At least 'Battle: Los Angeles' has one thing going for it, because frankly, this is just one enormous clunker. The film is ripe with stunning visuals, but they're all tripping over a wide array of worn-out clichés. This mindless flick lives up to its title by featuring a large-scale, CGI-inflated battlefield that's set in Los Angeles (it was actually filmed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana) but it ultimately fails to deliver on its gung-ho attitude. Even if the movie is excused as some kind of "shut-off-your-brain" spectacular, it remains a massive, colorless blob, pieced together like a Frankenstein's monster from the parts of better movies, and sprinkled with ridiculously laughable dialogue. Oh, and it's really, really loud.
Skimming through a checklist of the most banal genre conventions imaginable, the script from Christopher Bertolini, who also adapted 'The General's Daughter,' relies heavily on stock characterization rather than people audiences are willing to invest in. An inexperienced officer (Ramón Rodríguez) fresh out of Basic freezes in the heat of battle, but ultimately demonstrates his worth as a true marine. This doesn't stop him, however, from butting heads with a 20-year veteran (Aaron Eckhart) who also confronts his past and proves himself a real hero. Taking a load off their shoulders, a Tech Sergeant (Michelle Rodriguez) and a veterinarian (Bridget Moynahan) conveniently assist in discovering how to kill the alien invaders.
The story is essentially a combination of recent popular war movies and sci-fi actioners — 'Black Hawk Down' meets 'War of the Worlds' with elements of 'Saving Private Ryan,' 'District 9' and 'Independence Day' just for good measure. It plods along drearily from a display of soldierly love and chumminess to a soon-to-be-resolved distrust of the platoon leader, before finally hitting that oh-so predictable crescendo of self-sacrifice — every enlisted person meets a glorious death à la 'Starship Troopers.' In the end, 'Battle: Los Angeles' feels much like a propaganda military picture along the lines of 'The Green Berets' — a recruitment video that just falls on this side of farce, warning against the sudden population rise of aliens in California. (I'll let you read into that as you will.)
Nonetheless, Eckhart and his perfectly-chiseled cleft chin — which deserves a spot all its own in the credits — run through this manufactured maze as if it were something we've never seen before. His redemption speech about midway into the movie highlights his heartfelt seriousness in the role, but even that perishes as the unfortunate casualty of a dreadful war movie. Even worse, it's the best performance of this entire mess, followed by an emotionless, though always panting heavily, Michelle Rodriguez. Moynahan looks like she got lost on her way to a different movie set, and Michael Peña serves his duty as predictable fodder. The rest of the grunts spend their time . . . well, grunting their way to the closing credits.
Director Jonathan Liebesman, who also brought us the equally terrible 'Darkness Falls' and 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning' — which should clue us in on what to expect — goes the shaky-cam route, nauseating viewers with feeble attempts at depicting realism. The camera is steady during the god-awful, unintentionally hilarious conversations, but suddenly frenzied and obnoxious when gunfire and explosions erupt, making for an incomprehensible action flick one minute and an intolerably forced, clunky drama the next. 'Battle: Los Angeles' is ultimately a shoddy B-movie with too-high aspirations — assuming its aim was at mindless entertainment. Plaster Roger Corman's name across the top and maybe it would have had a chance at being hilariously crap-tacular!
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment brings 'Battle: Los Angeles' to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack. The Region Free, BD50 disc sits comfortably inside a blue eco-vortex case with a DVD-9 on the opposing panel and cardboard slipcover. The disc starts with a series of skippable trailers, and the main menu is a standard selection with full-motion clips and music.
'Battle: Los Angeles' debuts on Blu-ray with a highly-detailed and striking 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. Presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, this freshly-minted transfer displays great life-like textures, revealing every pore, scratch and bit of grime on the faces of the actors. Despite the shaky-cam making it difficult to comprehend the action, the smallest bit of debris and movement remains plainly visible and sharply defined. The overall picture is crystal-clear with outstanding depth and clarity resolution.
The rest of the video presentation comes with spot-on contrast and brilliant whites, allowing for excellent visibility in the far distance. Black levels are richly penetrating and intense, providing night scenes with a wonderfully cinematic quality and exceptional shadow delineation. The color palette is somewhat muted, leaning heavily towards steely blues and grays, to give the photography a gritty appeal, but reds and greens come through boldly and opulently.
The movie has a distinctive visual style, though far from original, and this high-def presentation appears true to the intentions of the filmmakers.
The audio of 'Battle: Los Angeles' sounds precisely as one would expect an excessive, garish action blockbuster to sound: excessive and garish.
Spectacularly loud and bombastic, the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack rattles walls with a thunderous, authoritative low end, imposingly filling the room with effective intensity and suspense. The rumble of the alien drones is convincingly felt as they hover around the screen. Pans and movement are flawlessly rendered, creating an impressively wide and expansive soundscape as bullets wiz by, debris flies overheard, marines scramble for cover and mayhem engulfs the streets of Los Angeles. Atmospheric effects are discrete and precise, generating an immersive 360-degree soundfield that puts viewers directly in the middle of the action. The mid-range maintains excellent balance between the various sounds and delivers rich, clarity detail that never falters.
The one negligible shortcoming — and I mean very negligible, but noticeable nonetheless — is likely due to the movie's sound design. With so much noise going on everywhere, and actors grunting their lines half of the time, the dialogue is occasionally difficult to make out or understand. But aside from something that's possibly a personal dislike in the original recording, this lossless mix could easily be used as demo material in the home theater. Just not in my home.
'Battle: Los Angeles' hits the home theater market with a flimsy set of bonus features that only amounts to mildly entertaining.
From director Jonathan Liebesman, 'Battle: Los Angeles' is a loud, bombastic alien invasion spectacular that doesn't offer much spark beyond the military action and the impressively grandiose visuals. Feeling more like a big-budgeted first-person shooter game, the sci-fi blockbuster is a cliché-ridden mess, full of trite characterization and unintentionally hilarious dialogue. The Blu-ray release features an outstanding and exciting audio/video presentation which fans will absolutely love and will want to play as loud as possible. With exclusive material taken into consideration, the package comes with a healthy assortment of supplements, making it worth the price for those who enjoyed the flick, but it ultimately works best as a rental only.