kicking up a ruckus. One of the cities is, as you may expect, Los Angeles. The movie follows a squad of Marines as they go behind enemy lines to extract some civilians.
As a war movie, it has all the cliched characters. The Tough-As-Nails Sarge. The Wet Behind The Ears Newly Minted Lieutenant. The New Guy. The Guy With Psyche Issues. The Guy From New Joisey. The Hot Chick With A Machine Gun. The Marine About To Get Married. The Guy With A Problem With Sarge.
The aliens are not developed as characters or explored in any real depth. They are apparently semi-squid aquatic critters, grown into bipedal power armor for surface locomotion. They use weapons comparable to the humans, and for some reason send out waves of grunts to shoot up the joint, rather than simply plastering the neighborhood with nukes or asteroids. And most gratingly, the movie has Experts On TV who point out that the best explanation for why they aliens are here is that they “want our water.” It was old when “V” did it more than a quarter century ago, and it still doesn’t make any sense today… dropping deep into the Solar gravity well to steal water from a heavy terrestrial world when there are ice moons and comets galore out in deep space, free for the taking. Sigh.
But if you can get past that, it’s an entertaining and in places *tense* movie. The combat scenes are really quite engaging; the characters, while pretty stock, are generally likable and you’re saddened to see them go… and a lot of them do go. And the Marines seem to act like how Marines might act under the circumstances: when they manage to collect an alien prisoner, injured when part of a building apparently fell on it, they don’t try to reason with it. They don’t attempt any communication at all, in fact. They immediately proceed to vivisect it, with the ready assistance of both their corpsman and a civilian veteranarian they picked up along the way. The Hippocratic Oath, after all, does not cover squishy spacemonsters in robosuits.
The special effects were, as far as I could tell, flawless. The aliens seem to have a fetish for rocket-powered hovering machines; while some form of antigravity seems to be in effect for their larger constructs, their smaller aerial vehicles, and even their crew-served weapons, all seem to get along by pointing a rocket engine or ten at the ground and firing nonstop. Hell, their officers seeme to hover about on rocket power, for reasons which are not explored. It’s silly… they don’t seem to understand wings, rotors or even the wheel. But once past *that,* the process was carried out well. The rockets are loud, set things on fire and break things with their exhaust.
One of my favorite little details: there are numerous scenes of TVs showing CNN news coverage. In the lower right corner, it shows that “Trading Has Been Suspended,” with the Dow at something like 4,800. Yeah, I can imagine that aliens opening up a can of whoopass on Earth – especially on New York City – would tend to depress the markets somewhat.
Comparisons with Independence Day are inevitable, but largely unwarranted. ID was, let’s face it,a pretty silly movie in tone, with World-Straddlingly Important People doing Incredibly Important Stuff. Battle:LA, in contrast, is stuck firmly down in the mud with the grunts. The President is never even mentioned. No super-science labs. No secret weapons. No real strategy. No wacky hijinks. The “Welcome To Earff” moment in Battle: LA involves not punching the alien in the head, but cutting into it repeatedly with a Ka-Bar.
It could, at least in principle, be the launching point for any of a number of sequels. There are, after all, 20 cities getting stomped (New Orleans, New York, Tokyo, Paris and others), and the movie only deals with about the first 24 hours of the invasion. Whether sequels are planned, I have no idea.
So if you’re looking for hard science fiction where the alien invaders make *any* sort of sense, this ain’t the movie for you. If you’re looking for a serious and gritty combat movie, then you might want to give this a shot.
UPDATE: Roger Ebert hated it. One more reason to ignore him as the talentless, tasteless hack that he is.