A colleague lent me ‘Battle Los Angeles’. I was told it was a gritty, in your face, street-to-street war movie. But with aliens. Excellent, I thought; the anti-‘Transformers’. Bring it on.
Ten minutes in, my thoughts were more along the lines of switch it off. I watched it to the end … sort of – there was much wandering into the kitchen to get another beer, make a sandwich, take some washing out of the machine, get another beer, etc etc – but my thoughts on ‘Battle Los Angeles’ were pretty much formed within those first few minutes.
Here are five ways in which ‘Battle Los Angeles’ is symptomatic of modern mainstream cinema:
1. Punctuation is for pussies. Back in the day, this would have been called ‘The Battle of Los Angeles’ or ‘Battle for Los Angeles’. Now it’s simply ‘Battle Los Angeles’. Time is money, people – what we save on prepositions we can throw at the “blowing shit up” budget. Okay, fair enough, but how about wheeling out one little colon – ‘Battle: Los Angeles’? Particularly when, in the opening sequence, a completely superfluous comma shows up when an onscreen title identifies Aaron Eckhart’s character as “Staff Sgt, Michael Nantz”. Excuse me? Shouldn’t it be rank followed by name and no punctuation inbetween? You wouldn’t say “Captain, America” or “General, Jackson” would you?
See also: ‘Two Weeks Notice’, ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ (watch out, watch out, there’s an apostrophe thief about).
2. If it’s worth saying, it’s worth saying twice. On the subject of our protagonist, two seconds after the title identifies his rank, two dozen marines jog past him and every man jack of them calls out “Morning, staff sergeant.” He’s swiftly transferred to a new squad, necessitating his introduction by rank and name to the men. Anyone who hasn’t cottoned on by this point that our man is called Michael Nantz and that he’s a Staff Sergeant probably shouldn’t be watching the movie.
See also: ‘Fool’s Gold’ (establish a set of facts in the prologue, roll credits, have main character rehash the entire prologue as a screed of exposition), ‘The A Team’ (have characters discuss at length how they’re going to accomplish something, then show them actually doing it; repeat half a dozen times)
3. Gritty realism. Abject cliché. Can you tell the difference?
Striving for a sense of documentary realism is a good thing … but not when your movie requires not just a suspension of disbelief but your disbelief airlifted out by a couple of Sikorsky helicopters. ‘Battle Los Angeles’ tries to be ‘Saving Private Ryan’ but ends up as a particularly witless and uncharismatic retread of ‘Independence Day’, complete with requisite “This is how we bring them down; get it on the wire; hoo-hah, grunts save the day” ending.
See also: ‘Transformers’ and its
soul-destroying demonic spawn sequels.
4. “I don’t need no subtlety / I jus’ want my M-40!” Who needs finely nuanced examples of characterization and narrative when you can simply have your cast raggedly progress through a war zone, randomly firing off a variety of automatic weaponry and yawping at each in unintelligible military-speak for two hours.
See also: ‘Black Hawk Down’
5. DoP required. Steady hand not necessary. Remember ‘NYPD Blue’ and its incessant, roving, edgy handheld camerawork? Remember how that was moderately effective in a 45-minute TV show where at least you had the commercial breaks in which to recover from the feeling of dizziness? Now imagine a two-hour movie where the director and DoP can’t even stage a series of two shots in an office without the camera zooming in, jerking back, tracking down, whip-panning to the side and generally acting like it’s suffering from the worst ever case of the DTs for two solid hours. And it doesn’t even have the excuse of being a “found footage” opus.
See also: ‘Cloverfield’ (please, monster, kill them already, I’m starting to feel travel sick).