Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Sitting Duck

E-4, E5, E6 - Battleship sunk!

Sometimes I cannot fathom how a classic pencil and paper game could be made into a movie, just like how once upon a time board games like Risk and Monopoly got mooted for the same, save for things like Cluedo which had been, and would probably be just another murder mystery genre film. But I suppose Hasbro has got plans in mind while waiting for Michael Bay to reboot the Transformers franchise, and it's not healthy to have the software graphics engine lying idle when it can be milked for other films. So call it what you want, Transformers' poor cousin, or Independence Day on water, Battleship has its moments, but alas for a film based on a game you'd know that the story is flimsy and quite waterlogged.

Peter Berg, known for films like The Kingdom and Hancock, seemed to have picked up some directing tips from Michael Bay in learning how to craft and introduce characters, as well as to blow things up. Take for instance the entire sequence where Hong Kong bore the brunt of a crashing from UFOs, which come complete with the destruction of skyscrapers and obliterating just about everything on its crowded, narrow streets. And that's not all, with the story by Erich and Jon Hoeber taking a leaf out of crafting the requisite female character who's all boobs and legs, and little else. The hero of the day turns out to be a zero at first, with John Carter's Taylor Kitsch having a second go at leading action man status, starring as the troublemaker Alex Hopper who got recruited into the army by brother Stone (Alexnder Skarsgard) so as to teach his wayward sibling about discipline, and holding down a job since the US armed forces is just about ready to recruit and retain just about anybody.

So for character development, you get to see how Alex grows from zero to hero, having responsibility and leadership thrust into his face as the most senior officer on board a ship, while on the other hand is all jitters when he has to ask permission from the father of his girlfriend (played by Brooklyn Decker) for her hand in marriage. With Liam Neeson playing Admiral Shane (and a very ceremonial one I may add) and the main man that this rascal has got to approach, it's believable just about everyone will piss in their pants as well. But hold on, shelf that aside, because here comes some aliens from outer space that interrupted what would seem like a typical Five Powers Defense Arrangement naval exercise, and conveniently only a handful of ships get to go one on one with the aliens, with the rest of the more powerful armada of aircraft carriers, frigates and destroyers left out of the cold through the introduction of a force field.

Some of the rare plus points will point to why Battleship is still an enduring game up until today, because it's a game of strategy and tactics, and only when the humans versus aliens actually sit down and play what would be a spruced up version of this game, do things start to excite. A bit. And it's pretty short lived as well, since the focus is almost always on the special effects, and to paint just about who has the larger and faster weaponry that can tear the other party apart. Rihanna, in her feature film debut, also impressed with her charisma, lighting up the screen each time she comes on, believable as the tough as nails sailor chick and gunner of her ship, and thank goodness there was a deliberate hand at play to keep her musical background at bay since she doesn't break into song, nor contributed any music to the soundtrack of the movie.

If Rambo was cathartic to address USA's failure in the Vietnam War, then Battleship is the equivalent of the same for the US Navy in WWII in how they were blind-sided by the Japanese at Pearl Habour. Indeed the film is set near, and around the Harbour and the Hawaiian islands, and the Japanese got set up as friendly foes in the games the military men play, but everything else soon dissolved into admiration and friendship, with Tadanobu Asano playing the Japanese captain Nagata with whom forms a fast bond with Alex Hopper. It's also implicitly implied about the concerns and jitters faced by the US Naval fleet with that of the Chinese, who are obviously not invited to the war games, but get mentioned more than once during the commotion when trying to figure out what they were up against. Nothing like a little real world anxiety being injected, coming from China's modernization of her fleet in recent years.

In what would a reflection of real world sentiments, and a spot on one at that, is how the American armed forces tend to want to shoot first, or deals in foreign policy with guns cocked and ready. The aliens here actually came quietly, but got interpreted as approaching Earth's atmosphere in "formation", and its accidentally whacking of one of the satellite junks in space brought about the destruction of Hong Kong. All they wanted was to call home by borrowing NASA's telecommunications capability (after all, they were the ones who sent out the signal first) maybe to tell everyone back home they're safe and found lifeform on Earth, and in many, many instances, don't fire first unless a threat is detected, in what would be true self-preservation mode. The film likes to cut to the aliens' POV, and there are frequent occasions they colour code things green instead of red, the latter only when locked and loaded, or fired upon. But military muscle must be flexed, even giving everything a middle finger with the expected deployment of a WWII battleship going up against advanced science fiction weaponry.

But I digress. Not since Top Gun was the US Navy put into focus, and even then it was the aircraft in its arsenal. Here, the focus was on the ships available for the war games, though the more advanced ships got effectively neutered as it went to show how one destroyer under able command is able to pin point the weaknesses (there must always be on according to film law) of the alien enemy, and to exploit that during battle to turn the tables around. It's almost like a recruitment ad under Peter Berg's direction, and I would have loved to see more of that old school styled Battleship game moments, rather than what looked very much like a Transformers clone with military mixed with alien technology, in an Earth versus them storyline.

The coda at the end of the film hints at another sequel as always, leaving the door wide open to such possibilities, and who knows if it does decently at the box office we'll see the same old formula being recycled again since it has some legs to be a cash generating machine.

1 comment:

kenneth gomberg said...

Taking away all the philosophy and comparative directing styles, attacks on dialogues, this film is thoroughly entertaining, suspense abounds. You are not bored at any time once the setting turns to the sea. You do wonder just how this relates to the Hasbro game for much of the film, but it comes to pass in a thoroughly unique and PLAUSIBLE way. That was truly a gem of an idea, out of currently existing technology belonging to NOAA, those wonderful folks who give us on the spot weather updates and sea conditions via 24/7 radio broadcasts on NOAA weather radio. They took present and past technologies and integrated them to make a very decent movie

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