Searching for Los Angeles in Baton Rouge
Battle L. A. starts out like bad sex: hard, fast, and then rolls over and snores. But do not despair, a Latina techie saves the world, so you go, girl. Between the beginning and the end of the movie, I was completely distracted by the undeniable fact that Baton Rouge in is Louisiana and that Sherveport does not even remotely resemble Los Angeles. It’s one thing to have Battle Duluth because few people live in Duluth and even fewer plan to visit, therefore, you could film Battle Duluth in Des Moines and no one would know the difference. But millions and millions of people live in the clutches of the sprawl of Los Angeles and we all know that Baton Rouge is no Los Angeles. So don’t make a movie titled Battle L. A. and film it in Louisiana. Just sayin’.
I find movies that show aliens invading Los Angeles very disturbing. After all, I live in Orange County and work in Los Angeles and anxiously look for landmarks that I know and love come under threat. That is why in 2012, watching the Randy’s donut rolling down Manchester Boulevard is so agonizing—Randy’s is so close to where I work. But in Battle L. A., aliens land practically in my backyard and the college where I teach, Otis College of Art and Design, was at ground zero. The Marines were moving down Lincoln Boulevard, evacuating the inhabitants of Santa Monica, including, supposedly me, my colleagues and all the art students. I could just imagine all of us, fleeing the latest invasion of aliens and saying, “Didn’t we just see the same aliens in District 9?” and why are the special effects so bad?”
Leaving aside the disconcerting fact that aliens seem to be fixated on Los Angeles—I mean in War of the Worlds (1953), Gene Barry fought the machines in Puente Hills—I have to ask, since the filmmakers are from Hollywood, why can’t the get the geography of Los Angeles straight? In 1996, aliens loomed above us in Independence Day and Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum (whose sister is a very fine L. A. artist) saved the world. In 1996, I was living in Laguna Hills a few miles from the El Toro, the site of the Marine Corps Air Station. In one of its last missions before the base was closed, the Marine pilots were scrambled to shoot at the aliens. So far, so good. What confused me was the escape route taken by Will Smiths’ S. O., Vivica Fox: she took herself, her son, and her dog from Laguna Hills into Los Angeles where she managed to find one of the few traffic tunnels in the city. Why, I kept asking myself, didn’t she just drive to Palm Springs instead of towards and into what would have to be the world’s greatest traffic jams?
In Battle L. A., I was puzzled at why the Marines from Camp Pendleton left their base to safeguard Los Angeles. Why didn’t they go to San Diego where America’s Pacific fleet is based? But noooo, as the late great John Belushi would say, they went to Shreveport so they could fight in Los Angeles. For the entire film, I was trying to figure out where Aaron Eckhart and his manly men landed. Now Santa Monica is a very posh little city. Strung out along the Pacific Coast, the town boasts some of the most expensive real estate in the world—million dollar cottages, prestige shopping, gourmet restaurants, bright blue skies, golden beaches, and lots and lots of pretty people driving fancy cars.
I did not see one building that looked like something built in L. A. No distinctive landmarks were shown and I could not situate myself. Where were these Marines? The small heroic band appeared to be inland, but Santa Monica is a beach community. They were fighting house-to-house in a run down neighborhood, but there are few houses under a million in Santa Monica. Eventually I figured out that they must have started somewhere to the north or the south of the world-famous Jonathan Club on PCH.
I came to that conclusion because they wanted to drive the bus they found—not one of the local Blue Buses so beloved in Santa Monica but a weird orange one—to a pickup point located at the Airport. To do so they consulted a map, a paper map—who has those things any more?—and decided to drive on the 10 Freeway and go East. East on the 10 to the Santa Monica Airport? They planned to exit on Robertson Boulevard, which is the location of the diamond district in the heart of L. A.’s Orthodox neighborhood. The Airport is in Santa Monica, that’s why they call it the Santa Monica Airport. And it’s a couple of miles from the Pacific Ocean.
Oh well, never mind. Battle L. A. is a perfectly predictable movie. Watch it, but wait until it comes on cable. And break out your map quest and see if you can help these lost Marines find the “Command and Control Center” hidden underneath Santa Monica? Under? There’s no “under” in L. A.
Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette
The Arts Blogger