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Battle: Los Angeles and Independence Day: The Same Movie But With Vastly Different Socionomic Perspectives

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[WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS]

Over the weekend I saw Battle: Los Angeles, which grossed $35 million in its opening weekend. And let me tell you, doom and gloomers, if "Battle: Los Angeles" is pulling down $35 million, the economy can't be that bad. Yet despite the movie being mostly forgettable, the parallels to Independence Day are striking, especially given the socionomic times in which both were released.

When Independence Day was released in July of 1996, the S&P 500 had rallied roughly 50% in the prior 20 months and was at an all-time high. The unemployment rate was 5.5%. Crude oil was $21/barrel. We were less than a year away from MMMBop taking the radio waves by storm.



The anticipation of seeing Independence Day in theaters was one of the highlights of my summer of 1996 -- clearly, girls had yet to enter the picture for 15-year old Conor. But I wasn't the only one. Through 1996, not counting the re-released Star Wars movies and ET, it was the fourth-highest grossing movie in US history behind Jurassic Park, Forrest Gump, and the Lion King. It had it all: Will Smith at the height of his popularity, aliens, patriotism, and jaw-dropping special effects. This is still one of the most memorable blow-up scenes of any movie I've seen.



We forget how invincible it felt to be an American after the fall of the Berlin Wall and before 9/11.

Independence Day reflected this. Scary as their spaceships might have been, the aliens were no match for the witty banter of Will Smith. "Welcome to Earth!"


Even the opening song of the movie shows how positive social mood was -- "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)." You had the President of the United States heroically flying fighter missions for the good of the country, and a vanquished alien spaceship shooting out fireworks to signify Independence Day at the end. It's the ultimate feel-good disaster movie.

Contrast this with Battle: Los Angeles. The feel of the movie is much darker -- similar to District 9 for those of you who saw that. The main character played by Aaron Eckhart is more of an anti-hero -- he's an aging, retiring marine who's best known for getting a couple of his men killed in a prior battle. His men don't trust him. The military is shown to be incompetent throughout the movie -- early on they wrongly declare that the aliens have no air force, and later a planned bomb drop doesn't happen when the aliens wipe out the military's air base. No references are made to token positions of power -- I'm pretty sure they don't refer to the President of the United States or any other political leaders at all.

As in Independence Day, the aliens are after Earth's natural resources -- this time it's water they want. To execute this mission, the aliens are run by a giant vessel known as the "command-and-control." Destroy the command-and-control and you defeat the aliens. The aliens locate humans by tapping into our electronic communications -- by turning off radios and cell phones the humans can move undetected.

So basically, by "disconnecting from the grid" a small band of renegades manages to do what a larger, more powerful organization cannot -- take down a too-big-to-fail structure that threatens to suck the Earth dry of its resources. No, Matt Taibbi is not listed as a screenwriter. In the end, after getting their butts kicked but destroying the command-and-control unit, the movie ends with marines confidently going out to reclaim Los Angeles.

I can't think of a better mood that sums of social mood in 2011. Despite the equity rally of the past two years and a job market that appears to be turning up, Americans remain downbeat. Leadership appears to be nowhere in sight. We're worried about foreign enemies threatening our resources. We feel suffocated by centralized power structures, governmental and financial. And whether it's wikileaks or facebook, we're freaked about privacy and electronic communications. But how do we reclaim Los Angeles?

I guess we'll have to wait for the sequel.

POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.

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