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Battle: Los Angeles Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack Review

Battle: Los Angeles (2011) movie poster Battle: Los Angeles

Theatrical Release: March 11, 2011 / Running Time: 116 Minutes / Rating: PG-13 / Songs List

Director: Jonathan Liebesman / Writer: Chris Bertolini

Cast: Aaron Eckhart (SSgt. Michael Nantz), Michelle Rodriguez (TSgt. Elena Santos), Ramon Rodríguez (2nd Lt. William Martinez), Bridget Moynahan (Michele), Ne-Yo (Cpl. Kevin "Specks" Harris), Michael Peña (Joe Rincon), Lucas Till (Cpl. Scott Grayston), Cory Hardrict (Cpl. Jason Lockett), Adetokumboh M'Cormack (Corpsman Jibril Adukwu), Jim Parrack (LCpl. Peter Kerns), Will Rothhaar (Cpl. Lee Imlay), Neil Brown Jr. (LCpl. Richard Guerrero), Noel Fisher (PFC Shaun Lenihan), Taylor Handley (LCpl. Corey Simmons), James Hiroyuki Liao (LCpl. Steven Mottola), Gino Anthony Pesi (Cpl. Nick Stavrou), Joey King (Kirsten), Bryce Cass (Hector Rincon), Jadin Gould (Amy)

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As the title implies, Battle: Los Angeles is a war movie set on American soil. History and geography buffs could tell you that it's not the Civil War, the Revolutionary War, or even the War of 1812 being dramatized here. It is a hypothetical war waged August 12, 2011 against aliens who have fallen to our planet in what looks like a series of unforeseen meteor showers.

War movies always have the unenviable task of familiarizing audiences with a large number of men who are often tough to distinguish in uniform. War movies whose focus is on the action have an even taller challenger. Aware of this, the action-driven Battle spends its first twenty minutes or so introducing the Marines stationed at Southern California's Camp Pendleton. To help identify and humanize them, the leading soldiers get distinctive stories. One (Noel Fisher) is just 17 years old, having received parental permission to enlist. One (R&B singer Ne-Yo) is on the verge of marriage and not enjoying the preparations. One is on the verge of fatherhood.

Invasion by hostile aliens leaves Los Angeles looking differently in "Battle: Los Angeles."

The most important of all, Staff Sergeant Mike Nantz (The Dark Knight's Aaron Eckhart), is on the verge of retirement, or so he thinks. Having devoted twenty years to the Marines, the most recent of which has been haunted by a botched mission that got many of his men killed, Nantz is ready to call it quits, but the Corps has other plans, assigning him to replace a platoon sergeant.

The highly expositional sequences soon give way to the destruction and combat on which the movie was sold.
Lacking the warmth and pacificity of E.T., Starman, and Mac, these aliens are clearly interested in blowing stuff and people up along with exploiting Earth's natural resources. But although these extraterrestrials arrive undetected and appear to have vastly superior technology than mankind, they don't seem quite invincible in the standard ground warfare they seek. And the U.S. Marines aren't about to let L.A. go down without a fight.

Supplying a tinge of personality to a film otherwise full of explosions and artillery, a civilian family (headed by Michael Peña) turns up, as does a ballsy female tech sergeant (Michelle Rodriguez). But this is not a movie about people or even about aliens (we only get fleeting glimpses of the enemy). It's about fighting tall odds and persevering and shooting at drones and stuff. Oorah!

Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) may not be a spring chicken, but he's no chicken at all. He's a man and an heroic one at that. A pretty veterinarian (Bridget Moynahan) is introduced to conduct an alien autopsy and to supply fleeting contrast to all the rugged soldiers featuring throughout.

Expensive for a B-movie, Battle: Los Angeles is the biggest credit to date for director Jonathan Liebesman, who helmed the critically-drubbed 2006 prequel The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. Battle, which at its most basic level resembles the recent low-budget dud Skyline, paints Liebesman as a disciple of Michael Bay (who produced Massacre). The average shot here lasts three seconds and hardly a one of them is essential. This is just as noisy as Bay's Transformers and as meaningless as that rancid second one.

You can skip around and drift off and the movie won't change significantly or really at all. Heck, it might even improve going out of order or jumping over some of the 90 minutes of post-expositional action. There are one or two moments that cut through the peril and mayhem to make minor dramatic impact. The better of them finds Nantz coming to terms with the fresh pain of his squad's casualties. Even that brief respite doesn't add meaning or weight to anything else that transcends. I can't think of a less interesting angle from which to tell an alien invasion tale.

