Battleship Preview: Expect 'Big, Fun Escapism' for Your Inner 12-Year-Old
On a June visit to the Film 44 offices in Santa Monica, Battleship director Peter Berg laid out his vision for the May 18, 2012 epic actioner. "Battleship is intended to be a piece of big, fun escapism," he explained, playing snippets of footage in the cozy darkness of his editing suite. "It's not to say we don't take ourselves seriously; we do aspire for a certain level of emotion and reality, but this is not a film that's meant to traumatize."
This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the film's origins. A big-budget naval action flick adapted from Hasbro's classic grid warfare game -- the first in a wave of board game movies to come from Hollywood, and the first to confront the natural viewer skepticism that they invite -- Battleship is a PG-13 tent pole that will face manifold challenges when it opens next summer, bookended by The Avengers and MIB 3. The first of those challenges? How to get beyond the banal "C-5... Hit!" association most adults still associate with the simplistic Battleship brand.
But Berg immediately saw the potential for tension, high stakes, and storytelling in the basic game scenario. "If you and I are playing Battleship against each other, we're calling out shots at random, and eventually something happens," he explained. "You go from being an unknown enemy to a known enemy. There's a point of discovery in Battleship which is a hook, and it's why the game's been around for so long. If you and I are playing, I have absolutely no idea who you are, and suddenly I start to realize who you are, it's very satisfying. 'Oh, that's where he is. That was his strategy.' What do I try to do as soon as I figure out where you are? I try to destroy you, as quickly and violently as I can before you kill me. There's something very inherently dramatic about that."
The story, courtesy of writers Jon and Erich Hoeber (Red, Whiteout), goes like this: One sunny day out in the Pacific Ocean a mysterious alien force begins an assault on Earth, leaving the defense of the planet in the hands of ships from five international fleets. Our hero, Lt. Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) -- a rebellious but promising naval officer, must learn to be a leader... and, of course, man up enough to ask commanding superior Liam Neeson for his daughter's hand in marriage.
In his editing suite, Berg played rough scenes from the film highlighting the characters of Battleship. One, in which star Kitsch (of Friday Night Lights and the upcoming John Carter) meets cute with Brooklyn Decker with comic results, proved Kitsch's likability factor. Berg credits his acting background with his desire to find an "emotional core" to peg the larger action around. "As big as all the effects get, as big and as true as it is that now we can pretty much do anything ... it won't work if there's not a fundamental attachment to the character, to human beings."
Meanwhile, footage featuring Rihanna as Petty Officer Raikes suggested that the pop star known for her sensual gyrations and piercing vocals might actually somewhat disappear into her role as Kitsch's naval sidekick. ("I spent a lot of time in the Navy thinking about who would make sense and who would bring an urban swagger to this character," Berg explained of his idea to cast Rihanna. "Put a call in, had a great couple of meetings, and she's a great girl, really hard-working, very smart, wants to be good, really strong work ethic, no attitude, no diva nonsense. She was great.")
But a rough montage featuring scenes from throughout the film, many of which could be seen in the first trailer, gave a better idea of the film's look and scope: Gorgeous wide-open waters, a comically ball-busting repartee between Kitsch and Neeson, the CG-created effects of the invading force, bringing to bear a literal imagining of what the most imaginative sci-fi nerds might have envisioned while moving pegs on a grid in their youth. The feeling it conjured was akin to Independence Day: Muscular '90s action paired with a patriotic streak tempered by a light comic touch. With aliens.
Oh yes, the aliens. Universal's keeping a tight wrap on the creatures themselves, though Berg offered glimpses at their technology (the force field seen in the trailer, which keeps everything inside in and everything outside out) and brought his own personal maquette out to display. Unfortunately, even descriptions are under wraps, but here's what we can say: The invaders of Battleship are recon experts scouting Earth's resources, and they have advanced technology. Berg offered the following real-world parallel. "We are targeting planets that we've identified as being potentially supportive of life," what they call Goldilocks planets... while we're sending beacon signals out to these planets, [Stephen] Hawking's the one who came out and said, 'Probably not a great idea.'"
Do the aliens and their motives carry deeper meaning within Berg's vision of Battleship? "No," he said unequivocally. "I don't view Battleship as a political film."
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