Saturday 6 December 2014


Few things say family entertainment more than "I've sunk your battleship!". Plenty of times during the course of the 80s my brother and I would disinter our Battleship set. It wouldn't be long before each of us were plugging red hit pegs into our beloved aircraft carriers. But could we ever hunt down each other's two-hit destroyers? If the devil was an ocean-going vessel ... Yet not in my wildest imaginings, being as it was encumbered by Transformers and dreams of a computer of one's own, did I entertain the possibility Battleship would warrant a movie based on the game. Besides, wasn't basically every WWII American movie set in the Pacific theatre an exploration of the theme? Apparently not. So 2012 came and instead of giving us the end of the world, we got the weirdest licence in Hollywood history.

The plot, such as it is, deserves as much of a cursory mention as the film gives it. Some years after NASA (foolishly) beams a message at a promising-looking extra-solar planet, aliens land in the Pacific and start laying siege to Hawaii. Because their own communications ship hit a satellite on entry and was destroyed, so they need the radio telescope arrays dotted atop O'ahu's peaks to summon the rest of the invasion fleet. Standing in their way are three (summarily despatched) destroyers, the battleship Missouri and a bucketful of cheese.

To say Battleship is a terrible film is like ticking the government front bench off for lack of real world experience. The effects stand in for the acting and the whole thing doesn't make sense. Of course, the humans USA wins the day through grit, sacrifice and bloody-minded determination but the end is so disjointed from the action that had you turned on two minutes before the credits, you could be forgiven for thinking it was a hokey romantic comedy with Liam Neeson.

The big mystery is why Battleship was made at all. Well, apart from the obvious one. On a budget of $209m(!) it managed worldwide box office takings of $303m. Who cares if a film's rubbish if it brings in the dosh? Simply put, there is a ready market for unchallenging military romps with the razzle and dazzle of the latest special effects. On that score, Battleship does well. In a cinema the explosions and intricate alien technology would have been a spectacle. It also sits very firmly within the current climate of US culture. A declining global hegemon it might be, but its cultural anxieties are offset by a firm reliance on the capacity of the military to deal with any and every eventuality the world (or the universe) can throw at it.

Something else too. As noted in my Godzilla review, big monster/alien invasion movies are tributes to the US military. With the purview of its activity long having wound down from facing a potential existential threat in the USSR to what more or less constitute police actions in the Middle East and elsewhere, movies of this type are able to charge the military with the heroism, valour and hope that current operations do not allow for. Here as in Godzilla and countless others of their ilk, the tiny forces left to face off against the aliens put themselves in harms way almost recklessly. There's no hint of Vietnam Syndrome here - the men and women in uniform go to their inevitable deaths with iron hard square jaws.

Where Battleship differs from the crowd is traditionally the US navy loses out on box office love. What use is a destroyer when tripods are tearing up Boston? What contribution for ageing battleships against monsters indifferent to the comings and goings of marine craft? This film was clearly conceived and written to address that gap, to show they can be as meat-headed but as brave as any other arm of the US military. They can clear up the messes just as the airforce and infantry can.

Yes, an appalling movie by every measure. Still, at least Hasbro shifted a few new branded units off its back.


howard fuller said...

Well I liked it! Watched it again last night. Mindless action entertainment for a relaxing Saturday night.

As was Godzilla. About time they showed those dubbed Japanese originals I used to watch when I was younger. There's about 70 of them. Go figure.

Anyway it wasn't just the USA in Battleship comrade, there was a good input from our Japanese allies!

Anonymous said...

I would have been surprised if Fuller hadn't liked it.

howard fuller said...

The only thing that would surprise me is if "anonymous" was ever brave enough to criticise under their real name. Coward obviously.

Lidl Janus said...

"On a budget of $209m(!) it managed worldwide box office takings of $303m. Who cares if a film's rubbish if it brings in the dosh?"

...except this is actually a huge loss, after marketing costs and the theatre's cut; realistically, Battleship needed about $600m to be viable. DVD sales, TV rights and merchandising might eventually make it profitable (and tax writeoffs will boost profits across other productions) - Hollywood rarely loses money, even on the disastrous efforts - but Battleship 2 will probably never happen.

It's for these same reasons that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 sparked concern for that series - because c.$710m isn't really enough for a film budgeted at an alledged $250m.