Though short on star power and coldly reviewed, Battle: Los Angeles still fared well in its theatrical release, its mid-March debut distancing it from the industry's most competitive seasons. The film's $83 million domestic gross barely surpassed its reported $70 M production budget and you'd have to undo 25 years of inflation for the US tally to qualify it as a blockbuster (e.g. Aliens made $85 M in 1986). Still, the movie performed predictably well overseas, adding up to a $200 M worldwide tally that only four other of this down year's pre-summer season releases (Rio, Rango, The Green Hornet, and Just Go With It) bested. It will likely rank as one of Sony's top 2011 performers.

Battle should also put up relatively strong numbers when it comes to home video tomorrow, as all three of its editions presently rank among Amazon.com's top 25 sellers. Those three editions are starting to become the norm for high-profile Sony movies: a single-disc DVD, a single-disc Blu-ray, and a two-disc Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack. See how I bolded the lattermost? That's 'cause we're reviewing it here!
 

Battle: Los Angeles Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English, French, Portuguese), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish, Descriptive Service)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish, Thai), Dolby Surround (Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish; DVD-Only: Thai, Chinese Traditional, Korean
Closed Captioned; Blu-ray Extras Subtitled
Release Date: June 14, 2011
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (1 BD-50 & 1 DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $38.96
Side-Snapped Blue Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available in standalone Blu-ray ($34.95 SRP), standalone DVD ($28.95 SRP),
and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

As hard as it is to come up with nice things to say about the movie, it is easy to marvel at the technical merits of its Blu-ray presentation. Shot in the jerky handheld fashion that Steven Spielberg found befitting of Saving Private Ryan, Battle's 2.40:1 visuals won't be everyone's cup of tea. But the sharpness and clarity of the immaculate element are quite stunning. Stylized and often muted by the dust clouds of destruction, colors still maintain vibrancy. The picture heightens the proceedings in ways unimaginable years ago when people relied on small TVs and videocassettes. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is as potent an achievement, delivering strong atmosphere and plenty of activity throughout without volume levels requiring adjustment. This is the kind of movie you use to show off Blu-ray's sound quality, should showing off Blu-ray's sound quality be the sort of thing you're into. That even such a delightful presentation is unable to raise the film above pedestrianism underscores its creative shortcomings.

The DVD doesn't look dramatically worse. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack doesn't pack quite the same punch as the Blu-ray's less compressed mix, but Sony's DVDs are consistently the best-looking ones around and this one is as clean, sharp, and vibrant as just about any standard definition title. I can see this being a genre and title whose fans demand the utmost picture and sound quality from, and I appreciate the BD's gains, but it wouldn't be a stretch to say that the majority of the population would be less than satisfied with the DVD's presentation.

The film's military advisor, retired U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Major James Dever, watches over production with an eye for authenticity. Michelle Rodriguez discusses her tough girl Tech Sergeant Elena Santos, a role created late in the pre-production process.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Battle: Los Angeles is treated to a healthy supply of bonus features, most of them exclusive to the Blu-ray disc.

The central supplement is "Command Control", an interactive playback mode that supplies interview remarks and B-roll footage in a small "Classified" folder picture-in-picture window at various points during the movie.
The cast talk about their characters and certain sequences, while crew members less frequently deal more with large guiding principles and techniques. There are also some storyboards with which to compare to the film. None of it is exciting to someone not crazy about the movie to begin with, making it more of a waste of time than the more traditional audio commentary would be.

In addition to those picture-in-picture clips, the mode supplies access to ten "Battle Points" shorts (22:23), which are also thankfully available to watch separate from the film. These 1-3 minute shorts profile Aaron Eckhart's character, lead military advisor Jim Dever, incorporating aliens into the camera movement, the fake Marines' camaraderie, Michelle Rodriguez's character, practical aliens used on set, a gas station explosion, alien visual effects, the existence of aliens, and alien ship design.

Jonathan Liebesman landed the director's chair with promising previsualizations like this. Some kind of CGI skeleton is dropped in front of the reference man in the motion capture suit.

The remaining extras are short making-of featurettes, all but one running between 5 and 10 minutes. Consistent in content and promotional tone, these generic vignettes probably could have been combined and trimmed down into one worthwhile half-hour documentary.

