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Dear Rodger Ebert, March 14, 2011

Posted by criticaluniverse in Uncategorized.
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Alright, I’ve been excited for this movie for about a year now. If you know me at all you will know that I am a major military science fiction buff. From the premise of the movie, trailers, and interviews with directors and actors I assumed this was going to be a major hit. Then I started looking around at reviews yesterday and had my mind blown. It seemed all the critics had some nasty thing to say about Battle: LA. And among those critics one stood out the most. Rodger Ebert. Well I went and watched the movie last night and instead of just doing a review for Battle: LA I decided to review Ebert’s review of it. So here it goes.

(Ebert’s words are in quotes, my reply is in bold lettering)

“Battle: Los Angeles” is noisy, violent, ugly and stupid. Its manufacture is a reflection of appalling cynicism on the part of its makers, who don’t even try to make it more than senseless chaos.”

Battle: Los Angeles IS noisy, violent, and ugly. It is anything but stupid. If you go into a war movie expecting quiet, peaceful, and pretty you are probably French. And as for Battle: LA being stupid? I have to say that it is anything but. There are plenty of scenes that involve a little intuitive problem solving on the part of the marines. It was nice to see soldiers displayed as something more than beefed up killers.

“Here’s a science-fiction film that’s an insult to the words “science” and “fiction,” and the hyphen in between them. You want to cut it up to clean under your fingernails.”

This movie was science fiction in the sense that it involved aliens invading Earth. This is certainly a trope of the sci-fi genre but I believe a more accurate description of the movie would be “military fiction with aliens.” Here’s a question, do you remember the last time you saw a science fiction movie in theaters that had truly solid science? Unlikely.

“Meteors fall to Earth near the coasts of the world’s major cities (and in Ireland’s Dingle Bay — that meteor must have strayed off course). They contain alien troops, which march up from the beach with their weapons of war and attack mankind. No reason is given for this, although it’s mentioned they may want our water.”

Well the aliens certainly don’t exit their spaceships and say, “Take us to your leader.” Of course no reason is given as to the reason behind the invasion though it is hinted at. This isn’t that kind of story. Battle: Los Angeles is about marines trying to survive in an urban environment against an enemy that they don’t understand.

“We meet the members of a Marine platoon, and its battle-scarred Staff Sgt. Nantz (Aaron Eckhart). They’re helicoptered into Santa Monica and apparently defeat the aliens. Since all of Los Angeles is frequently seen in flames, it’s not entirely clear how the Santa Monica action is crucial, but apparently it is.”

Santa Monica is crucial because you want to deny the enemy as much land as possible.

“The aliens are hilarious. Do they give Razzies for special effects? They seem to be animal/machine hybrids with automatic weapons growing from their arms, which must make it hard to change the baby.”

The aliens were actually one of the coolest parts of the movie. I loved the design behind them, they are definitely unique. Their technology is also extremely cool. My only regret is that we didn’t get to see more of the aliens up close. As for being animal/machine hybrids? What is wrong with that? The fact that the soldier caste of an alien race may cybernetically enhance their combat-making prowess? Regardless I’m sure the biggest concern of alien soldiers is changing the baby.

“As the Marines use their combat knives to carve into the aliens, they find one layer after another of icky gelatinous pus-filled goo. Luckily, the other aliens are mostly seen in long shot, where they look like stick figures whipped up by apprentice animators.”

Right. Stick figures. That could rip you apart limb from limb. The aliens were certainly slender but when you see any bipedal humanoid from a distance they will most likely appear to be stick figures.

“Aaron Eckhart stars as Staff Sgt. Nantz, a 20-year veteran who has something shady in his record, which people keep referring to, although screenwriter Christopher Bertolini is too cagey to come right out and describe it. Never mind. Eckhart is perfectly cast, and let the word go forth that he makes one hell of a great-looking action hero. He is also a fine actor, but acting skills are not required from anyone in this movie.”

