FEARLESS LEADER: Aaron Eckhart plays the leader of the Marines platoon, staff sergeant Michael Nantz. Photo: Reuters
Southern California is the battleground for a new science fiction action film that pits US Marines against unfriendly visitors from outer space.
At first, it seems that Earth has spun into the path of a meteor swarm with fiery objects plummeting into the sea near coastal areas. But as news reports begin to come in from around the globe, a much more ominous picture develops.
The "meteors" are in fact landing craft: the first wave of a global invasion. At the sprawling Camp Pendleton Marine base on California's coast, troops are readied for a battle none of them ever trained for or even imagined.
Battle: Los Angeles follows one platoon of Marines on a mission to rescue stranded civilians and keep the west coast metropolis from being destroyed by the technologically advanced enemy.
Director Jonathan Liebesmann says the nameless, faceless extraterrestrial enemy in the story gave him the freedom to make a modern war movie without having to justify the use of military force.
"My goal was to make a war movie with aliens and what that allows me to do is not get into political reasons for why we are fighting this war, is this a good war or a bad war?," Liebesmann says. "I just wanted to watch guys who put their lives on line, how they bond and what they do for us. That kind of stuff is what I was interested in."
There is a long history of science fiction films taking aim at Los Angeles. It seems that Hollywood-based filmmakers find destroying well-known landmarks in America's second-largest city almost impossible to resist. However, South Africa-born Liebesmann chose to make Battle: Los Angeles about door-to-door combat that could be in any city besieged by space aliens.
"To an alien or to someone who is not from America, I think that you don't know what is supposed to be a landmark," notes Liebesmann. " I didn't want the Capitol Records [tower] or the Hollywood sign. Obviously, you've seen that kind of stuff done before in $200 million movies. There's no point in trying to outdo that, so I just do it on a much more grounded, visceral level."
Director Liebesmann and the script by Chris Bertolini borrow elements from both classic sci-fi films and war movies dating to the beginnings of the genre. For instance, the platoon at the center of the story is made up of Marines from a variety of ethnicities and social backgrounds: a microcosm of American society led into battle by a crusty, war-weary sergeant played by Aaron Eckhart.
"I tried to actually fit the stereotype of the archetypal leader," Eckhart says, "the salty leader that I think audiences have always enjoyed and always has a place in cinema. I think that we remember the best of them – Clint Eastwood, Lee Marvin, and Paul Newman – that salty guy who has been through it, who is sort of jaded yet he goes back and saves the day."
Michelle Rodriguez co-stars as the sole survivor of an Air Force reconnaissance team who brings the Marines vital intelligence about the enemy. A veteran of the surreal TV series Lost and the blockbuster film Avatar, Rodriguez says she has no trouble with the science fiction in Battle: Los Angeles.
"I just feel like that's part of the whole manifestation process of being human and figuring out what the future of society is going to look like," Rodriguez says.
Aaron Eckhart believes that beneath all the action and special effects, it is a story about human nature.
"I think the film sets itself apart because it has a documentary feel to it and it's about Marines bonding together and surviving," Eckhart says. "It is an alien movie, so it is entertaining, but it's difficult to make a movie in this genre that finds its own place. I think what is required is a heart and I feel this movie finds its heart in the younger Marines in the film."
Battle: Los Angeles also features Ramon Rodriguez as the fresh-out-of-training lieutenant; music star Ne-Yo plays a corporal putting his life on the line; and Michael Pena and Bridget Moynahan are civilians caught up in the fray.
Ironically, much of the movie was shot in the southern state of Louisiana where the filmmakers could take advantage of generous tax credits.
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