Mar 122011

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.

 Posted by at 5:20 pm
  • sferrin

    I’ve come to the conclusion that the quality of a movie is inversely proportional to the reviews of the critics nine times out of ten.

  • MrTolliver

    You don’t need wings if you have enough thrust… 🙂

  • markus baur

    welll .. about that rocket fetish ..

    thats a natural thing for squids – who after all move along by squirting a jet of water .. natural rocket drive

  • Michael Holt

    Are squid and the like the new bugs? The Thermians were octopus-like, and Sam (in the webcomic the title of which I can’t recall now) is a “sqid” wearing a human-shaped suit.

    There was, in the 80s, a tale that the government was preparing us for meeting aliens by encouraging images that had the shape of the aliens to be adopted as common designs of various things. I suggested that the bug-head shape of boomboxes might indicate that the aliens under Four Corners (or wherever the fantasy puts them) would be insect-like. I was surprised how many adults took that seriously.

  • Ken R

    Roger Ebert is jealous the movie he wrote ( Beyond the Valley of the Dolls ) was such a stinker and got no respect. He can’t stand movies that are enjoyable to watch.

  • Peerlesswonder

    Actually the Dow at 4800 is a cryptic warning for keen individuals of what is coming in the near future. Hollywood is often a vehicle for a glimpse of whats to come.

  • Jeff Wright

    Here is my BS treknological explanation, at least based on what we saw.
    Yes anti-gravity is bogus, but to get past that.

    Aliens have developed a primitive antigravity system. They really cannot manipulate fields well, so aren’t even up to typical saucer designs with advanced beam weapons. They have managed to capture small singularities/wormholes but can’t do that much with them besides instant comm links and moving liquids. No FTL

    The original aliens are a martial race, and are interested in other species warfaring capabilities. Now, they send automated probes which aerobrake hard and look for all the world like meteors. The main spacecraft bus, we will say, skipped off our atmo in 1972 over the Tetons, later depositing probes in the asteroid belt to mine them. Some probes (no actual alien occupants) land on earth as meteorites and small machines begin to genetically engineer mollusks.

    Small self replicating machines use the metal nodules that precipitate out of sea water for some equipment. Soliers are modified from Earths own organisms due to chirality differences or resistance to earthly microbes, whatever.

    Now the sensitive equipment is last to appear. The rest of the singularity containers come in, aerobrake some, slow down and land.

    Here are where the singularities come into play. No vehicle has a fuel tank, no weapon has a clip. Instant logistics. Hydrogen is drawn from well off shore and off screen, broken down, and sent directly to the nozzle via singularity. Molten metal is also sent similarly to the large Big Dog looking legged self propelled missile battery, and forged in place, expalining the glow. They are cooled, charges placed inside, and fired.

    They never run out of fuel or ammo, so long as resources are shunted to them.

    The invasion is just a distraction. Tie up forces close to shore. The “aliens” seem to come out of the recent dropshells, but that’s just equipment. The warriors were already there. they snap on some pieces, and come out of the water, making them look more formidable. In reality they could not survive the drop. Equipment only comes down.

    Well off shore and off screen, larger refiners use deep ocean pressure (not found in space with comets) to push heavy water into the singularities, the other end of which ends in a container in space filled with vacuum. Molten fluids and what not from smokers/vents move in. Thus a lot of hydrogen can be moved with little effort.

    By the time the heros disable their “con/comm” they were mostly done anyway. the warriors (which don’t even look much like their alien fathers) are defeated about the same time they were about to be recalled for destruction with all equipment destoyed. The singularities (only used for raw materials, nothing complex can pass) are closed off/abandoned.

    Telepresence allows the warriors to be commanded from comfort of the homeworld, GAMER/UAV style. If ID4 was Normandy, this was Grenada. No real large scale invasion threat was had. They fight light, hard and fast (like Lore’s Borg)–the real damage is done to our resources–and they are out.