‘Battleship’ Fires Big Explosive Surprise

As one who has never been a big fan of hokey science fiction films with stupid-looking aliens like this   running around and as one who has habitually avoided seeing movies based upon video games, I was considerably less than enthusiastic about seeing “Battleship,” inspired by the popular Hasbro board game.

For the uninitiated, Battleship originally was a strategy game in which opponents placed their ships on secret grids and then took turns trying to blow them out of the water. Naturally the game evolved into an extremely popular electronic version, and I even played it with my children as they were growing up. Imagine the delight on youngster’s face when he or she listens to the sound of a falling bomb and then the subsequent explosion of Dad’s ship. What fun!

When I first read about the “Battleship” film, I vowed to put it on my avoid-this-one-at-all-costs list because the movie magicians had decided to turn it into a film about an alien invasion. However, with pickings at the local theaters rather slim to say the least, I sublimated my incipient reluctance and prepared myself to see a less than B-grade movie that would put me to sleep during the first 20 minutes. But what I actually saw was a thrilling action film with some of the most spectacular battle scenes and special effects I’ve ever watched.

As the film begins, some scientists are about to send a signal to a planet  they have identified as being able to support life. One of the guys monitoring the whole thing is Cal Zapata (Hamish Linklater), and his apprehension about the project is evident when he mutters, “If there is intelligent life out there and they come here, it’s going to be like Columbus and the Indians, only we’re the Indians.”

After the signal is sent, we hop to a bar where Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgard) and his younger brother, Alex (Taylor Kitsch), are celebrating the latter’s birthday. Stone is a decorated Naval officer, but Alex is kind of a free spirit with an affinity for drink and women. And when a beautiful blonde named Samantha (Brooklyn Decker) walks into the bar, Alex immediately hits on her and ends in trouble with law. Stone subsequently tells Alex that if he doesn’t join the Navy, he wants nothing more to do with him. And it just so happens that the woman Alex approached is the daughter of Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson), Stone’s commanding officer.

So Alex ends up in the Navy, and shortly thereafter the signal sent to planet G must have pissed off the aliens because before you could say “invasion” theirs ships start splashing down in the Pacific, and the result is an all out war between the planet G-men and the United States Navy. Of course after a series of unexpected incidents, the main ship in the battle ends up being commanded by Alex.

One of his crew members is a Petty Officer Cora Raikes, who is effectively portrayed by Rihanna in her debut on the big screen. In fact she has the privilege of uttering the most ominous lines in the film when she says, “My dad said they’d come. He said we ain’t alone. He said one day we’d find them. Or they’d find us.”

Among the unique things about this film is that director Peter Berg (“Friday Night Lights”) cast some actual World War II veterans in the parts of those who help commandeer the USS Missouri, the legendary battleship aka Mighty Mo, which is brought out of its retirement as a museum to help combat the aliens. The massive vessel, which weighs 45,000 tons and measures 887.2 feet long (That’s four feet longer than the Titanic.), was constructed in 1941and was used as late as 1991 in the Gulf War. Although you can tell they are not professional actors, watching these incredibly brave men recreate roles they played in real life is quite a treat.

Another veteran who appears in the film is U.S. Army Col. Gregory D. Gadson, who portrays Lt. Col. Mick Canales, a soldier who lost both his legs in Afghanistan. Sam, the beautiful blonde and Alex’s love interest, is a physical therapist, and she takes on Canales as a patient. Gadson certainly had no trouble filling the part because he actually lost both his legs in Iraq, and in the film’s production notes he spoke about indentifying with his character.

“The character of Mick had injuries I can identify with. I’m a field artillery officer, was a battalion commander in Iraq, and lost my legs to an IED, or improvised explosive device. So, I brought my understanding of someone recovering from these injuries to the role. That’s where Mick Canales and Greg Gadson came together.”

Placing these veterans alongside the Hollywood actors makes this film quite special, and although the acting isn’t always of the highest caliber, that really makes no difference because it is secondary to the action sequences that are simply superb. Indeed the film is a veritable showcase of special effects, and in the production notes Berg explained why making the film was important to him.

“‘Battleship’ is a passion of mine because, as a kid, I spent so much time on ships, absorbing detailed histories about the great battles of WWII from my father. When this fell into my lap, it didn’t take me long to find a take for the film — a contemporary story of an international fleet engaged in a very dynamic, violent and intense fight that’s chock-full of action-packed sea battles with big hardware and conflict. You can go anywhere in the world and say ‘Battleship,’ and people will know it. In today’s market, that’s a big plus for turning a brand name into a film.”

In addition to the conflict between the sailors and the aliens, the relationship between the Hopper brothers is an important aspect of the film, and as Kitsch explains in the production notes, that is what drew him to the part of Alex.

“That is what put me — overboard, no pun intended: the arc of where Hopper starts in the story, from stealing and being arrested to the head shaving when he enlists to his becoming a leader. As an actor, that’s everything. You see his emotion through the loss he suffers, then watch as he becomes the ship’s captain. Hopper never wanted to be this guy, but he’s thrown into it unexpectedly and is forced to reach his own potential in the most extreme circumstance. Even though he’s in the Navy, his core hasn’t changed. This guy who’s saving the world is the same guy who you met in the beginning.

“In comparison, Stone gives him a purpose, and Hopper owes everything to his brother. Initially, he didn’t want to reach his potential because of that risk of failure. He’d rather just sit and go with the flow because he can get by with no problem. But taking this risk is also risking failure, and that’s something Hopper, in the beginning, just won’t do.”

“Battleship” really took me by surprise, and for those who like action films, it should provide them with all they want. Give it a final score of seven, and let’s hope it doesn’t sink at the box office.

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