So last year I wrote a brief piece on a pair of video games that I thought could have been terrific, rather than merely adequate, if they’d only focused more on their stories. Well I’ve decided to turn that little idea into a full on series of articles here on the Writer’s Block. There are literally thousands of crappy movies and video games out there, and it’ll be interesting to take some of those failures and see if, perhaps, there was a great story that just didn’t get out due to limited budgets, idiotic production teams, greedy executives or all of the above. To start out this new series, let’s take one of the biggest and most horribly mediocre blockbusters of last year: Battleship.
Don’t look at me like that. Beneath all the CGI, the horrible acting, and the terrible script I think there was actually quite a unique story desperately trying to be heard. In fact I think this movie was supposed to be an entirely different story but someone decided they could slap the Battleship franchise on the front and butchered the script to make it marketable to the summer “it’s too god damn hot to be outside in this weather so let’s go see this terrible move” crowd.
The Stories that Never Were:
The Story We Got:
Some of the most insipid dialogue ever, the most stupid set-piece action scenes ever seen (with some admittedly cool CGI effects) and Liam Neeson kicking ass despite only have 5 minutes of screen time. Really, do I have to say anything else? You all know the crap we got. The story, what little there was of it, made very little sense. The characters were a group of cliches cut straight out of TVTropes, with plenty of attractive females running around in dirty clothes and big hulking slabs of manmeat showing off their immense biceps to the audience.
In short, it was everything we were expecting from a movie named after a really boring board game.
The Story that Could Have Been:
A story about mankind’s paradoxical nature; his desire to explore the galaxy versus his violent xenophobia.
The sad part about this particular Story that Never Was, is that I think the script was actually trying to tell us this very story. I think when it first arrived on the desk of some executive, he read it and thought “This is really good, and if we dumb down the dialogue, use a well known franchise to give audience recognition, and add some cool CGI, this might make a great movie.” It sounds far fetched, but this actually happens all the time in Hollywood, thousands of writers send in their scripts to Hollywood in the hopes that they’ll be able to become screenwriters and tell their stories to millions. Most get tossed in the trash, but when one gets through and manages to impress someone, what they do is hire that person to become a screenwriter. What they don’t do, is make their script into a movie, instead that talented screenwriter filled with optimism and childish excitement is given the task of writing Michael Bay’s Ninja Turtles movie, or working on new dialogue so that product placements are now accompanied by an actor giving a commercial monologue on the product. This continues until that once hopeful, full-of-life writer goes all Hemmingway and starts drinking himself under his computer desk every night while tearfully writing the dialogue for Die Hard: Transforming Turtles 5. So why do I think this is what happened to Battleship?
Well at the beginning of the film we’re told that mankind has setup an enormous communications device in order to try and contact the neighboring star system. And yet the minute they get here they accidentally crash into one of our thousands of orbiting satellites which damages one of their ships, causing it to burn up in the atmosphere. This clearly wasn’t an intentional hostile act, and on more than one occasion our own satellites and space shuttles have crashed into the debris floating up there.
I’m sure the resulting crash killed thousands when it plunged into the city, but come on, that wasn’t intentional! That’s just physics and gravity. Yet, despite showing absolutely no hostile intentions what so ever, the United States and Japanese navies start shooting. Why? Fear. Suddenly there’s something in front of them that they don’t understand, and above all else, it is the unknown scares us the most. If this were any other alien invasion movie, the aliens would just start conquering the world but this is where it gets interesting: the Aliens try to make their intentions clear by refusing to fire on any ship not actively targeting them. This is actually shown in the movie, which means it was in the script somewhere but it’s never really explained. Here’s what I think the explanation could be: since their communications ship was destroyed, presumably with all their linguistic experts and translators on board, they can’t talk to us. Lacking the ability to make us understand them, humanity becomes even more frightened. Liam Neeson orders the rest of the fleet to engage and so the Aliens erect an impenetrable energy bubble around Hawaii. In part to protect themselves from the humans, and in part to prevent further loss of life to the human’s they’re here to contact. From their point of view, this is just one big misunderstanding.
That’s why, instead of constructing a beachhead and forward bases like you would do if you were an invading army, they immediately begin repairs on the giant radio telescope humanity used to contact them. What I think is happening here is the aliens are trying to contact home, either to have them send another communication ship or more likely tell them to abort any further expeditions because the natives down here are crazy! However, everyone else in the movie assumes its so they can bring reinforcements down to crush us, but why would they do that? They have absolutely no reason to conquer earth, namely because our sun is too bright for their eyes. Even with their shielded helmets direct exposure to the sun causes them to flinch away in pain. And if they wanted to conquer us I think they would have brought more ships in the first place. Remember the aliens from War of the Worlds? They had ships that were completely invulnerable to all our weapons, including nukes, and yet they still brought hundreds of ships because taking over a planet requires a lot of manpower. The aliens arrived on this planet with a grand total of four ships, one of which disintegrated after smacking into a satellite; that hardly qualifies as an invasion. Can you imagine the Allies invading the beaches Normandy with four guys and a radio?
What really convinced me that there was a greater story underneath the glossy CGI face of this movie though, was when the hero, and I use that term loosely, captures one of the aliens. The humans are all standing around trying to figure out what the hell this thing is, and trying to find out how to kill it most efficiently, when all of a sudden a wave of alien troops come tearing through a bulkhead. At this point I wouldn’t blame the aliens one iota if they just slaughtered everyone in the room, because we’ve been nothing but a bunch of hostile jackasses from the start. Instead though, they grab their injured comrade…and then leave. That’s it. This wasn’t a sneak raid on the ship, or an attempt at sabotage. It was a rescue mission.
Now this is where the script should have had our main character finally take a deep breath and maybe consider the events of the previous day; aliens that refuse to fire unless fired upon, Earth apparently a hostile environment to them, and complete lack of willingness to engage even in the face of outright human hostility. Then maybe he could take into account the fact that we asked them to come! Seriously, we sent out a big invitation toward a distant star hoping that someone would hear and come look us up but the minute they do we start blasting them in the face. It’s like Captain Cook getting harpooned by the natives, if the natives had first sent a letter to Cook asking him to come. It’s like inviting someone into your home and then using a shotgun to remove their face! And so perhaps, in the end, we still end up winning but while scouring the wreckage we somehow discover their true mission was exploration. Then, everyone looks at each other in horror when we finally realize we just shot down the alien equivalent of the Starship Enterprise.
And speaking of our main character, why on Earth would you hire Liam “I am become God of Acting” Neeson and then not use him as your main character!? Really, him being the main character would have made this movie so much more bearable. His character would also allow for a peaceful resolution to this scenario, because even if the obnoxious puffed up meatbag captain we’ve been following saw teh light and ended hostilities, he’d be in no position to officially deal with the aliens anyway. An admiral would at least have the ability to stand down his fleet. Maybe that could be the finale.
Instead of blowing up the aliens; Liam Neeson stands down his fleet, goes to the island where the aliens are repairing the satellite, and then he extends a hand. Or maybe he tries talking to them. The important part is that he would try and communicate, and just by his attempt, the aliens would see our good intentions. We could apologize for our reckless attack, and find joy in the fact that we are no longer alone in this vast empty cosmos.
In the end, I think Battleship wanted to tell an emotional story about the importance of trust and communications, and the tragic results of what happens when both break down. What we got instead was a movie so utterly forgettable that…
Wait, what was I talking about?