Monday, March 21, 2011

Oui, We Agree. BLA.

No, not blah, BLA or Battle: LA. P.S. Not Battlefield:LA despite the comparisons to FPSers.


So, yeah, we agreed that we both liked it and both of us disagreed (vehemently) with Ebert.

When you approach a scifi action movie, you can either approach it with well thought-out and scripted science-fiction which establishes the basis for an armed response. The aliens can have their motivations well established, their culture and biology explained thoroughly and even their technology defined well enough to explain why they come across the vastness of space to kill us and take our resources. Or not.

You can also come at it from the point of view of the war movie. Skip the explanations of the aliens' why and how and focus on the soldiers in question. Focus on the visceral, focus on the grit and just roll with the booms. This was about the booms.

Far too many scifi movies, action or not, need to provide us the origin story of the alien invasion. War of the Worlds (Tom Cruise & Spielberg) might have dropped us into the fray without much of an explanation but as the movie went along, we got explanations of how they got into the tripods, what they were doing with people and finally, how we could overcome them. But what is wrong with just showing us an enemy that we need to overcome purely based on their first actions. No sympathy for an otherworldly people is required, who might have come to our planet for a very good reason. This invasion is unexplained, which makes it all the more horrible. Why are our cities attacked? Why are our civilians slaughtered? But what if a movie wants to be about the fight, not the reasons?

This is it. We have a small (but expanding & contracting) squad of soldiers. They have a naive new lieutenant and a flawed, grizzled sergeant hoisted upon them. The squad is your typical ensemble cast, familiar in their ribbing of each as much as their friendships. This is a familiar setup, one that works well here. No back-stories are really needed; just a few hints of connections between soldiers to draw some caring from us. And there are just enough nameless faces to take the brunt of the dying.

It’s also a familiar war movie setting, the smoky tight corridors of urban combat to the bombed out ruins where the enemy emerges. But not the Iraqi cities or French villages --- this is suburban LA. The quick intro subplot is that they have to get to a police station (overrun), rescue some civilians and get back to the forward operating base. Then everyone can be evacuated and LA have the bejeebus bombed out of it. The aliens have tech that makes it impossible for the remaining US forces to hold the city. Scorched earth is the only option left.

But some discoveries are made as the squad fights its way to the station and back to the FOB. Motivations change and subplots are altered. The thing is, it never really dials back. Like the squad, its quickly paced and is about moving (“move move MOVE !”) forward. A good squad doesn’t require a lot of explanations of what they are doing or why, as long as they listen to their commander and know how to work together. The movie draws on this, and just to drive the point home, kills enough squad members to highlight why questioning the veteran’s judgment is a bad idea. And it is this veteran’s judgment that leads the squad to take a larger action then they were mandated.

Without needing to explain much, BLA is gritty – you saw the trailers. Think the CGI dirt exploding around the faces of the soldiers in Saving Private Ryan. Think the tight running in alleys of Blackhawk Down. The setting is smoke filled and often filmed down the barrel of a gun, leading to video game comparisons. I don’t disagree – I play those video games. The aliens are also depicted in this muddy (somewhat frustrating to me), not exactly strong on the detail, manner. But it was effective, as while they were definitely the soldiers of another race, showing similar tactics and the protective nature of soldiers (one small scene of a wounded alien being dragged out by his fellows) it allowed them to stay… alien. BLA is just a lot of chaotic, dirty action. Probably like war really is.

As would be expected with a movie with a colon in the title, the story ends with a pause. They have not defeated the alien attackers in this small area but they have not reclaimed LA. They have made a decisive counterstrike in the war against the invaders. LA will probably be reclaimed, maybe the first in many maneuvers ahead. Given enough dollars & popularity, there should be a Battle: New York and Battle: America.

I will watch.