Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Battleship - Theatrical Review


Release Date: May 18, 2012

It's finally here, the movie we have all been waiting for, Battleship! Now you get to live out all those childhood fantasies you had while playing the board game. You remember, those fantasies about how the enemy you were trying to blow up wasn't a sibling or a friend, but in actuality was alien invaders..., um yeah.

Review Vital Stats:
Theater: Arclight Hollywood
Time: 9:00 pm May 19, 2012
Projector Type: Digital 2D
Film Rating: PG-13
Film Runtime: 2 hr 10 min
Studio: Universal

Loves: Liam Neeson
Likes: The Board game, alien invasion movies, director Peter Berg
Neutral: Taylor Kitsch, Rihanna, Michael Bay inspired movies, movies based on boardgames
Hates: Everything that takes place on land
Get ready for it: Monopoly and Candyland movies aren't far behind

It has finally happened. Many thought with all the reboots, re-imaginings, requels, sequels and adaptations coming out of Hollywood that it had truly run out of original ideas. But it is this, a movie based off a board game, a board game that has no story, no characters, no mythology and no real point to it other than sinking another player's ship, this is where the line in the sand is drawn. Making a big budget summer movie out of Hasbro's table top strategy board game is the final nail in the coffin, every last ounce of originality has officially been sucked out of Hollywood. Why else would a movie like this get greenlit let alone budgeted as a summer blockbuster?

If we aren't careful, these silly internet concoctions could become a reality as well. What happens when the well runs dry on those though? Will we then get the highly anticipated big screen adaptation of the card game UNO?! I really hope that doesn't happen, but then again we do have a movie called Battleship now don't we? So, with that being said, I am betting that anyone reading this is thinking I am about to rip this movie to pieces and they would be right...mostly. But here's the amazing thing about Battleship, while highly flawed and completely unnecessary, it isn't as horrible as you might be expecting.

The world's leading scientists have developed a way to beam a signal to what appears to be a habitable planet in a neighboring solar system in search of extraterrestrial life. Little did they know that the response we got back would be an invasion force by an alien species. Landing their initial forces just off the coast of Hawaii, where a number of Naval vessels from around the world are engaging in war games, our space traveling visitors quickly take control by blocking out everything in the immediate area with the exception of one ship...a battleship! It is up to the crew of that ship to stop the alien menace before they can call in reinforcements and totally decimate our planet.

Yep, that looks like the board game to me.

Let me start by saying director Peter Berg's Battleship is nowhere near as awful as I expected it to be. But that is about the best thing you are likely to hear me say about the board-game-turned-movie. It has some pretty neat effects, some genuinely thrilling battle scenes and it even put a smile on my face a few times but by no means is this a good movie. A lot has been made of the fact that Berg was attempting to mimic the successful (financially anyway) Michael Bay theory of filmmaking, "make it loud, make it long and make it blow up".  While I am not entirely certain that was Berg's true intentions, it is clear that the filmmaker was most definitely inspired by some of Bay's past cinematic atrocities because this movie is EXTREMELY LOUD, way too long and just about everything we see blows up at some point.

It's not secret that I loathe everything Michael Bay stands for, his "talents" behind the camera are well documented to cause migraines and induce violent reactions from me. So the idea of Berg actually WANTING to make a movie in that same vain was kind of worrisome cause I actually like him as a director. The Rundown and Very Bad Things were fantastic films that showed he not only had a good style to his filmmaking but knew how to create characters that while not exactly deep, they at least were likable and somewhat believable. So it is a testament to his skills (we won't count Hancock) that he was not only able to perfectly imitate a Michael Bay big movie extravaganza as he does, but due to his actual talent behind the camera in comparison to that other guy, he shows us what those other films he is taking inspiration from would actually be like if the person who made them had any real talent behind the camera.

Hopper and crew take an up close look at their adversary.

The one thing I always hope for at the very least when I go see a Michael Bay movie is to see some good action and he hasn't even been able to provide that since a decade ago. But Peter Berg knows how to film action and it helps IMMENSELY with the overall enjoyment of the film. Now, it would have been nice had he also delivered a smart script and decent characters as well, but I guess that is just asking for too much. The many sea battles that take place during the course of the film are staged in a way where we the audience know the layout of the battlefield, what's at stake and how the players are situated in respect to each others positions on that battlefield.

