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Fortunately, Battle: LA is not one of those films. What they said about a straightforward serious story with no fluff and a tight focus? That's exactly what they delivered, and it makes it one of the better Sci-Fi movies I've seen in years.
The reason I wanted to bring up Battle: LA is because it's not modeled like a traditional film, at least not the kind we've grown used to over the years. It reminds me more instead of The Longest Day but with a much faster movement. However, an even more apt comparison, one that's been flying around with a lot of negative reviews, is that the movie is like a video game. They are right about this fact. So right in fact, that if Battle: LA had been based on a video game I would be praising it as the best video game movie ever made.
To be honest, I think the reviews criticizing Battle: LA for being like a video game are not only missing the mark, but they're trying to paint the movie in a negative light. Video games have a great medium for storytelling, and to see a movie adapt that style (Battle: LA would be perfectly believable as a mission based FPS like Crysis) of focusing tightly on a few characters as they move from one location to another, from objective to objective, works for me. The films storytelling style reminded quite a bit of Black Hawk Down with the focused narrative, but also of games like Half-Life. Where Black Hawk Down often split from the main characters to show us the events of the command center, Battle: LA does no such thing. We follow the main characters from start to finish. If they meet the commander, so do we. If they hear information over the radio or TV (which there is a fair bit of, another similarity to a lot of video games such as Half-Life 2), then that's the info we get. Unlike most movies, we only know what they know. They stick together, and they work together, and we follow them to the end.
The movie does have some weak points. Anyone can die, which this movie makes clear early on, but as with a game, that excludes the main character. The character's backstories are fairly rote: The about to retire veteran Sergeant who lost his squad, the fresh from Officer Training Lieutenant, etc. The camera can be a little too shaky.
It does NOT however, fall prey to weaknesses of other cheesy Alien Invasion flicks. There are very few laughs. The story is straightforward and pretty reasonable. The action is tightly focused and tense. Oh, and a special mention to the VARIETY of alien soldiers they face over the course of the film. Unlike every other sci-fi alien film race, which seems to believe it can invade with one basic ground unit, one basic armor unit, and a swarm/superior weapons/superior numbers tactic, the invaders in Battle: LA are varied (save their one air unit, but it-well you'll see), with several different kinds of ground infantry, ground armor, and artillery. It is a believable invasion from the start. The aliens are competent, smart, tactical, and above all have a strategy that makes sense.
I found Battle: LA to be quite enjoyable. If this was a video game adaptation, I'd be singing it's praises. As is, it experiments a bit more with the standard cinema formula by splicing in game conventions (if you're like me you'll see several classic 'missions' lifted right from video games), and the end result is something quite fresh that deserved my dollar.
If you're looking for a good action flick with a new level of seriousness and some familiar (but new to film) conventions, check it out.