Peter Berg on working
They shoot movies in Hawaii, don’t they?
Yes, they do. And while I’m usually the lucky member of the IGN Movies staff who visits film sets in the middle of rural Georgia farmland, or in Random Town, Louisiana, when it came time to send someone to Hawaii for Universal Pictures’ Battleship visit, I hit the jackpot. Maybe it was luck, or perhaps it was the ghost of Milton Bradley, masterfully moving the peg piece that is me into place. Who can say?
Battleship is of course based on the board game of the same name and of “You sunk my…!” fame. It’s existed as a pencil and paper diversion for generations (at least), but Milton Bradley (the company, not the man or the ghost) eventually turned it into the plastic grid and pegs form that we all know today.
And now director Peter Berg is transforming that game into a big-budget, aliens-attack-by-sea, sci-fi action spectacular. Because that’s what movie studios do with board games these days!
It’s early September, 2010, and we’re on the deck of the USS Missouri at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor. The Missouri is now a museum ship, where tourists can walk her decks and marvel at the vessel’s grand history (it has served in three wars, and was the site of the Japanese surrender which ended World War II). The ship is amazing, not just because of its huge guns and the dramatic vantage point one has when standing on the upper deck, but also because of the many tales that color its past (not the least of which is the story of the kamikaze pilot who crashed into the ship and yet still received a proper burial at sea from the crew who he sought to kill, Rising Sun flag and all).
A different kind of story is unfolding onboard today, as Berg and his cast (Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgard, Brooklyn Decker, Rihanna and Liam Neeson) are on site along with what seems like hundreds of extras and just as many crew members. The extras are playing sailors, mostly dressed in their formal whites while Neeson’s Admiral Shane gives a big speech to the crew. Berg, who has helmed films such as Friday Night Lights, Hancock and The Kingdom, manages to break away from the action to chat with the visiting journalists.
“The idea of a contained battle, five on five, that was something that helped me [plot out the movie],” he says. “Because the idea of some kind of global battle between the U.S. and Russia and China, it just started to seem too steeped in reality and jingoistic.”
The contained battle notion comes from the game, and so what Berg has done with the concept here (scripted by Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber) is to, essentially, match an international force of human ships against a group of alien vessels which have apparently been trapped on Earth. The aliens set up some kind of force field — an “isolation dome” — in order to keep the overwhelming force of the humans from advancing, which means it’s down to Kitsch, Skarsgard and their teams, trapped within the dome as are the aliens, to… wait for it… sink the other guy’s battleship!
(Listen, if you think you’re going to read a set visit report about Battleship and not get that line a few times, then I don’t know what.)
Berg is fascinated by seafaring vessels — having grown up the son of a naval historian — so he was a natural fit to bring the Hasbro game (Hasbro bought Milton Bradley in 1984) to the big screen. But he also seems to inherently get that he’s… well, bringing a board game to the big screen. Hence the aliens and the explosions and that deck on Brooklyn Decker. Berg knows what kinds of movie Battleship needs to be.
So the sci-fi technobabble of the film fits into the rules of the game nicely. Stealth technology comes into play, meaning that the combatants can’t just zero in on their enemies but have to figure out exactly where they are before attacking. As anyone who has seen the trailer can tell you, the aliens — called the Regents — have a weapon that resembles a large version of the peg from the game that sticks into its target. (Gussied up by ILM, of course.)