Sinking Battleship

Every year for 20 years I asked for Electronic Battleship for my birthday. I never got it, and instead made due with the standard, analog iteration that didn’t have cool sound effects. Flash foward: I’m 41, and I still don’t have Electronic Battleship, but I did get to watch the cinematic disaster movie based on the game of the same name.

My 9-year-old self never saw that one coming.

The movie answer the question of the Great Silence; namely if there are so many alien civilizations in the galaxy, why have we never heard from them? In a moment that would make David Brin proud, NASA decides to beam a laser message at a nearby habitable planet. The Earth is subsequently invaded, which Brin could have told you is exactly what you’d expect to happen. Thus the answer to the question is … if you speak up, someone tries to kill you. If you’re dead, you can’t talk … and thus, the Great Silence.

Some how I doubt that was the message the movie was going for. Battleship takes a while to get going, slowly introducing its cadre of characters including the obligatory loose canon Lieutenant Alex Hopper, his beautiful physical therapist girlfriend Sam, and her father, =Admiral Shane (played my Liam Neeson, whom I’m guessing really just wanted a reason to hangout in Hawaii for a few months).

Eventually space debris begins raining down on the planet, crashing to earth near the Hawaiian islands, though one errant piece smashes into Hong Kong. The U.S. Navy is engaged in wargames, and suddenly finds a contingent of missle cruisers and destroyers cut off from the main fleet by an alien force field.

Shortly there after there’s a brutal fight in which the humans learn just how outgunned they are one of the cruiser’s is ripped apart by alien tech. It’s a suitably devastating spectacle, but it demonstrates the movie’s underlying weakness: it’s nothing but spectacle. Ships blow up, alien ships stagger under cruise missile attacks, but it’s all just Electronic Battleship, scaled up to the big screen.

Clearly the film’s creators and backers thought this would be enough, but it’s not and even my 9-year-old self would agree. After all … he’d seen Empire Strikes Back.

The movie is contrived to fit the logic of a board game, assuming that if a toy like Transformers could be turned into a major franchise, so could this. But while the Transformers trilogy is a wretched excuse for cinema, it at least had the underpinnings of a vintage cartoon and the good sense to bring back an actor who’s voice epitomized The Forces of Good for a generation. Transformers may have been a mess of gears and haphazard plotting, but it had nostalgia going for it and the occasionally cool action sequence.

Battleship on the other hand, is most notable for memories of my friends and I happily cheating our way through game after game, silently moving our destroyers out of harm’s way, lying about hits and misses, and generally trying to scheme our way to victory (or more likely, the inevitable fight over who was cheating…)

There’s no nostalgia there, just the mental disbelief that someone could take a rainy Saturday board game and turn it into a $220 million movie.

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