Scary Movie Alien Countdown #10: Battle Los Angeles

By Tom Kapr

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be focusing on the best that alien sci-fi cinema has to offer. The Buried Cinema podcast kicked off our “Alien Sci-Fi Month” last Tuesday with the new invasion flick Battle Los Angeles . That seems as good a place as any to begin this countdown of ten great scary movie aliens.

If you think Battle Los Angeles does not fit the definition of alien horror, you may want to re-evaluate. An intelligent, hostile force about which we humans know nothing appears without warning and begins a campaign of wholesale slaughter for the purpose of exterminating human life on Earth. Of course this has been done before, countless times, but never has a film brought the idea down to street level as Battle Los Angeles does. Never has it been portrayed in such a gritty, visceral manner, complete with the horrors of warfare–and is there anything more truly horrific than the consequences of war?

After the initial airborne attacks on the cities of the coasts, a platoon of Marines is sent into a section of downtown Los Angeles, now a war zone, to rescue a group of survivors. Along the way we witness not only the decimated remains of urban America, but also the bodies of Americans lying everywhere. Just people out on their daily routine, in shorts and sandals, now lying dead in streets by the hundreds; and alien foot soldiers may be around every corner, waiting to take care of any living humans who remain. Science fiction is often used to make socio-political statements, and while Battle Los Angeles is generally more focused on action and the intensity of the battle scenes, there is a subtext of bringing the images of war in foreign places, from which we can easily disassociate our feelings, and setting it in our own streets, our backyards, our own homes.

As a news commentator in the film avers, this is the most likely scenario of an invasion by an intelligent alien force: when you invade a new place to appropriate its resources, you exterminate the indigenous population. It’s the pattern of human history, turned against humanity as a whole, only there is no rousing “today we celebrate our Independence Day” speech. Just soldiers and citizens doing what they can to survive. And should this scenario ever play out in reality, our chances of survival, both as a race and as individual people and families, would be nearly nonexistent.

Battle: Los Angeles is by no means a perfect film, but it shows in a more realistic light than most what would probably happen in an alien invasion, and how humanity would most likely respond. Get past some war clichés and some bad scripting, and Battle Los Angeles is one of the best entries in one of cinema’s oldest science fiction traditions.

Next on the countdown: “Nobody in here but us monsters”

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