"Behind the Battle" (6:44) describes and defends the movie's design as "a war film with aliens" and documentary style. "Directing the Battle" (6:33) explains how Jonathan Liebesman got the job, with a bag of ideas and pre-visualizations. It proceeds to detail how that hiring worked out and who would guess that everyone is pleased as punch? "Aliens in L.A." (17:57) gives us more thoughts on and looks at the extraterrestrials than the film itself does, discussing the aliens' physical and behavioral design with plenty of comments and production footage. The piece's second half considers the actors and crew having to work with no more than the occasional live or model for reference.

Aaron Eckhart assumes an authority role at "Boot Camp." The Blu-ray's menu is designed to make you feel like you're receiving images transmitted from the field.

"Preparing for Battle" (5:15) has the actors talk about the stunts they did, which we don't see, leaving this as dull as it sounds. Slightly more interesting than the rest, "Boot Camp" (10:18) recalls the actors' rigorous bonding experience meant to shape the film, with Michelle Rodriguez sharing her personal resistance to much of that sort of thing, some of which she was spared.
"Creating L.A. in LA" (5:46) discusses the film's dressing of Louisiana as Los Angeles, which quickly loses focus to just talk about combat production design. "The Freeway Battle" (5:18) supplies a making-of for one busy sequence you aren't likely to distinguish as a set piece.

On the BD-Live front, there is movieIQ, a cumbersome but considerate feature that adds actor and music identification and the occasional fun fact to feature playback in a way that is far too intrusive to activate on your initial viewing.

The BD-Live section also supplies streamable trailers, a clip previewing the upcoming video game Resistance 3, and a few bonus feature excerpts from other Sony Blu-ray. Although viewing via BD-ROM speeds things up, you'd still have to be pretty bored to deem this a good use of your time. Relegating meaningful extras to BD-Live would also frustrate, though, so it's a lose-lose situation for the studio.

In a move I struggle to understand, the DVD in this combo pack is not the same one sold on its own. The combo pack DVD strips the four featurettes the standalone disc offers: "Behind the Battle", "Aliens in L.A.", "Preparing for Battle", and "Creating L.A. in LA." Some additional work must go into pressing this DVD, raising the question "why"? To deprive those lacking a Blu-ray player but buying both formats anyway? To discourage buying a combo pack and splitting it with a friend, as if a friend won't accept a barebones disc? Your guess is as good as mine, but it seems stupid to me. And here's the kicker: filled to DVD-9 capacity, the DVD probably has the featurettes on it somewhere, just inaccessible by menu (and by file).

Both the Blu-ray and DVD open with trailers for Priest, Das Boot: The Director's Cut, and Insidious, which the DVD precedes with a Blu-ray promo and the BD a 3D promo (upgrade time either way!). Each disc's Previews menu supplies direct access to those three trailers and ones for Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown, The Green Hornet, and Beastly.

The DVD's main and the Blu-ray's only menu run through a series of staticky photos while score plays. The DVD even forgoes a scene selection menu. That will show 'em! The Blu-ray supports bookmarking of the movie itself, but will not automatically resume playback on extras and annoyingly makes you skip the auto-playing trailers one by one.

The two discs are held in a side-snapped standard slim Blu-ray case and joined by an insert promoting recent Sony releases and the Battle: LA video game. A slipcover repeats everything below in a slightly larger size, embossing the title and soldier on front. At least it feels like recycled paper.

Earth. It was fun while it lasted.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Battle: Los Angeles will appeal more to fans of military and action movies than sci-fi enthusiasts. Even then, only those more than tolerant of Michael Bay's brand of filmmaking could dig this frantic and emotionally thin war flick. Sony's Blu-ray delivers a knockout feature presentation and, though it leaves off some standards (an audio commentary and deleted scenes), more making-of material than anyone is likely to enjoy. If you like your alien movies placing much importance on noise and destruction and little on anything else, then by all means check this one out.

Buy Battle: Los Angeles from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD Combo / DVD / Blu-ray / Instant Video

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Battle: Los Angeles Songs List (in order of use): 2pac featuring Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman - "California Love", Afu-Ra featuring Jahdon & Kardinal Offishall - "Deal Wit It", Skillz - "Take It Back", Freddie Gibbs - "Live by the Game"

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Reviewed June 13, 2011.



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