buenos aires: invasion or destruction?

Buenos Aires, Battle: Los Angeles, movie poster

In a recent La Nación article, Marcelo Stiletano seemed upset that Buenos Aires is great for science-fiction movie PR but apparently not good enough to be invaded or destroyed on screen. But it has been! Granted, the destruction of BA was not given the screen time it deserves, but it was a start.

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I read the Robert Heinlein book “Starship Troopers” several years ago & remember being depressed for days after finishing it. His gloomy, pro-military vision of the future doesn’t have much to do with the 1997 movie version, but that’s ok. Lots of gratuitous nudity, campy dialogue, & seeing Neil Patrick Harris in a Nazi-inspired uniform more than make up for the lack of faithful adaptation.

Set in the 23rd century, insects from the other side of the galaxy have evolved to shoot reproductive spores through space & take over any planet they can. Naturally, they want to pick a fight with humanity. Our main character, Johnny Rico, is graduating from high school in Buenos Aires & decides to follow his girlfriend into the military. The first third of the movie is dedicated to their life in Buenos Aires… definitely not the BA I know. The city certainly looks different 200 years from now:

Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers, screen capture, Buenos Aires

During boot camp, Rico receives a videocall from his parents which cuts out suddenly.  A meteor sent to attack Earth wiped out the entire city of Buenos Aires. Newscasters report over 12 million people dead & a declaration of war thanks to the brutal destruction of BA:

Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers, screen capture, Buenos Aires

Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers, screen capture, Buenos Aires

If I remember correctly, Heinlein wrote about the nuclear destruction of Buenos Aires. Details, details. I’ve always wondered what motivated his selection of BA as the city to be destroyed. Did he have something personal against BA? Did he pick a random mega-urban area? Did it have something to do with the post-Perón era since the book was published in 1959? Supposedly Heinlein wrote “Starship Troopers” as a response to the Eisenhower call to stop nuclear testing. He died in 1988, so I guess we’ll never know.

…hang on. I just found an interesting bit about Heinlein’s travels. He was in Buenos Aires in 1953, & his personal guide took him to see the Quinquela Martín museum in La Boca… while Quinquela Martín was alive but apparently out of town. Heinlein obviously didn’t understand who Pedro de Mendoza was, but Buenos Aires figured in a number of his works (also a setting for The Moon is a Harsh Mistress & Time for the Stars). So Heinlein was here, but what made him include BA in his fiction?

What I find most interesting is that no attempt to preserve the look of BA exists in the movie. Even in the 23rd century the Obelisco would certainly still be around, perhaps dwarfed by surrounding buildings. It would have been great to have seen it broken in pieces on the ground. A news scene after the destruction shows a “local” screaming into the camera: “The only good bug is a dead bug!” Supposedly one of the production staff stood in for the scene… hardly looking like a porteño. But to the movie’s defense, during its production few people had ever visited Buenos Aires. It was too expensive & too far away.

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Back to Stiletano’s article… Even though Battle: Los Angeles will be released worldwide, its target audience is the American public. Showing the destruction of a US city generates more empathy than the destruction of Madrid, Moscow or even London. Simple as that.

And Stiletano failed to do a bit of easy research… something the movie’s producers obviously did. Cities mentioned by the PR campaign are portrayed as sites of practice runs by alien invaders. Wondering why they picked Buenos Aires in 1965, a search in Google turned up something interesting. There were massive UFO sightings in Argentina during that year. No kidding.

UFO, Buenos Aires, Avenida Corrientes

Mass hysteria gripped Argentina as photographers published photo after photo of strange disks & odd lights in the night sky. Anyone interested can download a 54-page PDF (in English even!) by the Fundación Anolamía which details 44 distinct UFO sightings in 1965. And for the record, no, I don’t believe in UFOs. But maybe one day we’ll get to see a multi-million dollar production of “El Eternauta” by Héctor Germán Oesterheld. That would be way cool.

9 thoughts on “buenos aires: invasion or destruction?”

  1. Fascinating. However, it may well be that the destruction of LA generates more Schadenfreude than empathy in U.S. audiences.

    I have in mind that Bill Hick’s routine, Arizona Bay. “L.A falls into the ocean and is flushed away, leaving nothing but a cool, beautiful serenity called… Arizona Bay.”

    1. I think you could be right, Matt. That could be true of just about any big city in the US. I’m imagining the things that could be done in the LA area with an opportunity to start over again once the smog clears… if there’s such a thing as learning from our mistakes.

  2. Hey Robert,
    I hated that movie.
    And if I recall it correctly , in the videoconference that Johnny Rico has with his parents “from Buenos Aires” you could see all the Buenos Aires MOUNTAINS :-) in the background. No, the production company did not make much research.

  3. I just came to this post and I remember, when I saw the movie years ago, the same thing that Daniel pointed out and really made feel angry: the landscape of BA with mountains covered with a dense pine forest… unacceptable!

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