movie review

7 Reasons Why Video Games Are Better Than Battle: L.A.

Photo: Richard Cartwright/? 2010 Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Aaron Eckhart, who oughta be in pixels. Photo: Richard Cartwright/? 2010 Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Movie critics regularly gripe about video games turned into movies, in particular the resulting lack of sophistication and storytelling. And they love to gripe that games, unlike movies, can’t make you cry. But what about the movies that pale in comparison to even a mediocre first-person shooter, like Battle: Los Angeles? Kids, please, do not put your XBox controller down! In fact, I’ve got seven reason why you should stay on the couch rather than spending money on this sub-Mortal Kombat mess of Hollywood junk.

Forget an elaborate in-game universe.
With a title like Battle: Los Angeles, plot summary is almost redundant, but here goes: Aliens are invading L.A. A company of brave American soldiers must save us all. As Staff Sargaent Michael Nantz, Aaron Eckhart leads with his dimpled chin and square jaw — carrying the guilt of a mission-gone-wrong (that didn’t actually go wrong by any fault of his, because then he wouldn’t be a proper hero). The aliens want our water, though we only know this because a newscaster briefly mentions it. I’m still not sure exactly what was going on with the evil Covenant in Microsoft’s blockbuster Halo, but at least it drove the action forward.

Video games submerge you in battles. Battle: Los Angeles hides its effects behind smog and cheap gimmicks.
Why Los Angeles? For the aliens, the pollution is useful camouflage. For the filmmakers, it masks dull special effects. The budget-reducing cheats in this film (like shooting all the news reports in striated, staticky, pixilated video, as if L.A.’s fancy news stations shoot all their news coverage with clamshell flip phones) worked in Cloverfield and District 9 because those films had actual stories.

Video games design better aliens.
To be fair, you mostly see the aliens in this film in the far, blurry distance (another reason to be thankful for smog). But when you do see them, they are completely ho-hum. The effects team should have just ripped off Mass Effect or Dead Space or, hell, Cows vs. Zombies for the iPhone.

In most video games, you can skip the awful dialogue.
Video-game designers, unlike director Jonathan Liebesman, have generally learned that extended “cut scenes” of bland cliches only get in the way of the action. In this film, you have to suffer through them: “Hold that line, you hear me!” “You should have left me there!” “This is not a drill!” “I didn’t get this far on my good looks.” “I’m ready for payback!”

Even bad video games make sense.
Computer programmers have to obey certain logical constructs or games wouldn’t work. The cameras in this film zoom around and shake so much it’s often impossible to tell what’s happening — though, really, what is happening? Why are the aliens so invincible in the beginning of the film? Why so easily slaughtered in the end? The film posits that it’s because the panicky soldiers are aiming their machine guns six inches to the left of where a human heart would be. So they were simply missing by six inches — a lot! — in the beginning?

At least Halo’s hero Master Chief isn’t maudlin.
“I need you to be my little marine … because Marines don’t quit,” the Staff Sergeant says to a middle schooler whose father has just been slaughtered by aliens in a laser-gun fight. Later he adds, “You are the bravest Marine I ever saw.” Video games might not make you cry, but they do steer clear of emotional manipulation.

Video games are funnier.
There is one joke in the film, which I guess saves it from complete humorlessness. It is about sperm and directed at the film’s one female soldier: “I got that nasty stuff all over my mouth,” says Michelle Rodriguez’s cocky soldier, wiping alien guts from her face. “I didn’t know you did that on a first date,” says her partner. Wow. You’d have to reach back to the sleazy game Leisure Suit Larry for humdingers like that.

7 Reasons Why Video Games Are Better Than Battle: L.A.