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Battle: Los Angeles(2011)
A Marine Staff Sergeant who has just had his retirement approved goes back into the line of duty in order to assist a 2nd Lieutenant and his platoon as they fight to reclaim the city of Los Angeles from alien invaders.
For more about Battle: Los Angeles and the Battle: Los Angeles Blu-ray release, see Battle: Los Angeles Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on May 22, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan, Ramón Rodríguez (II), Cory Hardrict, Ne-Yo
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
» See full cast & crew
Battle: Los Angeles Blu-ray Review
Fighting aliens in faux 4K. Neat!
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, May 22, 2013
Work as a unit and we will prevail.
Battle: Los Angeles is going to take more incoming fire from highbrow critics than does the Marine detachment from alien invaders in the movie. Make no mistake, this is big, dumb, loud, and plotless Hollywood trifle, and every last second of it is a blast. Director Jonathan Liebesman (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning ) didn't set out to win a Best Picture Oscar with Battle: Los Angeles; he has instead crafted exactly what a movie of this "plot" should be: mindless entertainment. Most times, the big and ridiculous fare doesn't work, but this is the exception. Here's a movie that's content to be loud and exciting, delivering what is, in essence, a video game come to life. The film makes no false pretenses and it never becomes too corny, even when the rah-rah rally around the leader and save the day stuff rises to the forefront. Liebesman does a fine job of balancing big action with an impending sense of fear that manifests in the first half and is released in what is practically an incessant string of lengthy action scenes in the second half. It's a cathartic experience of sorts, escapist entertainment at its finest for sure, allowing audiences to both fear the unknown and experience impending doom from the safety of the theater.
Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart, The Dark Knight) is an aging Marine veteran who's served in Iraq and is now past his prime and on the tail end of his career. A few years older and a few steps slower, he can't keep up with the fresh-faced new recruits who are the future of the Corps, but who themselves may never have a prime because of what's to come. He's set to hang 'em up after a long career, but his plans are put on hold when he's called back to active duty. It seems that a series of objects have suddenly appeared near Earth and are not only approaching the planet, but slowing down as they do so. The astronomical mystery is solved when scientists discover mechanized spacecraft are splashing down off the coasts of cities around the world. Nantz is tasked with looking over the shoulder of a young, straight-from-Officer's-school Second Lieutenant William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez) who's far too green to handle what's to come. Before the Marines are fully mobilized, the extraterrestrial invaders emerge from the Pacific and systematically wipe out the coastal Los Angeles area. Nantz and his platoon are charged with locating and rescuing a pocket of civilians stranded in an overrun police station before a bombing run takes out the entire coastline, but as Nantz and his men proceed towards their objective, the battle for Los Angeles takes a turn for the worst, leaving only this band of Marines to solve the mysteries of the alien technology, discover their plan of attack, and save the city.
Battle: Los Angeles pushes nonsense aside and begins by throwing the audience in the middle of the alien invasion. And then it pulls away for a flashback sequence and wastes its time developing characters who amount to little more than cannon fodder. Such a shame, really, because dropping the audience into the middle of the unknown from the get-go would have certainly served to more succinctly and with a greater sense of awe and ever-increasing hopelessness define the suddenness, insanity, danger, and uncertainty of the alien invasion. Structurally, it's a mistake, but this is a Hollywood film after all, so it's necessary to introduce characters and set up a few personal dynamics that will later play into the false sense of rah-rah rally around the leader and save the day stuff that, sure, has its place and gives the movie a little bit of a soul, but any sort of character dynamics are wasted because the film is otherwise very well crafted as a no-holds-barred sort of in-the-raw and in-the-moment War movie (more on that in a moment). Such worked better in Independence Day; Battle: Los Angeles is made more in the shape of Black Hawk Down. In that film, character development mattered because it was based on the experiences of real people. The fictional universe of Battle: Los Angeles, however, should be all about the action. Besides, these Marines aren't really in the same class as the exceptionally-drawn characters of Aliens, all of whom had unique personalities and roles to play in the movie. Battle: Los Angeles is really just a smorgasbord of action carried out by mostly faceless and nameless automatons, and anything that detracts from that is only a hindrance to the end product.
Add all that to the fact that the very premise of Battle: Los Angeles is flawed. No, there's no problem with the basics of the alien invasion angle; what's at fault is the contradiction that is crafting what purports to be a true-to-life War picture dumbed down to a PG-13 rating. That's simply unforgivable. Where there should be a hard-R picture there's a soft PG-13. Where the film attempts to create a reality-driven experience -- and it succeeds on most levels -- is a watered down, family-safe vision of a war-ravaged Los Angeles where everything is mangled but the corpses. It's not that people should want to see bodies that have been blown to pieces, but it's a cheat that every corpse in the film lies perfectly straight face-down on the pavement with nary a drop of blood to be seen. It's simply unrealistic that a car could be charred and shredded to the point of being nearly unrecognizable, yet a body a foot away looks like it just came out of the fitting room at the bombed-out boutique across the street, but back when it was just a boutique and not a shell of a building in the middle of a warzone. Certainly, Battle: Los Angeles would have fared better were it less concerned with a box office-friendly rating and more concerned with going the distance and adhering to the reality for which is otherwise so gallantly strives.