The initial attack sequence where we get to see three Destroyers face off against the alien ships is probably the single most successful action scene in the film simply because it all makes tactical sense what everyone is doing and we can actually keep track of what all is going down. Those were probably some of my biggest complaints with lasts years travesty Transformers: Dark of the Moon, where everything everyone was doing was so nonsensical that the whole thing unraveled into this giant mess of things blowing up and people dying for no reason at all. If there is one thing Battleship gets right that just about every other Michael Bay movie since Bad Boys 2 has gotten wrong, it is the action.

Sadly, and predictably I might add, the film doesn't do so well on all other fronts. One of the more unfortunate things that Berg took from Michael Bay is this very strange and completely asinine idea that his movie must be long. Because long equals epic right? Nope, I'm afraid not. I like long movies and all, if they have a reason for that extended length that is. But you can't fill a two hour and ten minute movie with scene after scene of people repeating the same actions over and over again, but that is what happens in Battleship and it happens far too often.

To clarify real quick though, everything at sea with the Navy versus aliens never felt repetitive, as a matter of fact I would say that is where some of the more inventive parts of the film take place and it was always fun watching these massive floating fortresses blast the crap out of each other, which could have got tired if Berg hadn't switched up the rules of the game moment to moment. What I am referring to when I mention how repetitive and exhausting the film becomes are all the scenes that occur AROUND the more interesting sequences that take place out on the open water.

Just about all the battle scenes at sea are fairly impressive.

Intercut with with all the action out on the water we are "treated" to a number of scenes at the Pentagon with a handful of characters spouting things back and forth about what is happening at Hawaii...and that's all they do. They never try to understand what is going on, they never even try to devise a plan to penetrate the force field. I mean, that's what these people are supposed to do in movies like this, right? Sit around a table and try to find a way to eradicate the enemy with a plan which will work, but also put our heroes in imminent danger. But they don't do that, they have ZERO impact on anything in this movie. Those scenes could have been lifted from any other generic movie about alien invaders and we wouldn't know the difference. Those scenes are just the beginning of many other convoluted and completely pointless story arcs and characters. Let me tell you a little about Lt. Alex Hopper's (Taylor Kitsch) girlfriend Samantha (Brooklyn Decker) and her physical therapy job.

I understand our main character must have some sort of romantic angle, that is just a conceit of this type of movie. But once again, in the grand tradition of a Michael Bay movie, we get this attractive(?) woman who eventually has an adventure of her own that is so blatantly forced into the events taking place out on the ocean, that it becomes sort of infuriating watching her story progress. Do we really need to see her and her legless Army veteran buddy put up a senseless fight of their own against the aliens who land on the island? Forget for a moment about the coincidences, the fact that they are the only two on the same part of the island the aliens overrun, the fact that the Veteran has lost the will to fight because of the loss of his legs and will somehow find the courage to get into the fight once again, or even the fact that they really do almost nothing of any importance other than run up and down that hill over and over again, forget all that. Instead focus on how pointless their inclusion into the film actually is and how it added nothing to it.

We learn nothing new about the aliens from our time with them (we are told they are looking for a way to call home by numerous other people), they add absolutely nothing entertaining in comparison to the fireworks out on the water and worse of all is that they have no real impact on the outcome of the film. Yes, they are able to momentarily disrupt what the aliens are doing but that could have been cut from the film and no one would have given it a second thought. Who are these characters supposed to be geared towards? The female audience? Disabled serviceman? I don't know! But if those are who they were included for then they should have made it so they had a greater impact on the unfolding events because the way they are now is just insulting to everyone.

Don't quit your day job Rihanna.

Why does any of that bother me? Once again, this film runs on WAY too long for its own good. The pyrotechnics on display any time the ships start going at it is fun, but not fun enough to sustain an over two hour long film that has no real substance to any of it. If it were too trim away the girlfriend scenes, the Pentagon scenes and just about everything that is happening outside that barrier that is put up then it would have been a much more tightly focused film and dare I say it, a good one. The way it is now, it begins to wear out its welcome by the one hour mark. I know what you might be thinking at this point, "how could a movie that takes place ENTIRELY at sea with one crew ever be entertaining?".

I would like to direct your attention to a little film called Das Boot, a film of almost THREE hours in length that took place almost entirely INSIDE a submarine...and guess what? It is one of the best films ever made. It works because the characters were compelling and the situation they were put in was this constant tug of war between quiet moments and these tension filled moments where the characters were put into mortal danger over and over again. So, the filmmakers in charge of Battleship could have gone a different direction with this, it had the proper premise to be something along the same lines as Das Boot but above water instead of below. But they opted to take the Michael Bay route and attempt to make something epic by just adding layer after layer of pointless plotlines, story arcs, characters and extremely lazy melodrama.

