‘Battleship’ Confusion: A Few Theories On Berg’s Leaky Vessel From Junkfood Cinema

By  · Published on May 20th, 2012

Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema; we’re always a hit…with elderly mimes and people whose favorite band is The Jerky Boys. This is the Internet’s best place to wait around for articles on the sites you like to load – sort of a cyberspace truckstop. And like a truckstop, we celebrate things that most people cast off as “trivial” or “base” or “seriously detrimental to one’s memory and critical thinking skills.” We are too! Wait, what was I saying? Anyway, this week we’ve had the very rare privilege of stumbling across a little gem of a rotten turd that will be playing a limited engagement of roughly ten shows a day in every single theater across the country. The arthouse maestro Peter Berg has taken the board game Battleship, that wonderful tool for teaching children all the necessary tenets of blind, desperate warfare, and extrapolated its meager mechanics into a two-hour cinematic testament to the struggle between Hollywood and your brain.

Incomprehensibly bad as Battleship may be (read: totally is), I couldn’t help but wonder if the “plot” on the screen wasn’t merely a smoke screen for something that, like the invading alien ships, lurked just below the surface. So I gathered all the best minds in the Junkfood Cinema war room, which may or may not be my pet name for the corner booth at my local TGI Friday’s, and formulated some theories on just what the hell was going on here. My hope was to come up with a hypothetical scenario in which Battleship is far more palatable. A few hours later, with the help of my perky, suspender-clad troops and a pyramid of fried mac & cheese pucks, this is what I came up with…

Peter Berg Is Engaged In A Brewster’s Millions Situation

How we as a society ever claimed to understand economics before the release of Brewster’s Millions is a sticky enigma to me. Actually, my nickname during my brief, spectacularly unsuccessful stint as a luchador was The Sticky Enigma. The premise of this landmark 1985 film is that a baseball player’s rich relative dies and leaves him $300 million dollars, but he only receives that money if he can first spend $30 million in 30 days. Now I know 98.9% of you have already seen this important piece of cinema so that plot synopsis was therefore unncessary, but I thought I would rehash it so as to not alienate those few plebes who haven’t. Don’t worry, unfortunate noobs, El Enigma Pegajosa has your back.

What I’m imaging with Battleship is that Peter Berg’s uncle died and left him $800 million on the condition that he spend $209 million as quickly and irresponsibly as possible. Why else would he create an action movie based on a board game that has all the thrill and excitement of…watching two people play a board game. It’s script is also about as well thought out and fully-realized as the strategy one uses in a game of Battleship; randomly throwing out nonsensical torpedoes, groaning at all the misses, and cheating wherever possible. In the annals of navy war cinema, Battleship falls somewhere between Bore-a! Bore-a! Bore-a! and Run Silent, Run Derp.

A Complex Scheme To Dubstep The World

Who doesn’t love dubstep? It’s the music of the people…if those people are Gobots with Tourette’s Syndrome. There have been plenty of films that have utilized this “musical” “style” to sell their trailers to dopes, but few have had the audacity to make it a part of both the sound design and the visual aesthetic. The enemy soldiers, the ones from planet Skrillex, mange to garble this digital diarrhea wherever they go so apparently it’s their primary form of communication. This would be troubling, and sense-assaulting enough, but then an explosion on one of the Navy ships goes way, way beyond…the necessity for dubstep in cinema…which is to say beyond none. As the fireball rips through a corridor, a few soldiers are tossed into the air; as if that boat just don’t care. After some brief slow-motion posturing, their trajectory toward the screen is suddenly thrust back toward the explosion. This is not unusual for action films, and may even have some basis in physics or some science crap, but then the filmmakers actually spin back the explosion and their trajectory reloads a second time. They are actually trying to dubstep the physical world. It’s like Bassnectar for your already well-quenched brain.

We’re The Aliens

The conceit of Battleship is to sink all the other guy’s ships. The conceit of Battleship…has aliens for some reason. We reach out and touch some planet because, and they go to absurdly great lengths to explain this, it’s proportionally the same distance from its sun as we are from ours. It also has water and can support an atmosphere. Our reward for making contact is that these extra-douchey extraterrestrials travel to Earth and start to blow shit in an upward direction. This raises a troubling question. You may think I mean, “why would you go to all the trouble of explaining that these guys come from a planet as close to its own sun as we are to ours and yet then espouse that their one weakness is sunlight?” While that does hit the movie square in the jaw with the stupid stick, it’s fittingly the plot device equivalent of moving your ships during a game of Battleship when your little brother isn’t looking.

More troubling is, how do we know who the aliens in this movie really are? If there is one group of living organisms in the film that seems totally bereft of understanding of human language, human reason, and authentic human behavior, it’s the humans. The utterance of nearly every line of dialogue lands with the resounding thud of an aircraft carrier anchor and the decision-making skills demonstrated by these characters places them, mentally, squarely one notch below giant kelp. Sure, the “invaders” have enormous hands with the wrong amount of digits, freaky eyes, and sharp protrusions on their chins. But I’m more willing to bet a military alliance was formed between clumsy pyrotechnicians with shellfish allergies and death metal guitarists than I am that these protagonists are from Earth.

