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DFI Film Review: Battle: Los Angeles

Mar 10, 2011 — Film Talk

Written by James Rawson, New Media, DFI

When ‘Transformers 2’ was released in 2009, it was reportedly the biggest joint military movie operation ever made. The US army, in order to assist the production, provided director Michael Bay with two A-10 Thunderbolt II “Warthog” tank-killing jets , six F-16 Fighting Falcons , 10 armored Humvees , and that was only the beginning. What did the production do in return? Oh, they only let the US military rewrite the script. No big deal.

‘Battle: Los Angeles’ hits screens in Doha this week, and while the production doesn’t seem to be quite as embedded with the US military as ‘Transformers 2’, there’s more than a whiff of mutual backscratching to this propaganda piece. A group of marines from the military’s Camp Pendleton mentored the cast in the marine way of life, and a few of them even appeared as extras in the film. As a thank you, the film premiered at the military base, giving them a glimpse of the final edit before anyone else in the world.

Did producers allow the US military to rewrite the script for ‘Battle: Los Angeles’ too? I don’t know, but I hope so. I really hope so. Because otherwise there is absolutely no excuse for this turgid, sycophantic, two hour love letter to the US marines and all things military.

The backstory to the film’s script is, surprisingly, quite an interesting one – in 1942, very shortly after America had declared war on Japan, the military ordered a complete blackout of the LA area. Local residents cowered in fear, petrified of another Pearl Harbour, as a series of mysterious flying machines zoomed across the California sky. The aircraft disappeared as mysteriously as they arrived, but not before the American army had unloaded over 1400 anti-aircraft shells, not one of them hitting their target. What has become known as ‘The Battle of Los Angeles’) remains one of WW2’s greatest mysteries, and is fodder for UFO enthusiasts and conspiracy theorists everywhere.

But none of this intrigue makes it into the film. All that we know is that it’s 2011, aggressive aliens are attacking the world (read: America), and goshdarnit our team of plucky marines, spearheaded by Aaron Eckhart’s chin, have got to save the day. There’s a Mexican one, an Italian one, one whose brother died in Iraq, and even a feisty lady soldier played by the ever diverse Michelle Rodriguez. Through this prism of clichés and Jonathan Liebesman ‘edgy’ handheld camerawork we see them blowing things up between rousing speeches about marines embodying everything that is great about humanity. And that’s about it. We learn very little about the aliens or their motives (there’s some mumblings about being after Earth’s water supply at one point): they are simply big, evil baddies who need to be killed before they kill us. Read into that mentality what you will.

As a point of contrast, this week the results of a poll were released in which the public voted for ‘cinema’s most powerful moment’. The winner? With 30% of the vote, the closing scene from ‘E.T.’, when Elliott’s strange little friend boards his spacecraft to return home. ‘E.T.’ is a film about understanding, dialogue, humility and friendship, and is in my opinion the most beautiful film about aliens ever made. It is everything that ‘Battle: Los Angeles’ is not.

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