Battle: Los Angeles (UK - BD)
Chris takes a look at the recent aliens vs. army movie courtesy of Sony's BD...
August 12th, 2011 and all over the world mysterious objects believed to be meteorites crash into Earth's oceans near major population centres. It soon becomes apparent that the objects are not meteorites, but instead an invading alien force that quickly moves to overrun the defences of most of the cities. In Los Angeles, the last free major US city, Staff Sgt. Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) is thrust back into active duty on the eve of his retirement as he accompanies a platoon of Marines into the heart of L.A. to look for survivors ahead of a planned saturation bombing by the Air Force. However, when his squad is ambushed by the alien raiders and sustains heavy casualties, Nantz must step up to the plate to assist his inexperienced CO, 2ndLt. William Martinez (Ramón Rodríguez). Together with a group of civilians—including a veterinarian named Michele (Bridget Moynahan), father and son Joe and Hector (Michael Peña and Bryce Cass) and two young girls—the Marines must make their way across the war torn city streets to the Forward Operating Base at Santa Monica Airport.
Ah, the alien invasion movie. There have been some pretty good examples over the years, but last year’s Skyline almost convinced me that it was time to put the genre to bed for a while (jeez that was a bad film). While not a groundbreaking piece of cinema Battle: Los Angeles is a pretty significant improvement over the woeful Strause brothers flick. It’s got an A-list lead in the form of Aaron Eckheart, a grander scale, superior effects and a more cohesive plot. Sure it’s derivative, sentimental and hackneyed, but I had quite a lot of fun with it. The action picks up almost immediately and apart from one brief interlude it doesn’t let up for the entirety of the running time. There is the sense that you’re watching an extended video game cut scene at times—a sort of cross between Modern Warfare and Resistance—but the explosions and ooh-rahs held my attention throughout and some of the set-pieces are quite impressive. As much as I enjoy cerebral films I do like a good ‘switch your brain off’ action movie now and again and this fit the bill nicely. Sure it features one of the dumbest lines in movie history (the terrible ‘maybe I can help. I’m a veterinarian’), but there’s nothing on the brain-numbing level of something like Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
I’ve become accustomed to Sony’s releases—both new and catalogue—looking pretty damn good, and Battle: Los Angeles is no exception. A quick look at IMDb reveals that the film was shot using a mixture of digital and 35mm film, but whatever the cinematographic process the end result is that this 2.40:1 widescreen (1080/24p AVC) transfer looks great. You can pick out the tiniest details in the environment, which is especially effective during the scenes set in the ruined city, while clothing and facial textures are also well-rendered. I wouldn’t go so far as to call the film colourful as the urban environments don’t allow for a lot of variation in the palette, but skin tones are surprisingly natural and there are some nice fiery explosions to break up the greys and browns. Contrast is intentionally amped and appears healthy throughout without any severe black crush, and I don’t remember anything that could really be described as a visual defect. In short, it’s everything you’d want from a modern action ‘blockbuster’ and another winner from Sony.
From the opening strains of ‘California Love’ the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is every bit the aural extravaganza that you’d want for a movie of this nature. There’s a ton of directionality in the mix, from subtle touches like the placement of dialogue in the fringes, to the whirring of helicopter rotors and gunfire (both terrestrial and extra-terrestrial) in the surrounds. What’s extraordinary is that all of this occurs before the real action kicks in. When the marines finally do meet the alien invaders things step up another level, with all manner of weaponry, explosions and ambient battle sounds traversing the soundstage. Honestly, it’s a veritable maelstrom of sound. The track also brings some impressive bass to the party, with each and every explosion receiving the sort of aggressive reinforcement from the sub that rattles ornaments and causes pets to shift nervously. Thankfully dialogue never wavers in the face of this fury and while the score isn't particularly memorable it is a solid accompaniment to the action. All things considered this is a fantastic soundtrack.
I’m pleased to report that the disc includes a pretty healthy selection of supplemental material. First up is the ‘Command and Control’ mode, which is basically a picture-in-picture feature that provides access to storyboard comparisons and ten short featurettes. Moving on we come to ‘Behind the Battle’ (06:44 HD), which is your standard making of featurette featuring interviews with Eckhart and various other members of the cast and crew. As you can probably guess from the running time, it’s not long enough to offer anything more than a superficial look at the movie. ‘Directing the Battle’ (06:33 HD) is more of the same fluffy EPK style of featurette, this time focussing on director Jonathan Liebesman and how he got the gig.
Slightly meatier is ‘Alien in L.A.’ (17:57 HD), which takes a reasonably detailed look at the design of the alien creatures, while ‘Preparing for Battle (05:15 HD) provides a short window into the physical exertion required of the actors while shooting the film. ‘Boot Camp’ (10:18 HD) comes next, and as you might have guessed it’s a look at the training the actors underwent before filming commenced. ‘Creating L.A. in LA’ (05:46 HD) takes a look at how the production recreated the streets of Santa Monica in Louisiana, while ‘The Freeway Battle’ (05:18 HD) takes a look at one of the film’s major set-pieces in more detail. A selection of trailers comes next, including promos for The Green Hornet (02:38 HD), Priest (01:52 HD) and Blu-ray Disc is High-Definition (01:19 HD). The usual movieIQ and BD-Live stuff is also included, along with a PS theme. Oddly I couldn’t find the code to allow access to the Resistance 3 demo, but then again I didn’t receive my copy until a week after the release date so that could be the reason.
Look, I’m not going to pretend this is a great film (or even a particularly good one), but if you’re looking to pass a couple of hours without the need to engage your brain or if you’re simply a fan of the sort of video games that the film riffs on, you could do worse than to give Battle: Los Angeles a spin. It’s a very impressive disc audio-visually, and while the extras don’t quite meet the same high standards they are about par for the course these days. It’s not been the best year for blockbuster action movies as far as I’m concerned, but I probably enjoyed this about as much as any other and considerably more than some.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 12 years and over
Release Date: 11th July 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Audio Description 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Thai
Subtitles: English, English HoH, Greek, Hindi, Korean, Mandarin (Simplified), Mandarin (Traditional), Thai
Extras: Command Control PiP, Featurettes, Trailers, BD-Live, movieIQ, PS3 Theme
Easter Egg: No
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Ramon Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan, Michelle Rodriguez, Will Rothhaar, Ne-Yo, Cory Hardrict, Jim Parrack, Gino Anthony Pesi, James Hiroyuki Liao, Noel Fisher, Adetokumboh M'Cormack, Bryce Cass, Michael Peña, Joey King
Genre: Action and Sci-Fi
Length: 116 minutes
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