Tuesday, March 15, 2011

15 Years Later

Hard to believe Independence Day came out in 1996. You may remember that as the movie in which Jeff Goldblum managed to get alien computers to do what 90% of the computers on this planet can't. He got them to effortlessly interface with a Macintosh and thus foiled an invasion that they had planned for decades. Surely our film industry has evolved since then and we would never think that a species capable of interstellar travel that conquers our major cities in less than a day could be so easily dispatched. If you walk into Battle: LA thinking that, you will be wrong.

Yes, the alien invasion is taken out in such a way that I can only assume that the aliens who invade Earth are not the ones who actually developed the magnificent technology they used to travel to and attack Earth but, rather, some sort of alien fraternity who drunkenly stole it from a smart race one night and said, "Dudes, let's go invade somewhere."

Maybe I'm expecting too much. Can I really ask for the heights of storytelling sophistication from a mass market high concept blockbuster studio film? The answer is no. It's not just no, it's hell no. However, if you're going to have a stupid plot, you have to do a lot to make up for it. You have to have spectacular action, cool special effects, funny jokes and a strong, compelling hero at the center of it all and no, that guy doesn't have to be smart. This movie doesn't have enough of any of those to make it worth watching which is why the stupid plot shines so brightly.

The movie opens with Marine Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) announcing his retirement to his superior. He's been burned out since his last tour in Iraq. A large number of his men died and he may or may not have been responsible but he blames himself anyway so he's quitting though he will come to regret signing a contract that says he cannot quit during an alien invasion. We meet several other Marines too. These guys are distinctly different characters and some of them are actually interesting. There are quite a few of them and their stories come at us at a fairly fast clip in the movie's first 15 minutes but you need not worry about paying attention. Who these guys are and what their lives are like will completely disappear once the aliens invade. I honestly don't know why they spent so much time and effort having us get to know these guys. As soon as the bombs start to hit, they strap on their helmets and spend the rest of the movie yelling things like, "OVER HERE, STAFF SERGEANT!" and, "LOOK OUT!"

So, we don't have a smart plot or interesting characters. That means we must get spectacular visual effects and action sequences. Now, those may very well have been a wonder to behold and a true feast for the eyes but we don't know because we couldn't see them. Most of the movie was either dark or there was so much smoke and dust floating around that you couldn't make out what was going on. All of this came together and made it impossible for me to accept the idea that the aliens' worldwide army of flying kill-drones were controlled from one central location that could be taken out by a few Marines and a couple of missiles thus foiling what should have been an unstoppable invasion.

Battle: LA is hardly the worst example of the really, really dumb action film but, honestly, I think the Transformers movies showed more intelligence and had more entertainment value and I hated those movies. I don't think I hate Battle: LA though. I certainly won't remember it like I remember the Transformers movies but that's good. I'll sit back and quietly allow this movie to drift away from my consciousness. This will allow room for the next stupid alien invasion movie when I'll write pretty much what you just read above. As always, all of this has happened before and all of this shall happen again.

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