The idea of adapting a board game into a movie isn't unprecedented. In 1985, Paramount turned "Clue" into a comedic mystery that cleverly used multiple endings. While it did poorly at the box office, "Clue" has built up a cult audience due to home video and cable TV airings. Still, it seems like the studios are running short of ideas if they're turning to old board games for concepts. Monopoly is in development, Adam Sandler is attached to produce and star in Candyland, and Universal wants to turn Ouija into a low-budget horror film ala "Paranormal Activity." I suppose it's only a matter of time before they make Hungry Hungry Hippos as a white knuckle jungle adventure or Operation as a gripping hospital drama. Until "Connect Four: The Movie" hits theaters nationwide, you'll have to settle for the Universal and Hasbro co-production of "Battleship."
Taylor Kitsch, in his second blockbuster of the year, stars as Alex Hopper, a professional screw-up, who gets in trouble with the law after breaking into a convenience store for a frozen chicken burrito. Why in the world would he do that? To impress the lovely Brooklyn Decker, who plays a physical therapist named Samantha Shane, the daughter of a stern naval Admiral (Liam Neeson). Admiral Shane also happens to be the commanding officer of Alex's older brother, Stone (Alexander Skarsgard). Stone forces his younger sibling to enlist in the Navy in the hopes they will straighten him out.
Years pass and the Hopper Brothers are stationed off the coast of Hawaii where they are to participate in a war games exercise with a Japanese fleet. The simulation turns deathly real with the arrival of alien scout ships that have followed NASA transmissions back to Earth. The extraterrestrial invaders sink two ships and erect an impenetrable force field around a section of the sea. Only the USS John Paul Jones is left with Alex assuming command as all other senior officers have been killed. Meanwhile, another squad of aliens is building a communications array on the mainland to contact their home planet. The only humans able to stop them are a nerdy NASA scientist (Hamish Linklater), Samantha, and one of her patients, Lt. Col. Canales, played by war vet and real-life amputee Gregory D. Gadson.
"From the studio that brought you Transformers," has been utilized prominently in the film's marketing campaign. The phrase is fitting because "Battleship" seems to have sprung from the mind of Michael Bay. Every aspect of "Battleship" has a Bay-esque feel to it, from the production design to the sound effects. The filmmakers even brought on Steve Jablonsky, who scored the "Transformers" series, to score "Battleship." The aliens' spacecraft and weaponry look like they were bought from a Decepticon garage sale. Director Peter Berg shoots his action sequences with the same frenzied, kinetic pace as Bay. Scenes of massive urban destruction appear to have been pulled directly from "Armageddon." At least, "Battleship" isn't replete with the misogyny and racial stereotypes generally found in Bay productions. The script by Erich & Jon Hoeber (who also wrote "Whiteout" and "Red") is riddled with plot holes. The aliens knock out the Navy's communications and radar with an electromagnetic pulse, yet the crew still has access to digital monitors and other electronic devices. The screenplay isn't subtle either as it constantly hammers home how Alex is full of wasted potential.
The main reason to knock out the radar is to allow the filmmakers to incorporate the hit-and-miss strategy of the original game. The crew of the John Paul Jones utilizes buoys to create a grid in order to detect where the enemy ships are. The aliens also use missiles made to look like the game pegs. Sadly, no one utters the catchphrase, "You sunk my battleship." Though one character does say, "No one's gonna sink this battleship." The aliens themselves are pulled off in an interesting manner. They are humanoid with a convenient weakness, but have clear rules of engagement
Kitsch isn't as leaden here as he was in "John Carter," maybe because he's able to play it a little looser. Still, you can't help but wonder how the film would have unfolded had Alexander Skarsgard been cast in the lead. Fans of "Friday Night Lights" will be pleased to see Kitsch reunited with former castmate Jesse Plemons as the requisite comic relief sidekick, a role also taken by Hamish Linklater. Pop sensation Rihanna makes her acting debut as a scrappy weapons specialist, a role usually reserved for Michelle Rodriguez. She does fine in the limited role and gets one of the movie's best lines ("Mahalo, motherfucker.") Meanwhile, Liam Neeson is wasted in a throwaway part though I'm sure he got a nice, fat paycheck.
The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The movie may be subpar, but Universal's presentation is incredible with a transfer that is reference quality. The slightly saturated look of the film comes off strong with bold colors, especially the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean and the glowing energy of the alien's weaponry. Little details really pop out at you like the rippling of the water and the rust off an iron chain.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The sound is equally as powerful as the picture quality. "Battleship" is a slam bang affair leading to an immersive experience with booming cannons, roaring waves, and rattling machine gun fire. Missiles launch, steel clangs, and fighter jets rip across the sky. Turn up the volume and your neighbors might complain.
Alternate Ending Previsualization (7:33) is an animatic of a different ending with an introduction by Peter Berg.
All Access with Director Peter Berg is a bonus feature similar to WB's Maximum Movie Mode. This is a visual commentary track with Berg offering tidbits every now and then along with behind-the-scenes videos.
USS Missouri VIP Tour (20:10) sees Peter Berg taking us on a detailed tour of the actual battleship as he introduces us to some of its personnel and learns about its combat history.
Preparing for Battle (11:09) is a behind-the-scenes featurette that focuses briefly on the game's history before launching into its production.
All Hands on Deck: The Cast (11:40) is all about the actors and some of the real-life members of the navy that served as advisors and extras.
Engage in Battle (6:58) is a 2-part featurette about filming at sea and on board the actual ships.
Commander Pete (5:46) focuses on Peter Berg's directing style and what it's like to be a part of his physically demanding crew.
The Visual Effects of Battleship (11:30) looks at how ILM created some of the aliens and spacecraft along with new software created to simulate realistic water.
The Blu-ray also includes a Second Screen feature that allows the viewer to access material on their mobile device. As a combo pack, you'll also get DVD and Digital Copy versions of the film.
"Battleship" is everything audiences have come to expect from a summer blockbuster. It's loud and dumb with story secondary to expensive special effects. Taken on that level, it may be enjoyable to those looking for simple, escapist fun.