Too cagey to come right out and describe? Usually people don’t come forward and bludgeon you with traumatic past mistakes. Oh and acting skills are very very very necessary in any war movie. War amplifies emotions far beyond normal levels, if an actor can’t successfully display that then no one will believe the peril of the movie.

“The dialogue consists almost entirely of terse screams: Watch it! Incoming! Move! Look out! Fire! Move! The only characters I re member having four sentences in a row are the anchors on cable news. Although the platoon includes the usual buffet of ethnicities, including Latinos, Asians and a Nigerian surgeon, none of them get much more than a word or two in a row, so as characters, they’re all placeholders.”

Yes, I too have a complaint about the dialogue. Seriously can’t these guys have more deep conversations while they are being shot at and their buddies are dying all around them? What the hell guys. Not realistic at all. Where’s the small talk? Where’s all the political commentary? Ridiculous! Oh and the reason the platoon has a buffet of ethnicities? Maybe the Marine Corps has a buffet of ethnicities…

“You gotta see the alien battleships in this movie. They seem to have been assembled by the proverbial tornado blowing through a junkyard. They’re aggressively ugly and cluttered, the product of a planet where design has not been discovered and even the Coke bottles must look like pincushions. Although these ships presumably arrived inside the meteors, one in particular exhibits uncanny versatility, by rising up from the Earth before the very eyes of the startled Marines. How, you may ask, did it tunnel for 10 or 12 blocks under Santa Monica to the battle lines at Lincoln Boulevard?”

No alien battleships are in this movie. There is a Command and Control Center, but no battleships. It seems to me that Mr. Ebert can’t accept the art design for the aliens. In one of the interviews with Eckhart he mentions that the director wanted all the alien weapons and vehicles to look like they have been used before. It’s not brand new, off the assembly line gear. These aliens have obviously done this whole invasion thing before.

“There is a lazy editing style in action movies these days that assumes nothing need make any sense visually. In a good movie, we understand where the heroes are, and where their opponents are, and why, and when they fire on each other, we understand the geometry. In a mess like this, the frame is filled with flashes and explosions and shots so brief that nothing makes sense. From time to time, there’ll be a closeup of Aaron Eckhart screaming something, for example, and on either side of that shot, there will be unrelated shots of incomprehensible action.”

The camera angle is shaky for a reason. The director wanted to mimic the footage of urban combat in places like Fallujah. It is messy for a reason, it is chaotic for a reason. In urban combat it is very difficult to place where the heroes are and where the enemies are. It can be a bit confusing, the two sides certainly don’t assemble in lines on an open field and march in front of each other and fire in sequence. I guess Ebert’s mind is a little too small to comprehend this. There are some genuine complaints about the camera angle and I can understand those but there is definitely a geometry to each of the action sequences.

“When I think of the elegant construction of something like “Gunfight at the OK Corral,” I want to rend the hair from my head and weep bitter tears of despair. Generations of filmmakers devoted their lives to perfecting techniques that a director like Jonathan Liebesman is either ignorant of, or indifferent to. Yet he is given millions of dollars to produce this assault on the attention span of a generation.”

Battle: Los Angeles is not, nor was it ever meant to be Gunfight at the OK Corral. The types of combat are completely different, the stakes are completely different, therefor the construction is completely different. Battle: LA is not supposed to be elegant and perfect. It is supposed to be rough and brutal and jagged. When our soldiers were fighting street to street in Iraq do you think the fighting was elegant? Hell no.

“Young men: If you attend this crap with friends who admire it, tactfully inform them they are idiots. Young women: If your date likes this movie, tell him you’ve been thinking it over, and you think you should consider spending some time apart.”

Mr. Ebert, it’s okay that you are too dense and narrow minded to understand or appreciate this movie. I suspect that if there ever is an alien invasion our first line of defense will be to round up all the critics and offer them as a sacrifice. We can only hope that the aliens will accept this offering and give you a thorough probing while leaving the rest of humanity alone.