The fun doesn't stop there either. I don't know if you had noticed but this film marks the very first time I have neglected to mention any characters or actors while doing its synopsis. The reason for that is that this film, try as it might, has no real characters. Even when they try to make connections between them and us it fails miserably. Take the "chicken burrito" scene for instance. We see Hopper all down and out as his older brother Stone (Alexander Skarsgard) tries to talk some sense into him to get him on the right track. Distracted by the entrance of Samantha into the bar and witnessing her lack of luck trying to get a f**king chicken burrito (seriously, who writes this shit?), he ditches his brother and does this crazy stunt to attain a chicken burrito for her, only to end up arrested and beat up.

He then gets a speech by his brother who tells him he has to join the Navy with him or else he is done for. Those series of events provide the basic outline for every character in the film and with the very loose exception of Hopper, none of them ever grow beyond what we see of them in the beginning. But even Hopper's growth is stinted because of how telegraphed it is, "Oh I wonder if he will rise to the occasion and prove his worth by the time the film is over?".  These are our MAIN characters we are going to be spending the next two hours with...really?

The aliens aren't nearly as interesting as they look.

The other supporting roles don't have it any easier with singer/actress(?) Rihanna showing up as a hard-as-nails Naval grunt (Yeah, that's believable). Her line delivery and relatively useless nature as a character doesn't do anything to help her case either. If you were going to see this for her then I highly suggest just watching one of her music videos instead, you can thank me later. By far the greatest crime to both us and the actor himself is Liam Neeson's inclusion into the film. Wasted is far to gentle a term to use in describing his role here. The trailer would have you believe he plays a central role in defending Earth against the alien attack but in reality he is sadly relegated to the sidelines and NEVER ONCE engages the alien menace, he never even sees them! He is barely in the movie but they saw fit to even gave him his own damn poster! I have no problem with an actor in a limited supporting role but this just seemed like a pretty blatant attempt to lure in his fanbase. Shame on them!

I have one more thing to bring up which is something I suppose most people would have thought the focal point of this review was gonna be about, which is how the film holds up as an adaptation to a board game. Being the first of its kind in the film world (Jumanji and Zathura were books ABOUT fictional boardgames and then turned into movies, but that is the closest I could come up with), it can almost been seen as an interesting experiment in how one adapts something that literally has nothing to adapt. What other people's expectations were for the film in this regard I cannot say for sure, but my two cents is that it fails as expected and yet it also surprisingly succeeds in this very tiny microcosm of a genre it has etched out for itself. It fails on the merits of it being translated into a film that uses the basic structure or outline of the material it is based on (there's nothing else to the game other than its actual structure and rule set) and attempting to infuse it with an interesting story, but most people I suspect are expecting it to fail in that department.

Here's the money shot.

The strange and somewhat startling thing about Battleship is that I actually found myself fairly entertained by the baseline structure of the film afforded by the game it is based on. Whenever someone would spout out a familiar line such as, "That's a hit!" or "That's a miss!", I couldn't help but crack a smile. By far though, in one of the best scenes in the film, the remaining ship that has no radar and must locate the enemy by a series of grids and fire on them blind, was a direct lift from the strategy used in the board game itself and was perfectly realized for the most part. The fact that the filmmakers not only made that scene plausible and entertaining, but also had it call on my nostalgia for the actual board game was quite the achievement and something I wasn't expecting. I was pleasantly surprised by the implementation of the board game strategy elements and its admittedly limited narrative appeal and how it worked despite itself . Even if you could give a crap about the board game and want to just sit back and watch some well executed action scenes featuring Naval ships fighting alien invaders you will find some mild enjoyment out of the film.

That being said, I still think this movie is dumb...really dumb, and not really in a fun way either. The gaps in logic and often times baffling actions of the aliens were a horrible distraction to an otherwise fun popcorn flick. The bloated length of the film and lack of any real story depth or three dimensional characters also hurt it in the long run. Battleship was made for a singular purpose though, to have a Naval fleet engage in combat with a superior alien force out on the open water and whenever the film decided to stay focused on those parts it was able to forgo many of its underlining faults. When it is in the water it swims but whenever it hits the land it sinks unfortunately. However, I would still say this is without a doubt the finest Michael Bay movie not made by Michael Bay I have ever seen. If you are a fan of Bay's previous films from the past five years and want another fix this summer then Battleship is for you. If you don't think you need a ton of mindless (but pretty) action right this minute then I suggest holding off and waiting for it to hit home video where you can watch it in the safety and anonymity of your own home. I suggest that you wait and...



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