Movie Review: Battleship

By Shalimar Sahota

April 19, 2012

I *said* Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose!

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Midway through Battleship, Taylor Kitsch’s Alex Hopper references a certain sci-fi franchise by telling a fellow officer that he has a bad feeling. When asked how bad, the response is, “like we’re gonna need a new planet kinda bad feeling.” It’s an unintentional moment of weird irony, for it hasn’t been that long since some of us actually saw Kitsch on another planet, one that left Disney with a bad feeling.

Universal has some pretty risky product out this year, including a “Grimm” Snow White blockbuster, a Bourne sequel without Matt Damon and a foul mouthed comedic Ted. Their biggest and most expensive is Battleship, a film based on Hasbro’s board game. The use of Hasbro’s name in the marketing seems to have resulted in comparisons to Transformers, but apart from massive machine like structures, I don’t really see the similarity. If anything, Battleship is essentially Independence Day at sea. Aliens come; humans take them out. A reference to The Art of War tries to make it look cleverer than it actually is, when really it’s as simple as sour sweets.

The film opens with a bunch of scientist types having set up The Beacon Project, which involves sending a signal to some distant planet (which they’ve named Planet G), believing that its atmosphere could house intelligent life. The signal was probably a very rude word in disguise, because Earth soon gets a response in the shape of big massive alien things that crash land off the coast of Hawaii. Naval ships taking part in an annual exercise are soon forced into action. After a force-field blocks off incoming assistance, the only one left in charge to issue orders is the rash, laid back, new-planet-wanting whipping boy Lieutenant Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), leading the attack with his destroyer, the USS John Paul Jones.


There’s a moment in this film where characters Hopper and Captain Nagata (Tadanobu Asano) are literally playing something akin to virtual Battleship with the aliens. With the Navy’s radar system down, they attempt to use buoys designed to track water displacement as a way of taking out alien ships in the hope that they don’t give away their own location. They shout out co-ordinates, missiles are fired, and sometimes they miss. Everyone else is just standing around looking serious, hoping that they don’t die. In this respect you could argue that the film succeeds as a better then authentic adaptation of the board game. And therein lies part of the problem - the source material itself.

It appears that the best thing to do with an idea like Battleship is to turn it into a big effects driven action blockbuster. Won’t argue with that, yet Universal brought in Peter Berg to direct. His previous blockbuster Hancock proved to be an original take on the superhero story, so there was a bit of a wondering as to whether he’d shake this up in any way. He hasn’t. Instead Battleship turns out to be a $200 million military propaganda exercise, a love letter to the US Navy, though you’d be hard pressed to read anything bordering upon emotional depth here; the ink has largely been provided by ILM. Battleship Potemkin this is not.

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