By Jenna Busch
"You sank my Battleship!" We all remember the game, but when the idea to base a film on it was bandied about, people seemed a bit concerned. How do you take a game that was nothing more than plastic with pegs and turn it into a film -- and should you even try? According to 'Battleship' director Peter Berg, definitely. "There's been so much inherent skepticism about how you can make a film about plastic pegs and grids," he told Moviefone during a visit to the 'Battleship' edit bay earlier this year. "To me that was never an issue. It was all about naval warfare and about the modern navy and I've had the privilege of knowing the modern navy, being on the ships that you guys got to see and going out to sea and watching them operate and seeing what their weapons systems are, seeing how smart the men and women are that fight. I always knew there could be a film there, but now the reality of actually executing that is an awesome task."
That awesome task is quite the major undertaking. 'Battleship' stars Taylor Kitch as Alex Hooper, a man who's life isn't exactly on track. Alexander Skarsgard plays his brother Stone, a military man who is exactly the opposite of Alex. When aliens attack (yes, aliens), the two have to work together to save the world. As if that weren't hard enough, these aliens, Berg explained, have stealth technology that makes them impossible to read on sensors. (See where this is going? D6!)
'Battleship,' which will get distributed by Universal, is a Hasbro property like 'Transformers,' a fact that Berg says made the film easier to swallow for everyone despite the huge financial risk.
"Well, look, there's no doubt that in today's film world, unless you're Jim Cameron and you've got a lot of time and an incredible amount of money to put a project together [...] it's a real, bona fide risk that puts a lot of jobs at risk, a lot of children's medical insurance and dental, orthodontists and summer camps. The trickle down effect, the amount of money being spent on these films is massive. So, the idea of going alone, whether it's 'Harry Potter,' it's 'Pirates of the Caribbean' having at least some brand familiarity with the Disneyland ride; it's 'Transformers,' obviously it's everything that Marvel and DC are doing; none of these guys are going completely alone. Jim Cameron, hat off to him, he is. No one else is at this budget level.
"So, to say that it doesn't give the guys writing the checks a little bit of added insurance to know you've at least got some brand awareness, you're going to have a company, in this case Hasbro, that's able to open up marketing streams and help you get the word out – it's just not accurate. 'You want to make a fifty million dollar film? Okay. Go do it.' You want to make a film, and these budgets are pretty publicized ... I'm not going to say where we are, but it's not that hard to figure it out. You're not going to shy away from a little extra help. The fact that the game has been around for fifty odd years, the fact that there is instant brand awareness, and look, there's always inherent cynicism particularly amongst us, the cinema intelligentsia, but you go onto your average high school football game outside of Philadelphia and say, 'Yeah, I'm doing this film called "Battleship".' 'Oh, the game? That's cool. I love that game.' That's good."
Berg loves the game, too, and he was happy to get some freedom in the translation.
"One of the great things about doing this film was that there was never any mandate, like, 'You have to say "you sank my Battleship" or "you have to say D4."' The challenge was for me, like, what do I like about the game Battleship besides naval conflict that actually might be an interesting way to reference the film that isn't offensive to anyone that actually feels clever, that's actually an additive. There are lots of references to the game throughout. Hopefully none of them will be offensive and will all be in the spirit of the film, but an example of how we referenced the game, Battleship seems to be such a simple game where you and I are playing and I go, 'B2' and you say, 'Miss. B4,' and I say, 'Hit.' There's not much to it. True. But what's interesting about the game, the experience of playing you in the game, if I'm playing you in the game it starts with this empty board and I'm trying to figure out where you are. I have no idea where are and as the game progresses I start to figure out where you are. There's a feeling of discovery that's inherent to the game, like, 'Okay. I understand where you're hiding.' I understand what you were thinking and how you decided to try and hide and I found you and now I'm going to kill you as quickly as I can before you kill me. The game actually gets your heart going."
So do the special effects, and the challenge of creating something that doesn't really exist from scratch.
"What's kind of interesting and that I find particularly exciting about making these films is that you'll be sitting there with some of the best designers at ILM, we've got great computer designers downstairs helping us figure out what these shots are because we're dealing with entire virtual worlds for big chunks of the film and we've got a team of editors. We're trying to put this together and you sit there, and there've been a couple of times this has happened, where I was trying to figure out how to put a sequence together where two massive CG ships are engaging each other. One is human and one is not human. They've got to be physically relating to each other. They've got to be engaging each other with ordinance. There has to be humans on one and something non-human on the other that are behaving and emoting and nothing exists. Literally nothing exists. So, you've got a plate of the ocean. You've got a big, wide shot of the ocean that we shot a year ago with a helicopter and I'm staring at that. And you ask, like, 'Okay. What are we going to do? We can start with this or this?' It's very challenging and I ask, 'Well, how have you done it before? Tell me how you've done it before.' 'Well, we've never done it. It's never been done.' 'It's never been done?' No. It has actually never been done before. We've never done this particular thing, and that's kind of awesome to hear."
So, what about the aliens themselves? Moviefone got to see a maquette, but can't reveal what it looked like. That stipulation aside: it looked pretty darn cool.
Despite being talkative about everything else, Berg had a little to say about the design. "We talked with futurists. We talked with paleontologists. We talked orthopedic surgeons about different animals. We looked at different variations of animal life on our planet and thought about a horses foot compared to a humans foot and how different ways a foot could be structured. If you added joints...different animals have different joint structures. So, for example, there's three main joints here in the foot ... so, if we added joints, what might that look like or reduced fingers. We messed with the relationships from bicep to forearm, but trying to keep it all within the realm of something that's somewhat familiar to us, but different. These people need to eat. They need to drink. They need to hydrate, just in different ways and in different quantities than we do. They have real issues with the sun on our planet, the amount of brightness on our planet. They have body temperature issues."
Consider the effects and the hunky cast, fans might have some body temperatures too when 'Battleship' opens on May 18, 2012.
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