Typing Faster

April 5, 2011

Battle: Los Angeles – Lessons from the Front

Filed under: Features — petertypingfaster @ 11:08 pm

Battle: Los Angeles (or World Invasion: Battle Los Angeles) wasn’t my first choice of movie to see, but when you decide to pop by a theater at 10:45pm on a weekday your selection is kind of limited.

I would have liked to see Source Code, but what ya gonna do.

Back to Battle: Los Angeles. It wasn’t a bad flick. About as stupid and cliched as one would expect, but somewhat entertaining. I remember being stoked by the trailer when I saw it…

…especially liked the choice of song juxtaposed with footage at the tail end of it (aside…anyone know what song that is?).

But I think the real reason I enjoyed the movie as much as I did was that I’d had the chance to read an earlier draft of the script a while back and found it interesting to see what kind of changes they’d made in the transition from page to screen.

I figured I’d come on here and share some observations about the changes, what worked, what didn’t and why I think the changes were made.

Obviously there will be SPOILERS ahead, so go ahead and stop reading if you’re the kind of person that cares about that sort of thing…

1. The Opening

Both the script and movie start in medias res, one of my favorite techniques. The aliens are here and things are going into the shitter in a very fast way.

Then we jump back in time.

In the script we only jump back a few hours earlier. The aliens are already crashing into the world’s oceans, but our marines have yet to be deployed. We don’t learn much about them as they’re literally briefed and thrown into the fray by page seven (7!). It’s fast, it’s ballsy, but it kind of works.

Of course the downside to this approach is we literally know nothing about our characters. We don’t know anything about their backstory, anything about their personal lives, hell, we wouldn’t even know their names if there weren’t name tags on their uniforms.

Which brings me to the first big change the movie made.

The movie starts the same way, with our marines already fighting the aliens, but then we jump further back in time. We see our hero, Staff Sergeant Nantz (played by Aaron Eckhart) as he has his discharge paperwork signed. He’s getting out of the military. We see another guy planning his wedding. We spend time with yet another as he says goodbye to his very pregnant wife.

It’s all very touching, and it definitely gives us a better handle on the characters (if only as “That’s the guy with the pregnant wife,” “That’s the guy with the fiancee,” etc), but there’s a one big problem that’s ignored.

Once the shit hits the fan we NEVER hear about their families again.

Not once are they mentioned (other than a cliched dying “give this letter to my wife” scene that could have just as easily played without the revised opening…the scene was so generic that I’m not even sure if it was in the script) throughout the rest of the movie. None of the marines were worried about their significant others. None of them wanted to go off mission to rescue a loved one.

It just felt odd, like the two elements existed in separate universes. Which brings us to our first lesson:

If you’re going to make revisions in a script, make sure you track them.

There was no payoff to the opening character introductions. What’s the point of introducing someone as “The guy with the fiancee” if he’s never going to think about that fiancee ever again?

It’s especially odd when you realize that the marines’ entire mission is to evacuate civilians, yet none of them ever mention / think about their civilian families again despite the fact we know they exist? Struck me as very odd…

2. The Aliens

While I can understand why a misguided soul would make the first big change, this next one left me completely stumped.

In the script the aliens are scary for a number of reasons:

  • It was a surprise attack, so they caught us with our pants down.
  • They have some mean, never before seen technology.
  • They’re hitting us where it hurts: in our own backyard.
  • There are a hell of a lot of them.

The one thing they’re not in the script is invincible.

They are for the first half of the movie.

Literally, for the entire first half of the movie our heroes can’t kill the aliens. They shoot them, and shoot them, and shoot them, but the aliens just shrug it off. It gets to the point where it was distracting.

I was actually wondering how the hell they were going to solve the problem, when they did something the stupidest, most cliched way they could.

They had a “We need to know how to kill it” scene.

Literally, they find an injured alien (wait, but I thought they were invincible…ah well, don’t think too hard about it) and proceed to vivisect it, stabbing it here, stabbing it there, trying to figure out where its weak spot is (right where the heart would be…really guys?! Really?).

It’s an utterly ridiculous, and frankly useless sequence, no doubt put in by an executive / director with the justification of “we need our monsters to be more frightening.”

So what’s the lesson?

Don’t heap complication on top of complication. At a point it just gets silly.

This is a movie about being invaded by an overwhelming force. That’s scary enough. You don’t need to make them invulnerable on top of that. There’s already a bajillion of them.

3) Replacing the Autistic Kid with Michelle Rodriguez

Wait, the what you say?

Here’s the thing. The climax of the movie revolves around the marines taking out an alien command and control center, the thing that controls all the aliens air power. Take it out and the US Air Force would once again control the skies, and they might just have a chance to turn the tide of battle.

In the script the marines do this once they realize that one of the kids they’ve rescued, who’s mildly autistic, can telepathically hear the aliens communications, a power which allows him to home in on where the command and control center.

Yeah, it didn’t make a lot of sense on the page either.

The problem with this turn in the script was that it always seemed a little too far fetched. What was a fairly straight forward (for an alien invasion story at least) battle against long odds all of a sudden took a sharp right turn into whacky sci-fi territory. It never really worked that well on the page.

The movie made what, in my opinion, was a fairly smart change.

Instead of relying on the mystical powers of an autistic child, our heroes now run into another unit, one of whom happens to be an Air Force technician played by Michelle Rodriguez. Turns out her mission was to track the command and control center, find it, and then call in an air strike to take it out.

And that’s eventually just what they do.

The ultimate solution is still pseudo science, something about how the command and control center distorts power around it (they find it when they fly over a patch of the city that’s blacked out), but still much more plausible than relying on a kids ESP.

So what’s the lesson?

Keep it realistic.

And I don’t mean realistic, realistic. I don’t think we’re about to be invaded by aliens. But an alien invasion is realistic given the premise of the movie, whereas ESP is not. It’s just one step too far.

4) You Don’t Need Justification

This one drives me up the wall.

You don’t need to justify an alien invasion.

Why are they invading us? Who cares! They’re invading us! This isn’t a movie about the politics of the invasion. We’re not sitting down to negotiate with them. We can’t even talk to them! The why doesn’t matter, all that matters is the “how the fuck are we going to get out of this mess now that they’re here.”

This is especially true when you use the justification as a heavy handed allegory for modern environmental / geopolitical issues. “Whenever you invade a place for its resources you wipe out the indigenous population.” Bullshit I say.

The script didn’t have any of this, or at least none that I can remember, and I think it was better for it.

Lesson?

Lose unnecessary elements.

You don’t need to explain why the aliens are here, the story is just about the fact that they are. Battle: Los Angeles works best when it’s about a bunch of individual marines thrown into an untenable situation. That’s what the movie’s about. Focus on that, and you don’t have to worry about the rest of it.

Oh, and no movie should ever, ever use a first person “gun sight” look. I don’t care if you directors think it looks cool, all it does is make me think I’m playing a shitty First Person Shooter.

I rest my case.

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1 Comment »

  1. The song is from an Icelandic composer named Jóhann Jóhansson (gotta love the whole ‘the son of John also named John’ thing going on with his name) and the music is from his album “IBM 1410: A User’s Manual”. It actually includes sounds from an early IBM computer, model 1410, that the composer’s dad worked on and that would “sing” when a radio was placed near it. They were recorded at a little ceremony when the machine was retired and the reels sat for 30 years in a cabinet. It’s a cool story! http://www.ausersmanual.org/index.html

    Comment by Elyne Quan — April 12, 2011 @ 9:01 pm


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