All that said, it would seem that Battle: Los Angeles is an epic dud of a picture. It's not. The movie is highly engrossing and entertaining aside from some blatant missteps that are admittedly more faults along the lines of what appear to be studio-mandated "balance the movie to make money" nonsense rather than gross oversights on the part of the crew. The way the film instantly whisks its audience away and places them squarely on what effectively becomes the first level of hell is outstanding. The picture is utterly convincing -- save for a few stray poorly-implemented effects shots, a surprise in a movie of this scope and budget -- in the way it showcases a world rapidly spiraling out of control. The film becomes more bleak with every passing moment, every shot fired, every explosion heard. It seem more hopeless with every fuzzy background news report, every new enemy encountered, and with each layer of grime and sweat and blood accumulating on battle-weary soldiers's faces. The action is ever-intense and very well-staged, giving the picture a strong real-life flair. It's easy to feel a part of the Marine detachment, and chances are most viewers will be itching to pick up a rifle and give the invaders a good old lead whoopin'. Of course, Battle: Los Angeles never really gets to any particulars about the alien visitors aside from a few throwaway news clips heard from the mouths of "experts" on a fuzzy CNN broadcast, but that's not a problem, going back to what should have been a strength of the movie and jumping straight into the fray with no warning and no knowledge about who is who, what is what, and working only on the information accumulated through the course of the movie. In fact, that there is little in the way of a real identifiable plot other than "go get 'em" isn't a hindrance in this sort of movie, either, because the entire point is to paint a picture of confusion and violence, which Liebesman has done very, very well, even if it's decidedly lacking in realistic carnage and the courage necessary to separate itself from the pack.
Battle: Los Angeles Blu-ray, Video Quality
Sony's commitment to releasing the finest Blu-ray products is evident with every spin of a Sony-branded disc. The consistency of product -- from the latest blockbusters to the most cherished classic titles from years gone by -- is arguably tops in the entire industry, and why shouldn't it be; Sony was a lead Blu-ray design and advocacy outfit, its PlayStation 3 console offered disc playback and instant wide format adoption, and the first wave of titles released back in 2006 bore the Sony label on the spine. Since then, and through a few growing pains and spurts -- a bloody format war, a misstep or two, the transition from Dolby TrueHD to DTS-HD Master Audio -- the studio has emerged as the most trustworthy in the industry when it comes to its Blu-ray product. When it says Sony, chances are extremely high that the movie is going to look (and sound) about as good as the format allows. Now, Sony is recalling the days of its "Superbit" DVD releases with the emergence of "Mastered in 4K" (*) Blu-ray discs. The initial wave consists of a handful of films, all of which have enjoyed previous, and largely very high quality, Blu-ray transfers. The new transfers are sourced from 4K masters but here's where the giant asterisk comes in: they're then downscaled to standard Blu-ray 1080p resolution. That means buyers can enjoy them on their regular old Blu-ray players and their regular old HDTVs -- no fancy new hardware required. The downside is that viewers aren't really seeing the material in 4K; even those who shell out the large sum of cash for a new 4K TV will be treated only to an upscaled presentation, much the same way today's regular old TV/playback 1080p device combos upscale standard definition DVDs.
Watching the "Mastered in 4K" transfer in 1080p does yield some benefits over the standard 1080p Blu-ray releases, even if it's not a true 4K experience. The discs take advantage of a significantly higher bitrate than regular old Blu-ray discs, meaning more muscle to produce the finest picture quality, revealing superior details and showcasing that perfect cinematic, pleasing grain texturing for pictures photographed on film and more accuracy for those photographed in the wholly digital realm. "Mastered in 4K" discs also promise superior color balance and accuracy, reproducing a more faithful-to-the-source palette that will reveal the sort of natural shading and subtle nuance even the best of 1080p Blu-ray cannot match. More, Sony promises enhanced viewing on its own line of 4K TVs thanks to a proprietary upscaling algorithm that's designed to squeeze the most out of the "Mastered in 4K" line of Sony discs, above and beyond what any competitor's display can offer. Makes sense considering some branch of Sony is at work along every step of the process. Unfortunately, one of Sony's shiny new 4K televisions was not available for review purposes, but suffice it to say that either of the launch displays -- the 55" and 65" XBR-labeled sets -- will undoubtedly offer the best consumer viewing picture to date, whether joined with a Sony "Mastered in 4K" disc or a regular old Blu-ray from any studio.
