Last night, Y and I capped our Spring Break with a science fiction movie: Battle: Los Angeles (B:LA).
I imagine that the film was pitched as Black Hawk Down meets War of the Worlds. B:LA follows a platoon and its replacement Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz as they are called on to rescue civilians in Los Angeles during a worldwide alien invasion. The aliens, who appear to be cyborgs combining biology and technology, apparently attempt to wipe out Earth’s indigenous intelligent life in order to take the liquid water that makes our planet unique (at least in our solar system).
Overall, I enjoyed the film as an interesting what-if, adventure story. The characters have to display ingenuity and tenacity as they battle their way out of and then back into beachhead that the aliens establish.
The aliens are an interesting creation. They are tall and lanky like I would imagine Wells’ aliens from Mars. However, these aliens are likely from a much more distant world. The Marines in the film question the similarities between themselves and the alien grunts fighting them. However, they do not show any compassion towards the aliens. The overwhelming sight of human bodies strewn about in a majority of scenes establishes the single-mindedness of the production–this is war, these are soldiers, and they have a job to do. This is a refreshing, albeit macabre, story line that seems more real than a number of other science films that flirt with identification with the alien Other. These aliens are depicted as on the offensive, which leaves little room for questioning or identification on the part of the humans.
The first half of the film seemed more real and intense to me, because it is largely configured as a horror film. There is a slow, yet brief, introduction to the lives of the characters before the alien invasion (in flashback). Then, through the ubiquity of CNN on televisions surrounding the soldiers, the soldiers begin to catch glimpses of an enemy with only one goal in mind–annihilation of the human species. Yet these glimpses heighten our awareness of a powerful evil that hasn’t yet materialized. In the fighting that follows, the aliens skirmish with the soldiers, killing and wounding some, pulling others through the parse vegetation in the yards of deserted houses, but never clearly revealing themselves. Then, the soldiers and the audience get their first clear image of the alien invaders, followed by Nantz’s brutal dissection of a half-dead alien soldier, the aliens begin to lose their power over the narrative. This is the turning point, never quite acknowledged in the film, where the human Marines stand a fighting chance with the alien invaders, but the invaders have been castrated in a sense–they have lost their power over the humans despite a few remaining deaths in the episodic melees.
The plot to save the few civilians hiding inside a police station is not always convincing. The film, which overall takes its material seriously, seems to disintegrate into cliche with the triad of the Joe Rincon, his son Hector, and Nantz. Joe dies after picking up a fallen soldier’s weapon to defend the group against an alien soldier. Hector then bonds with Nantz. However, Nantz’s elaborate speeches to Hector (as well as his confrontation with Corporal Jason Lockett) derails the otherwise real feel for the film. Furthermore, these male relationships Hector-Nantz and Nantz-Lockett, sidelines the female characters in the film. TSgt. Elena Santos is the strongest female presence in the story, but I believe this derives from her Air Force role that increases the importance of the otherwise male-only platoon’s mission. Michelle (the veterinarian), Kirsten, and Amy (I believe these were the other rescued civilians’ names) appear to be McGuffins rather than actual characters. We see them scream and cry occasionally, but they give the soldiers a reason to be where they are and they heighten the drama when the group is under attack. Michelle, a veterinarian, helps Nantz with the alien dissection, but it is mostly through commentary rather than physical help–Nantz seems to treat the dissection as a fact-finding cathartic experience that really doesn’t serve to help the soldiers since they are engaged in skirmishes, usually at a distance, with machine guns rather than sniper rifles.
The film’s emphasis on water as a precious, natural resource is probably its most redeeming quality. Unless you think about water rights or have seen documentaries such as Water Wars, I believe the fundamental importance of the public controlling water rights is a largely overlooked issue. Perhaps the narrative could be read as corporations are otherworldly aliens seeking to colonize the world’s natural resources, and this invasion is taking place around the world.
From my own experience in rural Southeast Georgia, companies are given rights to pump vast amounts of water out of the ground for chemical processing and pulp processing. These actions have lowered the water table to the point that some natural artesian wells have gone dry and private water pumps (this is how most folks get their water outside of the limited city limits of Brunswick) need to be installed at lower depths to maintain access to water. Amazingly, Brunswick is right next to the Atlantic Ocean, but access to potable water is increasingly slipping away. The commoditization of water through privatization of public water works and water bottling companies is another concern.
If the film can be read in this way, as a challenge to a nation’s citizens’ rights to water, I do find it hopeful that the Marines are the ones who save us all. The Marines are a part of the United States military controlled by the public will via our representational government. We can maintain our rights of access to our natural resources by electing people to our government who respect the citizen over the corporation. In the developing era of globalization and transnational capital, citizens must take back our government to support our needs over that of corporate greed.