It’s An Experiment In Nonviolence

Some movies get flack for the amount of graphic violence they employ. Morality and personal scruples aside, violence often makes a bad movie worth watching. I mean, imagine if slasher films were just about people going camping. We’d then have ample opportunity to get acquainted with the bad performances, the cheap sets, and the cinematography that insults both cinema and tography. Luckily however, we are temporarily distracted by blood and savagery.

Battleship, on the other hand, is graphically nonviolent. It’s a movie that seems to believe it will be brought up on actual murder charges if it kills people on camera. While ships explode and entire cities are ripped apart by flying alien chainsaws, only one person visibly dies on screen. And by visibly, I mean we see his face right before they cut to a wide shot of a torpedo blowing up the ship on which he stood. They bend the laws of reason and science to remove characters from deadly consequences; you explain to me how a rubber raft manages to navigate around a raging sea battle without a scratch. There is even a moment in which alien machinery recognizes it’s about to run down a little kid, and chooses to roll in another direction. Audible groans in the theater. I understand they are restricted by a PG-13 rating, but more people die on Law & Order: SVU than they do in Battleship! Plus, you could easily edit out the “oh, terribly sorry, didn’t realize you were a child” scene and this Gandhi-like mentality toward action cinema wouldn’t have been as laughably apparent. I mean the trailers use the phrase “global extinction event” to describe the invasion, but unless we’re all going to be annihilated by tickle fights, I’m not feeling that threatened by extinction.

Navy Recruitment Video

It may be best, for the sake of your sanity, not to think of Battleship as a movie. Sure, it’s book-ended by credits and events transpire on screen, but by the end of the film, you start to get the impression that the Navy commissioned this flickering jokebarge as a recruitment tactic. Battleship paints a picture of a world wherein a brain-damaged, toolish doof-ogre, like the one played by Taylor Kitsch, can turn his life around and become a prominent officer in the Navy without the hassle of getting any smarter or any less tool-y. Not only that, his terminal doofishness is rewarded with both promotion and a walking sex dispenser whose name I can’t recall, but whom I’ve affectionately dubbed BattleTits. Even if you’re a sci-fi nerd and also a complete coward, the movie creates a scenario in which you can be a crew member on a naval destroyer when the Earth is invaded by aliens and yet not have to fight because 90% of the fleet spends the majority of the conflict in a forcefield dome. How can you lose? Kudos by the way, to the writers, for taking the element of this film with the most potential, Liam Neeson, and locking him in a bio-electric playpen for the bulk of the runtime. I guess what I didn’t realize is how drastic the recruitment situation is, as Battleship presents a Navy in which anyone can enlist…even those who already enlisted…seventy years ago. My favorite part of the movie has to be the Armageddon slow-walk comprised of retired, octogenarian badasses. They’ve got the right stuff…they just can’t remember where they put it.

Paving The Way For Michael Bay’s KerPlunk!

Speaking of Armageddon, one of the most significant accomplishments of Battleship is reminding us all of the craft and subtlety of Michael Bay. Berg goes out of his way to not only be hampered by the inherent limitations of adapting a board game into a movie, but also inventing brand new limitations and being hampered by those too. In other words, if only the worst scene in this movie was the one in which they actually stare at a grid and call out coordinates to try and sink ships they can’t see. It’s as if they’re targeting that elusive and all-too-pivotal cartographer demographic. If Berg can make a Battleship movie with peg-shaped missiles, what’s to stop Bay from finally realizing his dream of KerPlunk: The Movie? Two feuding alien kings trap all people, buildings, and vehicles in a floating cylinder high above the ground and must remove the supports at the bottom one at a time in the ultimate destructive contest for domination. Dubious of Bay’s desire to adapt this children’s game? I point you to, um, all of his movies as evidence. Given the amount of cars, tanker trucks, space shuttles, robots, and Rastafarians he routinely throws at the camera, imagine if the sole purpose of his next movie was to drop a giant capsule full of that stuff onto the ground? I suspect that’s how he envisions every new project anyway.

Junkfood Pairing: Chocolate Ship Cookies

What the hell are Chocolate Ship Cookies? Aren’t you just making a convenient pun to fit the theme? Actually no, well yes, but no, and shut up. This week’s snack food pairing is part delicious treat, part disgustingly fun game. What you do is divide a bowl of cookie dough, sans chocolate chips, in two and bake it for half the required time. What you will have are several globs of sticky, pliable goodness. You and your opponent will then arrange your cookie wads on opposite ends of a long table divided in the middle by a wall of books or whatever obscures your cookie arrangements from the other person. You then take turns launching chocolate chips across the wall to see if you can make them stick in your opponents dough balls. The first person to get a chip to stick in each of his enemy’s cookie fetuses is the winner. The loser has to eat all the dough while rocking back and forth, as if on a ship, until he/she throws up. Good hunting!

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.