Here's another example of where the "Mastered in 4K" disc looks fabulous but is not by any means the leaps-and-bounds superior to Sony's excellent original Blu-ray release. But it sure is pretty. Really, really pretty. In fact, the vibrancy, stability, attention to exacting detail, and color reproduction are absolutely second to none. The image delivers a positively dazzling array of tactile, nuanced textures. Nylon helmet straps and MOLLE gear, kevlar helmets, T-shirt collars, and all the way down to the wear and dirt on suede combat boots all appear spot-on real. The 4K transfer of the 35mm film element, even downscaled to 1080p, squeezes out every last little subtle textural detail in a movie in which there are plenty in practically every shot. Facial details are equally excellent; every line, pore, and bead of sweat and all the dirt, grime, and blood are not just visible and well defined but just about the pinnacle of cinema realism. All of this is not even to mention how great the war-torn urban environments look. Even through thick smoke, the rubble and overturned and charred cars take on a noticeable amount of accuracy, even at a distance and in the best lighting conditions, for instance when an alien craft is taken down at a gas station or, soon thereafter, during an intense firefight on the freeway. The transfer enjoys a natural sense of depth, as much as can be accomplished in the 2D realm, thanks in large part to the pristine nature of the image and the sharpness that extends all the way back to the furthest background detail. Very light grain remains; it's rarely noticeable but plays a critical part in shaping what is a stellar film-like texture. Colors are equally fantastic. Battle: Los Angeles isn't a movie that delivers the most vibrant and diverse palette to begin with. There are no major splashes of red, blue, or yellow, but what's here dazzles. The tan, brown, dark green, and gray combat uniform pieces look wonderful, particularly early when when they're not torn and covered in dust and grime. An early scene in a flower shop and, later, when the men assemble prior to deployment show off just how nuanced the colors are. The desert camouflage pattern almost literally looks as good as seeing it in real life. Black levels are rock solid strong and flesh tones appear even across a fairly broad spectrum from the palest to the darkest soldier. There are a couple of very minor, very unpronounced instances of banding, the most noticeable being along a wall around the fifteen minute mark. Otherwise, this is what a perfect high definition transfer looks like.
All screenshots have been sourced from the "Mastered in 4K" Blu-ray disc. The first nineteen shots have been selected to match those found in the review of the old release. New screenshots have also been aded for perusal.
Battle: Los Angeles Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Battle: Los Angeles features a dynamic multichannel lossless sound presentation that practically transports listeners into an urban war zone, the same, it seems, as appears on the previous release. The movie begins with a loud and tight push at the low end; this one means business for sure, and things only get better as the movie progresses. The opening is followed by a string of various news reports of the pending attack stretching out across the front of the soundstage to a point that the sounds effectively eliminate the speakers and create a seemingly seamless and limitless sound field. Dialogue, both in calmer scenes and in the heat of battle alike, is perfectly centered in the middle front speaker and is of the utmost in clarity and precision. Minor ambience spills into the back channels during quieter moments, and music is crystal-clear, whether instrumental score or the beats of 2Pac's California Love. Of course, none of that is the featured attraction. Battle: Los Angeles thrives on the sounds of combat. Weapons fire is potent and clarity is excellent, to the point that astute listeners can by the end of the film identify the different sonic signatures of SAWs, M4s, and alien weapons by sound alone. Shots zip through the soundstage, often following the lines of tracer fire across the screen. There's no shortage of energy, and the low end kicks in with regularity in the process of creating intense explosions that rock the listening area but do so cleanly and accurately; never does the track fall apart into a jumbled mess of indistinct sound effects. Even better, the background is constantly filled with distant weapons fire and explosions, which truly creates a sense of panic and chaos even when the fighting is miles away. Battle: Los Angeles is of reference quality from the top down; did anyone expect less?
Battle: Los Angeles Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Battle: Los Angeles contains no supplemental content.
Battle: Los Angeles Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Battle: Los Angeles has "divisive" written all over it. On one hand will be movie fans who can look past the flaws and enjoy the ride, and on the other will be those who see in it just another cliché-riddled plotless clunker that relies on explosions and yelling and gunfire to mask the absence of a plot. Then there will be a few who will wish that the movie had gone further and portrayed a grisly, no-nonsense picture of an alien invasion, not a watered down final take. The truth is that Battle: Los Angeles falls somewhere in the middle of all three. Most important, though, it's entertaining, even if it's flawed from every angle, and it tries hard -- and succeeds a good deal of the time -- to find a balance between gritty War movie and semi-safe PG-13 entertainment. More forgiving general audiences should like it enough, and Action junkies and War movie enthusiasts should enjoy it a great deal. Battle: Los Angeles could have been better, but then again, so could the vast majority of movies out there. This one is at least content to do its thing and do it (usually) very well without trying to be something it's not and doesn't need to be. Sony's Blu-ray "Mastered in 4K" release of Battle: Los Angeles offers incredible picture quality. It's an instant reference presentation for video, and the soundtrack is killer, too. No extras are included. It's probably not worth the upgrade, even at a relatively friendly price, but to be sure this is the definitive version of the film from a videophile's perspective.
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