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"Battle: Los Angeles"? "Battle: Santa Monica" is More Like It  

By Michael Aushenker
Special to the Lookout

March 16, 2011 -- It's official – blockbuster du jour “Battle: Los Angeles,” which opened on Friday, can be accused of false advertising because, technically, a more apt title would have been “Battle: Santa Monica.”

The Santa Monica-specific alien invasion spectacle, starring Aaron Eckhart, hip hop star Ne-Yo, and Michelle Rodriguez, barely lives up to the L.A. part of its title, as the theater of war between staff sergeant Eckhart’s squad of scrappy Marines and towering alien warriors is obviously downtown Santa Monica and, for a few scenes at the police station on Butler, West Los Angeles.

The story points are straight off of Google Maps. Shortly after aliens rise out of the Pacific firing at Santa Monica beachgoers (cue the cute reporter with the Santa Monica Pier’s ferris wheel behind her), the U.S. Marines set up shop downtown to hold off the aliens while evacuating Santa Monica’s last civilians before military bombs are scheduled to drop.

“We’ve got a defensive line at Lincoln Boulevard,” barks one military commando. He directs various soldiers to cover Santa Monica Boulevard to Olympic, Olympic to Pico, Pico to Venice, and so on.

As human and extra-terrestrial soldiers battle it out on 10th Street, Santa Monica Airport becomes the U.S. military’s makeshift “F.O.B.” (Forward Operating Base), forming the outer frontier to protect Santa Monica from being flattened – a strategy which fails as chunks of the 10 Freeway West are taken out.

The film’s climax takes place on the grounds of the airport's runways while the freeway's lanes become the (decimated) site of a turning-point dust-up.

Along the way, Louise’s Trattoria on Montana and 10th, a few fictitious businesses, and that familiar panda-bear mural pop up amid the carnage as downtown Santa Monica eats it.

“Sheet! I’d rather be in Afghanistan!” exclaims one soldier while slugging his way through alien hell on 10th Street.

In conveying the mayhem, the film’s director, Jonathan Liebesman, does his best Michael Bay impression, as “Battle: Los Angeles” utilizes a cinema vérité approach, replete with the quick set-ups, jerky camera work and smash editing Bay is known for on films such as “The Rock” and the “Transformers” movies.

While another masterpiece of sci-fi shakey-cam chaos, 2008’s “Cloverfield,” had no connection to Santa Monica beyond its moviemakers naming their long-secret project after the local street where their production offices were located, there is, of course, much precedent for destroying Santa Monica in Hollywood.

In a 1981 “Jaws” knock-off called “Blood Beach,” “Get out of the water!” did not help, as weird monsters crawled out from under the Pier.

Years later, the 1998 Disney remake of “Mighty Joe Young,” starring Charlize Theron, rigged its climax at a Pacific Park clone.

Movie buffs might recall that in the 1996 John Carpenter sequel “Escape From L.A.,” a massive tidal wave hits Santa Monica at the movie’s onset, and in “2012” (2009), directed by the master of disaster epics, Roland Emmerich, John Cusack escapes a crumbling Santa Monica Airport on a Cessna 340 as the entire city slides into the Pacific Ocean after a mega earthquake ruptures the San Andreas Fault.

Of course, who could forget the famous climax from Steven Spielberg’s much-maligned World War II epic “1941,” the 1979 ensemble comedy starring Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi and Warren Oates, in which the Pier’s ferris wheel dislodges and rolls through downtown.

Even on television, Santa Monica bites it in the fictitious superhero flick “Aquaman,”, a long-running joke on the hit satire “Entourage,” Fandango PR chief Harry Medved pointed out to the Lookout. In what is a goof on a “Spider-Man”-size blockbuster, Medved said, “they shot a big disaster scene on the Pier.”

If the idea of Santa Monica’s annihilation leaves you feeling queasy, you might consider the position the movie's producers are in. As of press time, with nearly $40 million in the till, the greatest war “Battle: Los Angeles” is facing is not against an onslaught of aliens on the streets of Santa Monica, but at the box office, where the costly $70-$100-million feature must make its money back.

 


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