May 10, 2013


Once upon a time, in February of 1942, aliens came and hovered over Los Angeles. They hung around a bit, didn't too much, and then left. Or so UFO conspiracy theorists like to claim. I can't say for sure what happened because I wasn't there. But this incident, much like the alleged crash landing of another UFO in Roswell, New Mexico, has kept the idea of aliens and alien visitation alive for decades.

In 2005, it inspired a pretty okay movie called Battle: Los Angeles, starring Aaron Eckhart and directed by Jonathan Liebsman. 

Battle Earth writer/director Aaron Kurmey kinda hopes you don't remember that, or else his film about the US (er, sorry, Canadian) military fighting off a ground invasion by alien forces might seem more than a little familiar, as will its news footage declaring "EARTH UNDER ATTACK!!" and the streaming bright-white meteors hurtling toward our planet. Even the handheld "right up in there" way of filming the action is ever in place. But as I've often said, while concepts can become exhausted, a filmmaker with a bit of know-how can overcome this over-saturation so long as they offer something new and/or intelligent. (I also don't blame the filmmakers for the title, as research indicates the film was originally called The Medic.)

It is six months into the initial invasion. The Canadian military is actively trying to quell and neutralize the attack with the use of helicopter and ground troops. Among one of these troops is Greg Baker (Kevin Johnson), who enlists in the fight after seeing the invasion unfold on his television. After their helicopter is shot down, Baker and his platoon find themselves in enemy territory and in possession of a mysterious package covered in bio-hazard symbols. As time goes on, it becomes more and more evident there's something pretty important inside that package...and it's going to change Baker's entire perception of who is the real enemy.

Battle Earth, and movies like it, are perfectly destined for Red Box or digital download. It is a satisfying way to spend 90 minutes without ever feeling like your time has ultimately been wasted. But you'll never feel compelled to watch it ever again. The acting is just fine, though it varies in quality; luckily our lead is more than competent. Johnson isn't your typical generic and handsome lead; he's just an everyman who saw the carnage on his television and did the right thing in volunteering for the fight. He's got some domestic baggage weighing him down, and it causes him to have nightmares in which he stumbles across his wife/girlfriend, Tracy, fucking some random dude in the middle of the same wilderness where the soldiers are engaging the enemy.

Speaking of the enemy...oh boy, these aliens. They don't look great. And I suppose that's why the filmmakers don't really go out of their way to show them off. If you've seen the great District 9, picture if you can those aliens having been dudes in costumes as opposed to CGI. (I'll certainly give them points for trying it old school, however; I'll take crummy costumes over crummy CGI any day of the week.) That's the enemy we're dealing with in Battle Earth...and they also wear clothes. Except for E.T., that might just be a first in this subgenre. Also a first: Canadians saying things like "fuck" and "sucking dicks." I had no idea Canadians cursed! It's weird!

Refreshingly, the visual effects present here are pretty competent and effective, and Kurmey's skill behind the camera works well in tandem alongside them - one notable sequence has a still night invaded by flashing lights across the far mountainous horizon, and the glare of this light show reflects across the soldiers' awed faces. Small moments like this - and the very unusual opening utilizing a recreated relaxation tape meshed with a soldier dispatching enemy combatants - help elevate Battle Earth above the usual direct to video level.

Unfortunately, the film falls victim in the same way other films containing groups of soldiers: characterization falls by the wayside, and instead the men are given differing personalities (the funny guy! the somber guy! the foreigner!) to help the audience discern who is who. Not helping is the single location in which the film takes place, which after a while makes the film a little stagnate. Odd, seeing as how the majority of this film has soldiers shooting assault weapons at the enemy.

You have seen better films than Battle Earth, but you have seen way worse, too. It won't be your new favorite film, but it might make you say, "that was worth the $1.20, but we have to return this by 9:00 or they'll charge us for another night."

Battle Earth hits DVD on May 28. Buy it here.

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