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Thursday, March 17, 2011


Steven Petrick writes:

I have now seen this film. I consider it worth seeing, and frankly think I may need to see it again. The reason I think I need to see it again is that at different points in the film equipment seems to simply appear. I cannot, off the top of my head, recall any of the troops carrying AT-4s, and surely if they had they would have used them in some of the situations they were in (like taking out that mobile missile support unit the aliens were using during the causeway fight). Yet, an AT-4 or two is present in the climatic final fight. Maybe they picked them up at the destroyed forward operating base or found them in the light armored vehicle and I did not notice.

The aliens' proof against our small arms firepower is considerably less than I thought from the commercials, it was still obviously superior requiring quite a few shots to take them down. However, our own body armor had some value against their infantry weapons.

There is a question about the aliens' tactics. Obviously it took some time between their landings and the deployment of their own air assets (hours). This makes it curious as to why they did not wait to begin their assault until their air assets were able to take off. This would have reduced some of their ground troop losses to our own air assets earlier in the battle -- perhaps enough to tip the scales. This is assuming their assets took off from under the ocean. It seems unlikely that their ground-pounders cleared a zone and the air assets were then dragged ashore so they could take off. There is no indication that the aliens had anything approaching a truck or other vehicle to accomplish this task, so apparently they were staging in the waters off the coast. Delaying until their air assets could deploy would seem to have been a better tactic. Once their own air assets went into action they quickly cleared the sky and made further use of our own air assets suicidal (proved by the cancellation of the main strike).

The lack of initial air assets does explain why our heroes were able to deploy by helicopter to the forward operating base in response to the aliens' landing and assault.

What is not explained is the big question: Neither side used the nuclear option, one of the film's biggest weaknesses because this option is simply ignored. No explanation is offered for the aliens not using nuclear weapons, and no explanation is offered as to why we did not use nuclear weapons.

Basically the film covers a period of about 48 to 60 hours during which time our intrepid band gathers intelligence leading them to be at the decisive point. They discover the aliens' Achilles' heel and are able to exploit it, turning the tide in Los Angeles. In one fell swoop, they completely eliminate the enemy's entire air capability, clearing the skies for our own air assets (doubtless severely depleted) to return. And despite the losses our own forces have sustained, we have enough combat power (having eliminated the enemy air) to take the offensive. This seems unlikely as apparently every one of our ground combat units that actually engaged the enemy to this point has been wiped out. Raising the question of where these additional troops are coming from. Hollywood would have done better not having them all wiped out, but pushed back with loss so they still existed.

One of the problems is that the victory in Los Angeles, much like the local victory in "Independence Day", does not translate into automatic victory elsewhere.

In "Independence Day" the "City Destroyers" were apparently only vulnerable when they tried to use their main weapon so technically we did not have the firepower to bring them down unless they were deploying their main weapon, and they could have withdrawn into space and struck again at times and places of their choosing. The only real question was how long they could operate without resupply from the mothership.

In this film, even knowing that destroying a command ship would eliminate the aliens' local air assets, the problem remains of finding and hitting it. The Air Force sergeant was definite that her mission had been to find the command node, requiring a ground presence, but the aliens were able to hide it. Finding the 19 other command ships and being able to call in laser guided munitions to kill them is going to be a lot more problematic. The aliens know they lost the one at Los Angeles, and doubtless how that happened (it must have broadcast what was going on). The current solution to keep it from happening again is easy. Just keep a good squadron of defending drones on hand to intercept the Copperhead shells, and hit the launching sites when you can. Other than that, maintain air superiority and keep pressure on the enemy ground forces.

Other questions: The alien operation would seem to be just a "first wave" situation except that we are told the aliens are here for our water, that water fuels their technology, and that their use of our water to do so is already lowering the level of our oceans (?????). In any case, to take the whole planet, they are going to need more troops, but if the troops they have are already using up the water they are here for, why are they here and can they really afford to send more troops?

There is no indication that the aliens have any means of leaving the planet (none of their "landers" is ever seen to take off from the ocean). They seem to be on a one way mission. Are they in fact all there is of their population?

There are other "unexplained" bits that I can live with. The aliens are never seen to take human civilians captive, but this does not mean that they did not do so. The aliens do, however, make some attempt (apparently) to abduct at least one member of our squad. This fails, but it raises a number of questions (like "why do they want to capture a Marine?", but there are obviously a lot of other questions). I can, however, accept that these are not answered (no way for our hearty band to discover everything the aliens are doing after all).

One of the aspects of the film I had trouble with is the concept that the forward operating base is overrun, but a light armored vehicle is left undamaged. This screams that the forward operating base was "taken by surprise". It is otherwise inconceivable that the light armored vehicle did not have a crew (commander, gunner, driver) aboard when the forward operating base was attacked and thus would have been destroyed in the fighting. I could see a Hummer surviving, even if it had a man manning its machinegun, but the intact light armored vehicle made no sense as it makes no sense that the forward operating base succumbed to a surprise attack. That vehicle should have had a crew aboard and been destroyed.

For what it is worth, the Huey that picked up the heroes after their light armored vehicle excursion should have had all of its lights turned out, or it should have been blown out of the sky by the aliens.

