Friday, August 24, 2012

"Battleship" Sinks To Lowest Echelon of Alien Invasion Movies

How many guesses would the average person need to
arrive at which board game inspired this screen still?
It would be easy to dismiss Battleship, the movie based on the Hasbro board game, because of its source material (or rather, it’s lack thereof). That, I think, would be short sited.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl and Clue are proof of the fact that a very entertaining film can be culled from a flimsy source like a theme park ride or a kid’s game. And films like Crimson Tide, The Hunt for Red October, and U-571 have more than proven that consumers will pay to see enjoyable naval-based films. So there was certainly a chance this could turn out good.
It didn’t, but there was a chance.
In many ways, adapting such a non-detailed brand could have been quite a boon for a creative filmmaker. Unlike the likes of GI Joe and Transformers, Battleship has very little structural necessities other than the general concept of naval warfare. In other words, it offers instant name recognition with the masses without any cumbersome pre-established characters or overriding story arcs. 
A Battleship movie could have really gone in any direction*, provided it offered a few interesting characters and ultimately featured some sort of intense naval standoff. And so, of course, when given this tremendous amount of freedom to toil in a cool genre, the producers turned the whole thing into a dumb, Transformers-cribbing, alien invasion movie.
* I’m envisioning something in which a mutiny erupts and a sect of disgruntled Naval officers overtake a fleet of boats, particularly the battleship and submarine, in an effort to carry out some sort of terrorist plot that involves holding some important person or peoples on the accompanying aircraft carrier hostage. And standing in their way would be a motley crew that somehow managed to commandeer the small but speedy destroyer and a patrol boat. This heroic group could be led by a young cadet and some disgraced and colorful rouge past his prime (who just happens to have a hidden agenda or a complicated history with the lead terrorist, who can’t be positioned on the battleship, because at some point he needs to declare “You sunk my battleship!”). You know – mostly The Rock with a dash of Pirates of the Caribbean thrown in... I don’t know. I’m just spitballing here.

This guy and Brooklyn Decker are given a boring B-plot
that's only worth the time invtested because Decker is hot.
The problem with this approach is that it makes for a confusing marketing campaign that became an instant butt of jokes in a way that I don’t think a “more realistic” take would have. However, while the alien angle likely helped increase the inherent silliness and thus lead to a huge financial losses for Universal, it isn’t the main culprit for why the movie wound up being so bad. In that respect, the fault lies in the “human” story, which focuses on Lieutenant Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) whose hotheaded and rebellious demeanor disappoints his brother Commander Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgård) and fails to impress the high-ranking Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson), who just so happens to be the father of Sam, Alex’s mega hot fiancée-to-be Sam (Brooklyn Decker).
In and of itself that central story isn’t even a bad one, but the way it’s handled is beyond awful. None of these characters (as well as a slew of other supporting naval officers, including Rihanna and Turtle from Entourage) are developed in a way to engender viewer loyalty or sympathy; in fact, most come across as cloying. For an excellent example, look no further than the opening scene, which offers a blueprint on how not to do a “meet cute” (Sam enters a dingy bar by herself looking for a chicken burrito and the chivalrous Alex decides to break into a gas station to steal her one).
To be fair, while the first half-hour or so of this movie is a real chore to sit through, once the action starts kicking in, it actually gets somewhat watchable in a “meh, ok, that’s not totally terrible” kind of way. There’s a fairly humorous nod to the game that sees the main characters taking shots at alien crafts and declaring “hit” or “miss,” and its is actually somewhat engaging. And the climax, which sees the protagonists recruiting some geriatric veterans to utilize an old-time battleship, is endearing in its cheesiness. The special effects are pretty strong as well, and although all of her scenes are pointless b-story filler, Brooklyn Decker is just as fun to watch.
Throughout my Battleship viewing experience, I kept thinking of two things:
1)      Battle Los Angeles, a middling alien invasion movie that had some very effectively rendered action sequences. Except then I remembered that film had some characters worth caring about, including a bad-ass lead played by Aaron Eckhart, and I realized, ‘Wow Battleship doesn’t have nearly as much to offer as Battle Los Angeles,’ which basically serves as a good indicator for just how far down the list of alien invasion movies this thing has to be.
2)      Why exactly did a director like Peter Berg agree to do this thing? He’s generally been very solid (The Kingdom, Friday Night Lights, Very Bad Things), and considering he was coming off of his biggest hit (Hancock), I’d have thought he would have his choice of projects, especially if he was going to follow it up with a big budget studio picture. I later read this article, which made sense of my initial query. In short, he held his nose and did Battleship so he could direct passion project Lone Survivor.
Taylor Kitsch probably should consider a new approach
in this whole movie busiess thing.
However, now, in the wake of the colossal bomb, my lasting thoughts on the film mostly concern Kitsch who made a name for himself on the Berg-produced Friday Night Lifts TV series. With both Battleship and John Carter striking out this year (not to mention Savages doing pretty piss poor as well), he’s in a tough spot career-wise.
Orlando Bloom’s ascent to the A-list was stalled when he double bombed with Kingdom of Heaven and Elizabethtown, both of which were actually smart career choices, seeing as they were from heralded filmmakers. And Bloom had two franchise successes – Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean – in his back pocket, so who knows how this will affect Kitsch moving forward considering he hasn’t earned such good will? On the plus side, he has a fan in Berg, who is bringing him along in a supporting role on Lone Survivor. If he gets good notices there, things could be looking up. If not, Kitsch's stock may totally plummet.
Anyway, getting back to Battleship – it’s a worthless movie that somehow manages to take a simple and possibly promising idea and turn it into convoluted garbage, without making it so bad that it becomes a guilty pleasure (ala something like In The Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale). As is, it’s mostly just Transformers without the cool robot-on-robot fight scenes and even more of the pointless human drama. D