‘Battleship’ Is a HIT! Well, Not at the Box Office…

2012-08- 28

Sometimes, no matter the quality of your film, there’s simply no way it will make money. It may not have any name actors. It may not make it into a festival. It may never get any form of distribution. These are the concerns of independent, low-budget filmmakers, not the worries of anyone helming a feature coming out of the studio system.

All they have to worry about is the marketing. Yes, real world issues can hurt your bottom line—like any movie involving the Iraq war or, more recently and less avoidable, the tragic Colorado theater shootings—but more often than not it’s the first trailer, poster, or photo that forever imprints an audience member, good or bad.

Sometimes, it’s even the title.

Of course, I’m talking about Battleship. Not only is it the subject of this review, a tip-off even my least perceptive reader should pick up on (I’m looking at you, Tyler), but Battleship also holds the honor of having the most horrid, off-putting title ever put to a $200 million production. It’s not the words that are so bad, but the history behind them. Yes, as if you hadn’t heard, Battleship is based on the Hasbro board game we’ve all played and sort-of liked our entire lives.

I don’t know in what world Universal executives live, but apparently it’s one where they have conversations like this:

E: All right. Here’s the idea. Battleship: The Movie

W: Oh, OK. So, like, a Navy action film?

E: Yes! Huge explosions! Lots of fighting! It’s Armageddon meets Titanic!

W: Ok, ok. I can work with that. We just need to change the title.

E: No.

W: But everyone is going to think of that old Hasbro board game.

E: I know.

W: But that’s stupid. People aren’t going to go to a movie based on a plastic board game where the only excitement came when someone cheated and stacked all their ships on top of each other, leading to an inevitable fistfight between players.

E: Well, it won’t be like that.

W: I don’t know. The fistfights might be the best part of the movie…

E: No, it won’t be people playing a game. We’re just using the brand name. We’ve got all that money from Transformers, and we have to do something with it. We have to keep the Hasbro name alive and well.

W: “Well”? Did you see Transformers 1 & 2?

E: (glares at the writer)

W: It doesn’t matter. That’s never going to work. I’m sorry. No one will see that movie. I can’t write it. I won’t write it. Not now. Not ever.

E: (opens up a briefcase filled with money)

W: Well, maybe if I make it a really good movie, then people will go…

Nope. They won’t and they didn’t. Peter Berg, Jon Hoeber, and Erich Hoeber should have stuck with their presumed gut instinct. I mean, the Hoeber brothers have written at least one terrific script before this one—the Bruce Willis/Helen Mirren film Red—and Peter Berg has excelled at everything he’s done behind the camera. From the underappreciated 2007 film The Kingdom to the critically revered but ratings-challenged TV show Friday Night Lights, Berg has proven himself a master of storytelling.

Guess what? He’s done it again. Despite its burdensome title, Battleship is the ideal action extravaganza for anyone missing the frilly fun of late ’90s genre-toppers like Armageddon and Independence Day. It’s got a stubbornly sidetracked hero who can’t quite get his life in order. It’s got a big-breasted bimbo whom he’s head over heels in love with, even if for no other reason than her aforementioned assets. It’s got a grizzled veteran of the stage and screen playing the hero’s father figure, who also happens to be the actual father of his bimbo girlfriend.

Oh yeah. And we have aliens.

“Aliens?!?! What?! In a summer blockbuster? That’s ridiculous!”

Apparently, the news that battleships were attacking water-based spaceships—or, you know, alien battleships—came as too much of a shock for many moviegoers. Clearly some people would have had much more fun munching their popcorn and sharing their soda with the kiddies while human beings killed other human beings. It’s too weird to watch us blow up fake, CGI characters.

Personally, I thought this was a brilliant decision by either the creative team or possibly an executive looking to avoid real world conflict in his or her giant feature. It allowed me to fully engage in the ass-kicking spirit of the picture without having my social conscience creep in and disturb my thrill ride. I can see how it may have been a little surprising for audiences going in blind, but Berg’s blockbuster makes no bones about what it’s looking for—nothing but a good time.

From the opening meet cute between Tim Riggins, er, I mean Alex Hopper and Brooklyn Decker, oops, I mean Sam Shane where Rig—Hopper clumsily breaks into a convenience store to procure his new found lady friend a burrito, Berg sets his picture up as an absurdist romp meant to do nothing more than tickle your funny bone and pump your adrenaline.

And boy, does it get your heart pounding! Cannons are firing, and each click, clack, and slam is emphasized to its fullest. The sound editors and mixers create a truly impacting barrage of harmonious noise, making sure each and every member of the audience feels the true power of these warships.

They also feel the warmth only a game, talented cast, could produce, including the authoritative Alexander Skarsgard as Hopper’s older brother Stone (what a gloriously ludicrous name), a commanding Liam Neeson as Sam’s father and the Hopper brothers’ commanding officer, and the welcome Friday Night Lights veteran Jesse Plemons as a random seaman.

Battleship really does deliver everything you could want from a movie of its ilk, and I don’t mean movies based on games. It cleverly integrates the important aspects of the game—trying to find a hidden enemy at sea—but it truly excels in capitalizing on its action genre roots. The visuals are truly stunning and well integrated with Berg’s calculated handheld style. There are also a few shots worth noting for their difficulty and flawless execution, especially an expensive-looking one-shot done with a clever mix of green screen and carefully designed sets.

There are a few choice characters that will undoubtedly become fan favorites as well, not the least of whom is our lead. Taylor Kitsch deserves to helm movies like this and, really, like anything. He’s charming, subtle, and brash—sometimes all at once. He has character and the ladies tell me he’s not too hard on the eyes. He had a horrid summer. John Carter (deservedly) tanked, and Savages was savaged by audiences and critics alike. Add on the disappointing domestic gross of Battleship and you’ve got a recipe for box office poison. Here’s hoping he can find an antidote soon. He deserves it.

Sadly, there’s not too much of him in the Blu-ray’s flood of special features. Don’t get me wrong—he’s there, as are all the other actors and many of the filmmakers. After the year he’s had and as a fan of his from Friday Night Lights, I would have liked to hear him speak on the film and his attraction to it a little more in depth.

Kitsch, though, is the only aspect of Battleship that is not extensively explored in the hours of special features. From an animated alternate ending “previsualization” (really, it’s just an alternate ending told via cheap-looking animation) to a 20-minute tour of the USS Missouri, director and head cheerleader Peter Berg shows you everything you could possibly want to see. There’s multiple behind-the-scenes featurettes with little to no finished footage from the movie—instead, they show us MORE behind-the-scenes video. There’s an all access, director’s commentary-esque feature where Berg interrupts your viewing experience via pop-up bubbles to shed some light on an upcoming scene. There’s even a few shots of Berg wearing a DILLON PANTHERS T-SHIRT!

Seriously, though, they put a lot of work into the extras here. I didn’t notice any overlapping dialogue or clips. They have footage of every actor. And Peter Berg’s enthusiasm is pretty infectious. Maybe he should have been leading the charge on the pre-release press tour.

Nope. Still would’ve tanked.

RATING 7 / 10