Things I Learned From… Battleship

Hollywood loves basing a movie on an existing property. Familiarity and a pre-sold concept are the chief attractions of basing your movie on a book, TV series, magazine article, toy – or even a board game.

But let’s be honest, Battleship was perhaps one of the most unlikely properties to be optioned by Hollywood. It’s a board game with no characters, no narrative, and it doesn’t even have a unique setting or playing action. It’s about ships firing at and sinking one another, and we’ve seen that in all kinds of naval warfare movies.

In one way, the writers treated that as a positive. They could create entirely new characters to serve their own story – scientists, veterans and civilians as well as navy personnel. They could introduce an alien invasion. Potentially, they could do anything they liked.

But the other thing they understood is that – however thin and fragile it seems – the game has a recognizable core. It has the terminology of “hit” and “miss”, it has the grid of potential coordinates that those invisible ships could be at, it has the tension of firing into the nothingness and not being sure what your actions will achieve.

And the writers worked really hard to find a way to incorporate that familiar element into the screen story. They created a network of tsunami sensors that could be used to detect the alien ships, and displayed the output from them on screen in a grid resembling the Battleship game grid. And it worked. It’s actually a great dramatic sequence.

So the moral of Battleship is: never neglect the unique element of whatever you’re adapting, however unpromising it might seem to begin with. It might just give you the best sequence in the movie.

2 comments on “Things I Learned From… Battleship

  1. adaddinsane says:

    I know lots of people dislike Battleship (that’s a popular pastime among the haters) but I like it (in fact all my family do), exactly for those reasons. Yes, it’s flawed in many ways but given what they had to work with I think the screenwriters did a great job. One thing we need to maintain: the ability to just have some fun.

  2. I really like Battleship. Of course it is utter nonsense but as an updated tale of the boy who goes to sea and becomes a man (an old as the hills story we are all so very familiar with) it does a pretty darn good job. And yeah, it’s cool how they include the board game in the narrative by using the tsunami sensors. Plus I am a sucker for strategics in warfare on screen and love how they use the sun to get one up on the enemy. Bit of Captain Kirk style out thinking the foe there. And Peter Berg directs it all with a tough but considered glossiness that means the movie is structured so much better than anything Michael Bay has done with Hasbro’s other movie series, the loud, annoying and incomprehensible Transformers. Plus it has none of Bay’s ghastly misjudged vulgarity either. Just plenty of epic daftness. And that’s fine by me.

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