The game Battleship is a venerable one, dating back to a pad-and-paper release by Milton Bradley in 1931, and even that game may have just been a codification of a game that existed before then. Milton Bradley released Battleship again in 1967, this time as a board game with plastic representation of ships and pegs to track hits and misses. The game was simple enough, hide your ships well enough on your board while still trying to find your opponent’s vessel. Last person to still have an un-sunk ship won. Nice, simple, not even a backstory involved. Just two evenly matched fleets, each with a battleship, aircraft carrier, destroyer, submarine, and patrol boat, trading shots.
In 1984, Hasbro bought out Milton Bradley and maintained it as its own subsidiary. This gave Hasbro access to a large number of popular games, such as Battleship. Hasbro has also been developing live-action movies of various toy lines over the past few years. Naturally, Battleship would be turned into a movie.
The movie Battleship had some problems. It had a $200 million budget, but, unlike Thor, the money wasn’t spent well. Actors were wasted in roles. The script had several eye-rolling errors, including an alien ship with materials “not found on the periodic table of elements”.* The movie plays out as a by-the-numbers action movie, with the lead character being such a screw up that his family still takes care of him in his mid-twenties, a love interest whose father is in charge of the screw up, a sacrificial family member, a rival the screw up has to work with for the greater good. The plot is telegraphed; twists are seen coming.
A judicious editor should have had a go at the script before it reached the filming stage. The first half hour sets up subplots and could have been done better and shorter. There are elements of the game poking in and out of the movie, but the titular battleship (played by the USS Missouri) is a Chekov’s gun and not the main stage. The board game’s grid appears after radar is useless to track the alien vessels; tsunami trackers allow the heroes to detect the aliens’ movements. The shots are even called the same way – “G-4”.
Obviously, an entire movie of grid-calling would get tedious. At the same time, that same grid-calling is the essence of Battleship. Games tend to abstract details; in real naval battles, ships keep moving so that they’re harder to hit, and the movie reflects that. There are several shots of five-ship groupings, and there’s an attempt at getting the game’s ships in, with the aircraft carrier, the battleship, and the destroyer.** The aliens’ shells even look like the pegs from the game.
With all that, though, the movie really can’t do much more with the Battleship title. It would be a far better movie under a different name. Stunt casting didn’t help. Liam Neeson is wasted with what little screen time he has. Rhianna didn’t bring much to her role, though she also didn’t take away from it; an experienced actor could have done more with the role of Raikes, the weapons specialist.*** With the addition of invaders from space, the movie was really Battleship in name only and another, a video game, would’ve fit the plot better.
Worse, there were elements in the plot that had so much more potential. The subplot of Mick****, a double amputee US Army colonel acting as an impromptu resistance against the aliens, could have been its own movie. The idea of using an older warship against an alien invasion because modern electronics are too easily hacked could have been done.***** There were bright spots throughout the movie. The aliens show tactical intelligence, wanting to get communications back up while disrupting infrastructure and military resources. They also don’t just attack in rushes to get killed; at the end of the movie, the aliens still had the higher number of kills.
Overall, the movie Battleship was disappointing. Although it had little to work from, it squandered what it brought together.
Next week, on adapting games to the big screen.
* All metals, even alloys, can be found on periodic table of elements. The table even leaves room for elements not found or created under lab conditions, just based on atomic structure.
** For all we know, there was a submarine, too, but we couldn’t see it under the water.
*** This is a risk whenever bringing in a singer as an actress; see also Kylie Minogue in Street Fighter.
**** Played by Colonel Gregory D. Gadson, who lost both legs above the knee in Iraq and is still on active duty. Sure, not much of a stretch in the role, but he knows the role well.
***** And has, though it was called a Battlestar instead.