By Chaz Lipp
Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Battleship on Blogcritics.
What kind of movie do you get when you combine a $209 million budget with the storytelling skills of the average six-year-old? I guess quite a few movies could be the product of that scenario, but Battleship is definitely among them. This insultingly bad board game adaptation (that bears almost no connection to the game, despite being brought to us by Hasbro) sank like a stone in the wake of the juggernaut that was Marvel’s The Avengers. Maybe it would’ve grossed more than $65 million domestically had Universal saved it for late summer. However, a more strategically-timed release wouldn’t have made the movie itself any better.
The first sign of trouble comes early on, Battleships’s first half hour consists of nothing more than utterly disposable set-up, including a useless convenience store break-in and a lame soccer match. Lieutenant Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) is a cocky, risk-taking Naval officer. His brother, Commander Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgård), is the responsible one between them. Alex is after Samantha (Brooklyn Decker), the daughter of his superior, Admiral Terrance Shane (Liam Neeson), who commands the USS John Paul Jones. Other fellow crew members of Alex’s include Cora (singer Rihanna, making her film debut), Ordy (Jesse Plemons), and Lynch (John Tui). After wasting our time introducing these cast members, assigning one character trait to each, the movie finally gets down to business.
Aliens, responding to a signal sent by NASA, travel light years to plunge into the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii. That’s exactly where the John Paul Jones, the USS Sampson (upon which Stone is commanding officer), and the Japanese destroyer My?k? all happen to be. They venture out to see what crashed into the ocean. Soon enough we’re watching the aliens fighting the ships. That’s pretty much what happens for the rest of the movie, hence my original reference to a six-year-old’s storytelling skills. Wouldn’t it be cool if the alien ships can launch huge metallic spheres that grind their way through everything in sight and are basically unstoppable? What if the Navy had to plot where exactly they were going to fire shots using a grid, like from the Battleship board game? And maybe Liam Neeson should pop up every once in a while!
Things take an outrageous turn in the third act, too stupid to even laugh at, when a bunch of Navy old-timers band together to take a decommissioned battleship, the USS Missouri, to face the aliens head on. I’m not going to say how they fare, but suffice it to say that the old sea dogs still have considerable bite to match their bark. Yes, they do show these retired Navy men early on during a ceremony (pre-alien invasion), but that’s it. The filmmakers apparently expected us to rah-rah our heads off when these guys decide to join the fight, but it’s moronic actually. And if you’re interested in this for Liam Neeson, keep in mind that his role barely goes beyond that of an expanded cameo.
At least Brookyn Decker looks great as Samantha, a physical therapist who works with amputees and is the object of Alex’s affection. The movie is aggressively PG-13 (two separate characters say “motherf—–,” but are cut off after the first three syllables), so don’t expect any heat involving Decker. But she still provides some eye candy in a movie populated by dullards (don’t even get me started on Rihanna’s “acting”). The other highlight in the film is the man we see her working with most, Lieutenant Colonel Mick Canales. Canales is portrayed by real-life active-duty Colonel Gregory D. Gadson. Colonel Gadson is a decorated Army combat veteran who also happens to be a double amputee. He displays real charisma and passion in his film debut.
The Blu-ray cover features an accurate quote from Sasha Perl-Raver of NBC-TV (part of the same conglomerate that released Battleship), “Explosive and action-packed.” Yes, director Peter Berg has seen to it that his film is, in fact, both of those things. That’s all it is though. The explosions and action huff and puff for no other reason than the fact that money was there to spend on them. Berg has an interesting filmography as a director, including pitch-black comedy (Very Bad Things), sports drama (Friday Night Lights), and current events-based thrills (The Kingdom). What he saw in this project, besides a presumably fat paycheck, is anybody’s guess. To be fair, the movie raked in $237 million overseas, so the market was obviously there for it.
Battleship looks incredible on Blu-ray with a 1080p transfer framed at 2:40.1. The plentiful special effects look outstanding, with intricate detail visible in the alien hardware. The Navy ships are similarly visually stunning, both inside and out. Everything about the visual presentation is flawless, from panoramic shots of the ocean to close-ups of actor’s faces. The 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack is arguably even more impressive. If you’re looking for a movie to really test out your sound system with, this is the one. It’s meant to be cranked, with seismic LFE activity that rattles the walls. Surrounds are constantly engaged, with effects ringing out like crazy. All channels get their due, with center-anchored dialogue registering clearly above it all. From an audio/visual standpoint, Battleship is truly beyond reproach.
For those who actually like this movie enough to go beyond simply watching it, the Blu-ray offers up a bunch of exclusive supplemental features. “All Access with Director Peter Berg” is the main attraction, which is kind of like the “Ultimate Recon Mode” on The Expendables Blu-ray, for a point of reference. It’s a picture-in-picture commentary with Berg that also includes behind the scenes footage and more. It’s probably more worthwhile to just watch the movie this way. You’ll get more out of it than watching the movie on its own. There’s also an alternate ending pre-visualization (meaning the effects are unfinished) that includes commentary by Berg. The “USS Missouri VIP Tour” is pretty self-explanatory, a 20-minute look at the old battleship. “Commander Pete” is six minutes of ass-kissing interviews with cast and crew directed at Berg. “Visual Effects of Battleship” is a 12-minute look at the amazing effects work.
“Preparing for Battle,” “All Hands On Deck,” and “Engage in Battle” add a combined half hour to the special features, examining various aspects of the production. These featurettes are not exclusive to Blu-ray. The combo pack includes a standard DVD, Digital Copy, and UltraViolet copy as well.
Stay tuned until the very end of Battleship for a post-credits teaser that sets up a sequel that probably (hopefully) will never happen. Somewhat ironically, it happens to be one of the better scenes in the movie, even though most viewers likely won’t stick around for it. Had I not been reviewing the film, I wouldn’t have even finished watching it, let alone look for surprises after the credits.