Battle: Los Angeles takes two of my favorite genres - the gritty war movie and the disaster film – and rolls them up into a testosterone-fueled hunk of satisfying sci-fi cheese. It’s Independence Day meets Black Hawk Down, sans the former’s self-conscious humor or the latter’s gravitas, making it a perfect summer blockbuster for anyone possessing a pair of testicles and a willingness to overlook the script’s penchant for clichéd macho dialogue and war movie tropes.
The film opens on the grim and grizzled visage of Sgt. Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), as he and his fellow Marines are ferried over the smoldering remnants of the greater Los Angeles coastline. Just as they’re about to set down at the forward operating base in the Santa Monica airport, we turn back the clock twenty four hours so that we can see just what it is that brought us to this point. Here we’re introduced to a veritable potpourri of military stereotypes. We’ve got the virginal new recruit, the tough-as-nails Italian from Jersey, the jokester, the sensitive guy with the pregnant wife; you can almost plot out the order and manner in which these characters will meet their respective fates in the most heroic fashion possible. Not even Eckhart’s Nantz is safe from a recycled backstory. He’s a man reeling from an operation in which his John Wayne-style tactics cost the lives of several of his men, one of which has a vindictive younger brother who just so happens to be amongst a group of new soldiers Nantz is called in to oversee during what is supposed to be an emergency evacuation of the Los Angeles coast due to an impending meteor shower. Of course, the meteors aren’t meteors at all, but rather a conveyance used to transport a bio-mechanical alien menace to Earth, where they launch an attack en masse around the globe.
Nantz, under the leadership of a green lieutenant, William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez), is assigned the task of evacuating a group of survivors from a police station behind enemy lines before the military uses its air superiority to bomb the bejesus out of much of the coastline. En route, they’re ambushed, and discover that the alien invaders have a fairly potent air force of their own. They reach the police station, but soon find themselves as hopelessly trapped as the civilians they were sent to rescue, which include Joe Rincon (Michael Pena), his son, Hector (Bryan Cass), the frazzled veterinarian Michele (Bridget Moynahan), and her two young nieces. Here they also meet Tech Sgt. Elena Santos (Michelle Rodriguez), whose mission was to seek out and destroy the central command unit that the military is convinced is orchestrating the entire attack. Now, under siege by the aliens, Nantz and his men must find a way back to friendly territory before the Air Force levels the coast, but, to do that, Nantz needs to gain the trust of both the civilians he was sent to rescue, as well as the respect of the skeptical men in his command.
Battle: Los Angeles is a big, dumb, and loud sci-fi spectacle that’s catered to popcorn munching action fans who aren’t looking for anything more than huge explosions, lots of lead, and bountiful moments of fist-pumping patriotism. It’s fluff of the highest order, but made with great technical proficiency and gusto by director, Jonathan Liebesman (Darkness Falls/Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning). Sure, the jingoistic dialogue is mostly cringe-worthy, and there’s a moment in the film where I was tempted to throw a shoe at my television set (just watch for the bit where Michele declares “Maybe I can help. I’m a veterinarian”, and you’ll understand), but, for the most part, I was entertained in much the same way I’m entertained by a splendid fireworks display or footage of a massive car wreck at a NASCAR event. Liebesman knows who his audience is, and delivers the sort of Emmerich-level destruction they crave, while lending the battle sequences the shaky-cam intensity of a sci-fi version of Saving Private Ryan. Hardcore science fiction fans will undoubtedly point out the myriad flaws and lapses of logic that plague the film, but this isn’t a movie meant for them; it’s a crowd-pleasing, flag-waving , escapist blockbuster, the enjoyment of which is predicated on the viewer having a working set of eyes and a pulse.
Sony does great stuff with films like this on Blu-ray. Their discs are always prime examples of the technology, and Battle: Los Angeles is no exception. The film is presented in a 2.40:1 transfer that delivers pretty much what one would expect from a post-Blackhawk Down war movie. The image is desaturated and grimy, with a fittingly drab military color palette. It’s not pretty, and it’s not supposed to be. The picture is quite sharp, however, with a great sense of depth and dimension, as well as an incredible level of detail. Early on, one of the Marines places his dog tag under the tongue of his boot, and I swear I could pick out every grain in the brown leather. It’s like that throughout, with exceptional detail on faces and textures. Very impressive stuff!
The 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track is pretty much like stepping into the middle of a firefight. Bullets whiz by amidst gut-rumbling explosions, debris rains down upon you as alien spacecraft zoom overhead. It’s an absolutely bombastic, immersive, and expertly mixed track.
Sony piles on a solid assortment of extra material, including a Command Mode viewing option, which allows us access to a bunch of behind-the-scenes material, including interviews, storyboard comparisons, and making-of segments, in a pop-up window while watching the film. We also get a healthy amount of making-of featurettes, presented in 1080p, that cover everything from the film’s concept and inception to the staging of its biggest effects sequences. Rounding out the extras are trailers for other Sony releases, BD-Live functionality, and a demo of the alien-themed PS3 game, Resistance 3.
Battle: Los Angeles is a big-budget blockbuster action flick that will probably turn off hardcore sci-fi snobs, but should please anyone looking for a couple of hours of easy-on-the-brain B-movie hokum with grade A production values. Sony’s Blu-ray presentation is reference quality stuff, and I have a feeling that fans of the film will revisit this one often, if only to show off just what their systems are capable of.
If you’re like me, and occasionally enjoy a movie that lets you sit back, relax, and let someone else carry the weight of human extinction on their shoulders, Battle: Los Angeles will certainly do the trick. If you’re looking for anything more, however, you may want to consider a rental first.