Some really important things have happened since I saw Battle Los Angeles yesterday. I spent some quality time with my girlfriend, I feel like I’m significantly closer to a good friend of mine thanks to a conversation we had all last night. I helped a girl who was confused about a potential suitor’s behaviour find her next course of action in dealing with it. I had the best burrito I have ever had in my entire life. I have seen several breasts. Bare breasts. All of which are lovely. I just recently read a new comment on “Why Hans Zimmer can blow me.” that has made my day and did so by politely and kindly taking me down a peg. And my trivia team, Bob Saget, placed around fifth or sixth in our pub quiz tonight, as opposed to the last place finish we usually manage. And yet, all I can think about is Battle Los Angeles. Actually, no, that’s a lie. All I can think about is my review of same. It was a good idea and executed well. I wanted to write something humorous and I wanted to beat a movie to pulp and–from the reactions I’ve got–I did both.
Even Roger Ebert has occasionally taken time out of his reviews to just harp on one element of a movie or give little to no crucial plot information. As long as you can tell whether or not you want to see the movie by the end of it, he’s done his job. And I wanted to be sure that people understood why, exactly, Battle Los Angeles represents the nadir of Hollywood film-making today. I’m aware that it’s a b-movie, that it isn’t meant to win Oscars, all that stuff. What it is meant to be is good, and you can’t convince me that anyone on the creative team of this movie thought anything else while making it. They wanted to make a good movie, and they failed. They failed in many ways. Let’s start with the shakey cam.
I am one of Cloverfield‘s biggest fans, and even I got nauseous at one scene the first time I saw it. Cloverfield had signs outside of the theater warning patrons of possible motion sickness arising from the shaking and moving camera. Seeing Battle Los Angeles clued me in to something really important: for all its shaking camera, Cloverfield is an ingeniously shot movie. You get all of the information you need from every shot in that movie. You see as much of the monster you’re meant to see when you do, you see characters’ faces when they’re talking, you see every important detail, usually with a steady hand. Battle Los Angeles is not a well-shot movie. It is the kind of movie that abuses an overshakey camera to make you think it’s legitimate and immediate even in scenes where it’s unjustified or unnecessary. Like Star Trek.
Star Trek‘s love affair with lens flares is legendary ’round these parts, making the movie an almost impossible to watch monstrosity. But at least JJ Abrams thought carefully about them, and had a justification for them. He wanted the future portrayed in that movie to feel like it was uncontainable–that it was too bright to be captured by any lens. And for a few lens flares, for about half of the number of flares in that movie, that would be a good justification. But at least Star Trek is visually distinct and memorable. Battle Los Angeles‘ shakey-cam is nauseating–I felt sick in the opening scenes set in peace time that are nothing but conversations. That shouldn’t happen. The shakey-cam isn’t re-enforcing the movie’s legitimacy in those scenes. It’s pulling you out of the movie, yelling “there’s a camera in this room!” in your face and never letting go. It doesn’t even look different from anything else using a shakey camera. It’s just unjustified and unnecessary and distracting.
I’ve nitpicked before in my reviews, and if you’ll let me do so again, Battle Los Angeles mis-spells its own title. In all promotional materials for the film, there exists a colon between Battle and Los Angeles. In the promotional title for the film, BATTLE:LA, there’s still a colon. But when the title rose up over the second or third shaking shot of this movie, it was spelled Battle Los Angeles. That isn’t the title of a movie about a battle that is set in Los Angeles. That is the title of a movie wherein someone is being told to do battle with the entirety of Los Angeles. That is an imperative statement–comparable to, let’s say Do Dallas or Find Keyser Soze. It’s a mark of absolute laziness and carelessness even on the part of the people making the opening credits. And then, throughout the feature, titles were mistimed. Were mistimed titles supposed to help me think your movie was even more realistic? Next gripe.
Your movie is the kind of movie wherein things happen not because characters are in tension, but because characters haven’t been in danger for over five minutes. The ragtag band of Marines is walking down the street, a rocket flies in front of them. They run for cover. Two of them ask where the rocket came from, but it’s never brought up again. The alien who fired the rocket never shows up to kill them. They try to get to the forward operating base from the highway–the bridge is out and aliens attack. Things don’t happen in this movie for any reason but to kill time between the opening and ending credits. It’s a bunch of filler, and I didn’t know you could make a movie that’s entirely filler. But there you go.
Your movie has CNN in scope. You show TV stations broadcasting in 16:9. Like every television in contemporary America gets CNN in high definition–or even just like CNN broadcasts in HD. They don’t. They likely don’t, anyway, but you still show their broadcast as though it was framed for 2.35:1. Lazy as crap.
What? What do you mean, I’ve hit a thousand words? Oh bugger.