AVAILABLE ON VIDEO ON DEMAND: NOW
RUNNING TIME: 96 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
An alien armada has invaded Earth, leaving cities in ruins and establishing a blockade running from Japan all the way to Australia. New soldiers are needed, so in California, surfing mechanic John Blake joins up along with Tracey Gleeson, a science professor burdened by the loss of her brother in Afghanistan, under the command of John’s best adopted brother Chris Jackson, who’s not long returned from some action in Africa. Heading to Australia, they take up the fight against a force that seems increasingly unstoppable….
I’m assuming that the ‘battalion’ of the title refers to the seven person outfit that our three main protagonists become a part of, though doesn’t a battalion actually consist of over 200 soldiers? I guess that Fire Team doesn’t sound as good, though Squad isn’t too bad a title. But then again little of the army gear that our soldiers wear looks very realistic either so I guess the name of the film isn’t too much of a problem in the great scheme of things. And inconsistencies are rife in this movie, such as the way the aliens and their machines are so easily killed by normal machine guns that you wonder how they’ve managed to nearly take over the world. But the biggest question one probably asks oneself whilst watching Battalion is why on earth writer/director Michael Miller thought that he could pull a melding of Independence Day and Starship Troopers, along with touches of the likes of Edge Of Tomorrow and Battleship, on a budget of just $39,000? I guess that if he’d done it as a small-scale, character-based drama with little reliance on special effects, it might have worked. But no, he tries to do it large scale and spectacular – and fails – though I suppose one has to admire his guts.
Good writing and acting would have helped too, and you don’t get much of that either, so what you really have here is a mostly poor effort that is still possible to enjoy a bit once expectations are drastically lowered, and once you realise that the budget is never going to stretch for a successful realisation of the story. And you realise this right from the very beginning, where we are thrown into a battle involving spaceships and ships of the other kind, the camera swooping all over the place. The idea of opening the film in this manner certainly has merit and would have worked very well if this had been a big budget effort. However, the CGI is just terrible, especially the explosions and the ships which barely look like they’re even there. Having this stuff here is a bad move on Miller’s part, because it shows right away that there wasn’t nearly enough money to get the visual effects even looking half decent. He would have been better off not bothering with it at all. Instead, it gets the film off to an appalling start and certainly didn’t make me excited about seeing the rest. And something else irritated me almost immediately after when it was obvious that most of the cast members were Australians but were attempting American accents, and not doing it very well. Surely it would have been if they’d just kept all the characters Australian rather than having them go back and forth from variable American accents to Australian ones, even if much of the first third is set in the United States?
Some text tells us that earth is being conquered and that an important mission is taking place. Cut to our three heroes, wondering around an island and sometimes shooting the little alien machines, though we constantly cut back to how they got there. A dreadful slow motion American football game on a rooftop introduces John, who can apparently mend anything. “I have something I need fixing….my truck makes a noise” says a flirty girl who’s hanging around. When we next cut to John, he’s round her house and she jumps onto his lap. Meanwhile adopted brother Chris has just been made lieutenant in the Marines and is introduced as a devoted husband and father. And teacher Tracey is shown going on a date with a guy who goes on about alternate universes while she knocks back the merlot. These scenes are rather painful to watch with their shoddy writing and poor line delivery, though truth be told the film does eventually improve a bit – honestly! Chris has to go back on duty to fight aliens who have arrived and who are bent on trouble, so John takes on the task of getting the Jackson family to safety before Los Angeles is destroyed. However, the plane they’re on is blown to bits in one of the better effects shots of the movie. A very subdued and guilty John decides to join the military too. “So has anyone shouted at you yet?” he says to Tracey who happens to be sat next to him on the bus, and of course we then get our usual tough, rude, foul mouthed drill sergeant in the next scene.
He reunites with Chris and their minute ‘battalion’ soon begins to encounter the aliens and their machines, but Chris isn’t handling the pressure well, not seeming to care what happens to him or any of his troops. It all climaxes in this final mission that you saw a bit of at the beginning, and without going into too much detail it really is ridiculous how it was thought that the tiny amount of money at the disposal of the production could properly realise what’s going on. And yet, even before then, I did care a bit about the principal characters and their relationships, despite their flimsy writing and the poor performances which rarely feel [and certainly don’t sound] natural, especially that of Jesse Anderson as John. Sometimes lines are mumbled, something that certainly doesn’t help when the talking is often muffled by poor sound mixing and drowned out by sound effects. There are even scenes where someone will sound like they were recorded really quiet and somebody else will sound as if they were recorded really loud in the same conversation. I honestly don’t think that not having much money is a good enough excuse for this kind of thing, what with the technology you have these days.
The many battle – or rather skirmish – sequences are actually quite well shot, lacking the often irritating, edited-within-an-inch-of-their-life style of much big screen action these days, though the bland Remote Control-style score [not credited to anybody], with an unmemorable piano theme taking up much of the second half, hardly ramps up the excitement. And yes, you can see everything that’s going on, but that unfortunately means that one notices more things like, for example, the black CG dots that emit from people when they’re shot. Miller is credited with doing the visual effects himself, so I should probably cut him some slack if they were indeed a one man job, though it would have been better if, for example, he hadn’t bothered with putting in those black dots in the first place. The alien spaceships have been seen many times before, the drones resemble similar creatures in Starship Troopers and look okay in some places, terrible in others, especially when you see lots of them, such as during a little bit of city destruction which is virtually over before it’s begun. Again, if there wasn’t enough money to show this stuff properly, then why try to show it at all? The actual aliens look like the recent incarnation of Robocop though we don’t see them very often.
Not quite as dreadful as some of the awful cheapie imitations of Hollywood blockbusters that frequent your local supermarket, Battalion still manages to be reasonably watchable for much of the time despite its many shoddy aspects, but to be honest it’s not really worth bothering with unless you really are desperate for yet another alien invasion.