October 23, 2016
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Columbia celebrates alien-invasion anniversary for “Battle: L.A.”

By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: Raise your hand if you knew that Columbia Pictures’ upcoming alien invasion film “Battle: L.A.” was based on an actual, historical event?

Put your hand down, conspiracy theorists. And take that tin foil off of your head.

As the studio ramps up for the launch of Jonathan Liebesman’s “Battle,” it’s simultaneously spreading the word that this science-fiction blockbuster, while decidedly fictional, isn’t as far-fetched as modern audiences might be led to believe.

That’s because an actual event, dubbed “The Battle of Los Angeles,” occurred 69 years ago today in the skies over Southern California. The strange occurrence took place during the night between Feb. 24-25, 1942, and they remained unsolved to this day.

Here’s what happened. The United States military was on high alert, given the fact that Pearl Harbor had been attacked months prior to this “battle.” Shortly after 2 a.m. on Feb. 25, and throughout the night, unidentified objects were reported over Los Angeles. The threat was so unusual that air raid sirens were sounded, and a total blackout was ordered.

At 3:16 a.m., the 37th Coast Artillery Brigade began firing 12.8-pound antiaircraft shells at these foreign objects, believing them to be part of the Japanese air fleet attacking the U.S., mainland. In all, more than 1,400 shells were fired over a 58-minute span as the objects moved south, from Santa Monica to Long Beach.

“The obvious thought was that these were Japanese bombers come to attack the United States,” said UFO expert Bill Birnes, publisher of UFO magazine. “But it wasn’t. They were flying too high. And the astounding thing was, not one artillery shell could hit the craft – out of all the hundreds of shells that were fired. People outside that night swore that it was neither a plane nor a balloon – it was a UFO. It floated. It glided. And to this day, nobody can explain what that craft was, why our anti-aircraft guns couldn’t hit it – it’s a mystery that’s never been resolved.”

Accounts of this encounter can be traced to the highest office in our government.

General George C. Marshall, in his initial memo to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, wrote that the “unidentified airplanes… [traveled at speeds ranging from] ‘very slow’ to as much as 200 mph and from elevations of 9000 to 18,000 feet.” (The memo may be viewed at http://www.militarymuseum.org/BattleofLA.html.)

At first, officials offered a very vague explanation.

According to the Los Angeles Times in its Feb. 26, 1942, edition, the secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, dismissed the event as a “false alarm” due to “jittery nerves,” but when this failed to satisfy the press and the public, the Army responded with a definitive answer that the craft and the battle were real, and the next day, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson confirmed that.

Santa Monica’s U.S. Representative, Leland Ford, was quoted in the L.A. Times on Feb. 27 calling for a Congressional investigation into the incident. In the years since, various explanations have been offered – from Japanese planes to German craft launched from secret bases in Mexico to unidentified aircraft to weather balloons to sky lanterns to blimps. But no definitive answer has ever been revealed.

However, it is also alleged that General Marshall reported that the Army had recovered an unidentified aircraft off the coast of California that indicated that the “mystery airplanes are in fact not earthly and according to secret intelligence sources they are in all probability of interplanetary origin.”

Don’t you love that story? It lends a little credence to the events of Liebesman’s “Battle,” which finds our military fighting against extraterrestrials who are attempting to colonize our planet. Perhaps the crafts spotted over Los Angeles were scouting vessels meant to test our firepower? Maybe it really was a weather balloon, and our military couldn’t hit the side of a barn with a tennis ball.

Either way, the story has us even more excited for “Battle: L.A.,” which hits theaters om March 11.


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About Sean O'Connell

Sean O'Connell is a nationally recognized film critic. His reviews have been published in print ('The Washington Post,' 'USA Today') and online (AMC FilmCritic.com, MSN's Citysearch) since 1996. He's a weekly contributor to several national radio programs. He is a longstanding member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Southeastern Film Critics View all articles by Sean O'Connell Association (SEFCA).

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