There are the obligatory Hollywood moments.

The initial scenes of the squad moving towards the police station has the men way too bunched up in the street, a couple of grenades would have wiped them out.

To the best of my knowledge, a Copperhead is not a "missile" but a shell. As such, it travels way too fast for a grunt to see it, much less to see it, see a "drone" moving to interpose itself between the shell and its target, and that soldier having the time to deploy an AT-4 and shoot the "drone" down, clearing the way for the Copperhead. In all seriousness, I doubt any missile moves slowly enough for that sequence to play out. (One could ask why the command ship did not simply shoot the "Copperheads" down with its own weapons since they were moving so slowly.)

The film, as with many war films, presents us with a "clean" battlefield. That is to say that except where it advances the plot, the enemy generally fights to the death, and the only time we have a wounded enemy is where it advances the plot. The only time the enemy retreats is after their command ship is destroyed. Most small unit ground combat lasts until one side gives up and leaves, not until one side is annihilated.

Most of the combat is at the small arms level, and generally such combat will generate two to four wounded for every man killed. When the firefights end, there are generally no alien "wounded". There are no indications that there are even alien medics. The scene where the aliens advance down the elevated freeway in the teeth of the defender's fire is not consistent in this regard. This group of aliens had taken out a tank (taking some losses apparently in doing so) and then proceeded against the Marines. Given the aliens then had air superiority, it would have made far more sense for them not to expose themselves and simply called in a gunship to deal with both problems. Essentially the alien ground troops should only have been providing suppression/fixing fire. This gets back to the numbers of the aliens. They should be trying to minimize their casualties where possible if they are planning on a long-term campaign of conquest. The fight on the overpass was inconsistent with this goal.

Another problem with the fight on the overpass is that the M203 grenade launcher is not used. That weapon would have been able to take out the alien walking missile launcher, or at least inflict casualties while the enemy was walking forward. In this case, however, we can assume that the grenadier used up all of his shells during the fight at the police station. Still, there were times when hand grenades might have been used.

And as to the one wounded alien we do see: yes, what the staff sergeant did was a "war crime" (if you did not notice this). He in essence "tortured a wounded prisoner to death for information". That there were elements of the scene designed to make it more horrific (the alien combatant is symbolically reduced to the role of "animal;" a veterinarian assists the staff sergeant in his "interrogation" instead of the corpsman) may be accidental. This is the only "wounded" alien we see and he was apparently abandoned by his compatriots during the original assault on the police station, i.e., the aliens apparently do not take care of their own wounded. (Since the aliens won at the police station in the earlier fight that created the wounded alien, why was he left behind?) At least I do not recall seeing any other wounded aliens. Yes, aliens get shot and fall, but except for the one in the pool they do not seem to keep getting back up once they fall. There never seems to be an effort on the part of the aliens to recover wounded or even check their own casualties to see if they are wounded.

There is an indication that the staff sergeant is aware that he has committed a war crime in that the information he gained (how to kill the aliens more efficiently, i.e., where to shoot them) is not transmitted to higher headquarters for dissemination. At the time the Marines had not yet learned that the aliens were tracking their transmissions, and the squad had radio contact with higher headquarters. Yet on learning the aliens can be killed most efficiently by shooting them in the right side of their chests the squad does not transmit this information. Was the staff sergeant concerned that he would be asked how he had obtained this information? Does this hearken back to some dark secret about Afghanistan or Iraq? And notice that the lieutenant is conveniently "not in the room" when the staff sergeant does what he does.

As noted, what he did is a war crime. There are people on this planet who profess that they would rather die (and by the way that all the rest of us should die) rather than do something they believe to be morally reprehensible. These people would, if they were aware of the staff sergeant's actions, be horrified and demand that he be tried and punished for his actions. These are the same ones that insist that we prove our moral superiority over Al Qaida and the Taliban by treating them as lawful combatants despite the fact that they as a group slaughter civilians (to include women and children) and generally execute any prisoners, wounded or not, that come into their hands. In short, they do not conform to the laws of land warfare, much less the Geneva Conventions, but must be accorded full benefits of the same or we are the bad guys. The fact that the aliens are taking no prisoners (and are clearly not signatories of the Geneva Conventions) is thus irrelevant and the staff sergeant's actions should not be sanctioned. That the enemy is barbaric is simply all the more reason for us to be steadfastly civilized, even if it means we lose and are annihilated not just as a culture, but a species. Of course the majority who take this opinion are quite happy that they themselves do not have to pay the price for this attitude (at least not right away as they enjoy their lives), but rather soldiers and Marines (who are expending their lives to ensure the bliss of those individuals).

There are a lot of other things that can be discussed about this film: the aliens' military intelligence for example. How did they determine their landing points? What is their level of technology? Did they really come from outside of our solar system (their approach to our planet does not seem to indicate they had access to faster than light engines), or from a planet inside our solar system? They appear to be true amphibians, able to work underwater without need of special gear, but also fully adapted to maneuvering on dry land. And clearly they were oxygen breathers and completely comfortable in a 1G gravity field and the atmospheric pressure, etc.

There is a lot I could go into in the strategic department, but I have already taken up too much space with this.

Still, I will say again that this is a film worth seeing.