Interplanetary Invasion 101 (A “Battle: Los Angeles” Non-Review)


Say, for a moment, that, hypothetically, you needed to invade Earth. What would you do?

Or, perhaps a better question — what would you not do?

I went and watched Battle Los Angeles with my friend Mathis last week, at his suggestion. This isn’t really a review, per se. But my review would be this — it did what it said it does well, and that was both its biggest strength and its greatest weakness.

The high concept of BLA is this — a realistic modern war movie in which U.S. soldiers fight aliens using realistic conventional warfare tactics.

On the plus side, it was enjoyable to watch. Think Black Hawk Down with extraterrestrials. It was, indeed, realistic, and gritty and a competent war movie; an alien battle film that didn’t feel like a science fiction movie; much more Saving Private Ryan than Independence Day.

The problem, however, is that the realism made it realistic. In avoiding the science fiction feel, Marines were dispatched into combat against extraterrestrials with almost no acknowledgment that there was anything unusual about that.

Worse for me, however, was that it made no sense from the alien side.

Yes, the movie did a great job depicting warfare against aliens using realistic, conventional, real-world battle tactics.

But … um … why exactly would aliens use conventional battle tactics?

Spoilers follow, but that’s probably OK. If you go to the movie, go for the look and feel, not the plot.

OK, first, say, hypothetically, that you are an alien race wanting, as in the film, to harvest another planet’s water.

I’m biased here, but let me heartily recommend you check out the Jovian moons before coming to Earth. I mean, yeah, sure, I have personal reasons for preferring you not kill all humans, but it’s better for you, too. Sort of a win-win. Yes, it’s harder to access liquid water, but if you have the technology to transport water from one planet to another in bulk that just becomes a small technical challenge to be solved.

Earth’s water supply, however, is inhabited and contaminated, and the technical challenges of cleaning it are going to be greater. More importantly, it’s filled with Earth-based bacteria, and, in case you’ve never read War of the Worlds, that’s a recipe for a bad day. And water’s a notoriously effective radiation blocker, so it’s going to be more difficult to do anything about that. Easier to go with the pure stuff orbiting Jupiter.

That said, if you feel that you absolutely must have Earth’s water and feel the need to invade, be sure and do it right. Starship Troopers is unrealistic in its execution, but the basic idea has merit — if you can move enough mass through space to steal water, you should have the ability to push mass into a collision course with Earth. No reason for you to actually land yourself until you’ve bombed the planet back into the stone age from space.

Oh, you WANT to come to Earth yourself? Well, OK. You’ve got automated aerial attack drones, so you can just beat the planet’s population into submission with those. It’ll take longer, but maybe you have time. All you need to do is leave the control platform for the drones in orbit, that way you can communicate with them while remaining virtually untouchable to humans. (In fact, we only have three human orbital spaceports right now; take those out immediately and there’s no chance of an against-the-odds space mission to blow them up.) Independence Day is no War of the World or Starship Troopers (the book, at least), but there’s still lessons to be learned.

What? You want to LAND your control centers? Um. Well, OK. Your invasion, you know? That’s cool. By the way, jumping back a bit, why are you even attacking us to get the water? You could just set up in the middle of the ocean and defend your equipment, without having to waste resources to kill people that aren’t in your way. I mean, gracious, here, go watch Spaceballs. I mean, it’s no War of the Worlds, Independence Day or Starship Troopers, but at least they know that when you want to steal a world’s resources, you don’t have to kill everyone to do it.

OK, sigh. Fine. Come on and take our water. Invade the planet. Land your control centers. Keep a bevy of drones defending them, and you can send the rest out to bomb Earth’s military forces. You dominate the planet, take the water, kill its inhabitants, all without wasting a single life. The Phantom Menace was the worst of the Star Wars movies, but at least it understood the value of a droid army. (Yes, they lost, but only because they didn’t follow the advice about eliminating any chance of a space attack in their first volley.)

Wait? You’re going to send TROOPS? As your FIRST line of attack? But … you could rely entirely on drones. You could bomb us from space. You’re going to send your people in front of our machine guns? FIRST? Why? Do you hate them?

Do they have elections on your planet? Here, give me Spaceballs and Independence Day and Phantom Menace and Starship Troopers back. Instead, let me give you Nixon and Seven Days In May. Bad military strategy is the least of your problems.

3 Responses

  1. Why do I feel like this was yet another movie that went through the 22-month pre-/production/post- cycle solely to market a spinoff video game? Can’t I just go play HALO?

  2. And this assessment doesn’t even address the superior tech it would have taken for them to even get here… couldn’t some of that be used against us in combat, instead of just alien machine guns?
    Regarding Japan, 1945:
    “Yes, Mr. President, we have these two nuclear bombs which will all but annihilate them, but we’re recommending we continue this fight with weapons, personnel and tactics almost identical to theirs, virtually guaranteeing a stalemate of catastrophic proportions on both sides.”

  3. Mark — Supposedly the game is even worse — I’ve read you can play the game through in less time than it takes to watch the movie.

    Mathis — Eh, I talked about the tech a bit, in terms of better leveraging space access and automation. And, of course, the problem with a nuclear attack or equivalent is that you run the risk of polluting the water supply you can to steal.

    That said, two other possibilities regarding technology — the “Aliens”/”Starship Troopers” approach that no matter how much human technology improves, projectile-based weapons are the peak of war technology. Ultimately, the machine gun is like the wheel — no matter how high-tech you are, you can’t improve on it.

    The other, and this is a different take on the movie — the aliens’ incompetence isn’t a flaw in the movie, it really is about aliens that are incompetent at war. Basically, they’ve been a pacifist people, forced by desperation to invade Earth against their better nature to steal water to avoid extinction, and just really have no clue at all on how to wage war.

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