Get Independence Day, Black Hawk Down, Cloverfield and a number of alien-slashing computer games and out of this heady cocktail comes Battle Los Angeles, one of the cheekiest pieces of US military propaganda you can ever imagine. The storyline, strikingly similar to that of Skyline, couldn’t be simpler: Los Angeles is invaded by an army of very aggressive aliens, apparently intent on robbing Earth of its water (yes, as in the 1980s V). Send in a platoon led by a rooky lieutenant to rescue a tiny group of civilians before Santa Monica is wiped out as the only way to stop the invaders, and see who survives. The Spanish title Invasión a la Tierra alludes to the fact that 20 other major cities are also infested by the aliens (Madrid and Barcelona are not mentioned…). Yet, don’t be mistaken about this: the film is truly provincial, straightforward marine recruiting propaganda and not at all about global threats.
Many things are striking in Battle Los Angeles that are also quickly becoming commonplace: the fast-paced editing style borrowed from action computer games; the high-quality special effects showing invasion in daylight at its most scariest; the facelessness of the relentless, repellent extraterrestrial enemy; the detailed, though often inaccurate, depiction of all kinds of weaponry and its tough, unquestioned, combat-proficient woman soldier. This Hollywood film, partly financed by the USMC (the marines) and the US military, leaves no margin for doubt: even though Iraq is never mentioned, we learn through the figure of the remorseful Staff Sergeant Nantz, accused of negligence by his men, that the loss of young lives in war is inevitable. The obvious military superiority of the alien invaders pre-empts any counterargument. I personally found the film very scary, as I tend to empathise easily with the terrified civilians and imagine their fear (I just think ‘family’ and ‘Spanish Civil War’). Yet I was even more deeply scared by the cheekiness of the film’s premise. Given the situation, who could declare him or herself a pacifist?
I’m simply amazed that, with the Iraq occupation still under way, Hollywood has the gall to spurt films in which America is invaded. The 1950s and 1980s invasion films, which were transparent allegories of Cold War fears, made, more or less, sense, in that two superpowers with similar military might faced each other. Independence Day (1996) was already something else: a defiant product of a smug America that celebrates the overcoming of the red scare for good. Bin Laden must have seen it and have a good laugh. But what is this post 9/11 new wave of invasion films? Terrorists are not invaders, that’s the whole point of their tactics. And it’s hard to imagine the Chinese armies invading American territory. The threat might come, rather, from madcap nuclear button pushers in North Korea or Iran. Military sf started back in late Victorian times as a warning about the unpreparedness of the British in the face of a possible German invasion, which seemed then to many a fantastic possibility. A little later, Wells had the elegance to point out that his Martians were actually inspired by the atrocities of the British in Tasmania. Yet it’s absolutely clear that Battle Los Angeles is not remotely thinking of comparing the ugly aliens with the US Marines in Iraq. It simply intends to scare kids into joining the marines just in case… non-human aliens invade???
If the US military have invested money on this film, this means they know it’ll work. What this says about US society is beyond me. I don’t understand, even though Battle for Los Angeles couldn’t be more transparent. Perhaps military intelligence is not an oxymoron after all.