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Battle: Los Angeles

Another Alien Invasion

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Hollywood never tires of a good thing or, to be more precise, a profitable premise, regardless of how many times or how recently that premise has been strip-mined for a big- or small-screen adaptation.

One such premise, aliens invading Earth for plunder and conquest, has been used and reused countless times on film, TV, and in literature. The first alien invasion to appear in print, The War of the Worlds, came courtesy of science-fiction pioneer H.G. Wells more than a century ago (1898 to be exact). George Pal adapted Wellsí novel in 1953 and Steven Spielberg fifty-two years later, both times updating the Victorian-era setting for modern audiences. Indirect or loose adaptations (e.g., Independence Day, Mars Attacks!, etc.) have appeared with unsurprising regularity and predictably uneven results.

Jonathan Liebesmanís (The Killing Room, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, Darkness Falls) latest film, Battle: Los Angeles, looks and sounds like yet another adaptation or iteration of The War of the Worlds. The aliens arrive not in massive motherships that hover over major cities around the world, but in a worldwide meteor shower that targets coastal cities. The aliens quickly establish beachheads and proceed inland, laying waste to everything in their path with advanced weapons tech.

Liebesman delivers exposition primarily through faux-TV reportage or amateur video footage as shocked civilians and the military look on. Those shots are all thatís necessary to give moviegoers an overview of the invasion, the aliensí devastating tech, and their goals (i.e., colonization, control of Earthís resources). So far, Battle: Los Angeles offers us nothing we havenít seen before countless times.

Rather than taking a panoramic, macro view of the invasion as Independence Day did fifteen years ago (e.g., cutting between government leaders, the military, and civilians), Liebesman and his screenwriter, Christopher Bertolini (The Generalís Daughter), focus almost exclusively on a Marine battalion sent on a search-and-rescue mission for civilians caught behind enemy lines. The premise shift turns Battle: Los Angeles into Black Hawk Down with aliens. That shift also results in a seemingly endless series of war film clichťs. The hero-protagonist, Staff Sgt. Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), a battle-weary, Iraq War veteran, resigns from his commission mere hours before the alien attack. Post-alien attack, Nantzís CO rescinds his resignation and assigns Nantz to a Marine platoon commanded by a young, inexperienced officer, 2nd Lt. William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez).

The multi-ethnic platoon consists of experienced vets and newbies includes Cpl. Jason Lockett (Cory Hardrict), Cpl. Nick Stavrou (Gino Anthony Pesi), and Cpl. Kevin Harris (Ne-Yo), among others. Deep in enemy territory, Nantz and his men encounter Tech Sgt. Elena Santos (Michelle Rodriguez), the last surviving member of an Air Force recon team sent to discover the location of the aliens command and control center. Eventually, Nantz and his men reach their goal: a police station, where they find more survivors.

Liebesmanís shooting style consciously emulates contemporary war footage, relying heavily on handheld cameras to add the obligatory immediacy to the Marinesí efforts to survive the alien invasion. Liebesmanís style would have added little except wannabe verisimilitude, if the alien ships, the alien army, and the live-action footage (Louisiana standing in for Los Angeles) failed to blend in seamlessly. It does, along with the dirt, the dust, the gunfire, the explosions, and the devastation generated via practical effects and visual effects ó later integrated with on-location, live-action footage. Battle: Los Angeles is an intense, intensely visceral experience.

Liebesman also wisely resisted filming Battle: Los Angeles in 3D or converting it to 3D. Combining 3D with shaky handheld camera work probably would have resulted in unhappily queasy moviegoers.

Liebesman and Bertolini obviously wanted to immerse moviegoers in the realistic life-or-death struggles of a platoon of U.S. soldiers facing nearly insurmountable odds for the film's 117-minute running time. In that, Battle: Los Angeles undoubtedly succeeds.