It's hard to come up with different and creative ways to introduce a new film to the cynical press, but Universal Pictures and filmmaker Peter Berg were able to pull off that difficult feat on Monday when they brought a select group of journalists to San Diego to tour the active-duty destroyer U.S.S. Sterett. The reason for the rare sneak peek inside one of America's most advanced warships? Why Berg's upcoming big screen incarnation of the Hasbro game "Battleship," of course.
Now, we know what you're thinking. In fact, so does Berg. The "Hancock" and "Friday Night Lights" director is well aware of the skepticism of turning a board game into a movie. However, as the son of a Naval historian who also wrote a major high school term paper on how the Japanese could have won the Battle of Midway in WWII (he got a B+ if you're curious), Berg believes there is inherent drama in the real life strategic decisions that make a Naval warship work. In his eyes, that makes the basis of the "Battleship" game a perfect setting for a great seafaring action adventure.
As we toured the Sterett in the kind and friendly hands of Commander Darren McPhereson and his XO James Blankenship, every location we visited were key parts of the ship Berg intends to use as set pieces in "Battleship." From the gun turret control room, to the CIC, the command deck, crew quarters (hard to imagine that a submarine is more cramped), to standing around containers of 32 armed missiles or live ammunition shells, it was easy to see Berg's vision of bringing the gritty and complex world of a ship in battle to the screen. It's a tradition explored many times in submarine films such as "Crimson Tide," "U-571" or even "Das Boot," but hasn't been shown topside in quite some time. The difference between those films and "Battleship" is that Berg's vision finds today's Navy taking on...aliens.
Yes, confirming a report from Latino Review, Berg discussed his reasons for making the adversary come from another world as we flew back to Los Angeles.
"The idea of finding a credible context for [a conventional enemy] eluded me," Berg admits. "A film where America goes to war against China or America goes to war against England or Australia or Japan or any of the few countries that have credible navies. It felt like it would border on some sort of jingoistic American military exercise that I could not get my head around. I liked the idea of something that felt big, larger than lie and I liked the challenge it presented."
Berg went on to show us concept drawings created by the wizards at ILM that featured ships the aliens -- bound to the oceans mind you and referred to as The Regent -- would take on the U.S. Navy with. Arriving from space, the ships were black with a few long panes or fins below them that allow the vessel to hover or glide along the surface of the water. Berg says the idea isn't exactly hydroplaning, but movement similar to that of a water bug. He also said that like in the game, The Regent's feet of ships would be similar in power and strength of a fleet of U.S. destroyers with one Japanese warship along for good measure. The Regent's ships are a bit more advanced than current human technology, but not so much that they shoot lasers and we have a mini-version of "ID4" on our hands. They'll use similar ballistics to the missiles the American forces will have. And, of course, just like in the game some of the ships are harder to sink than others.
As for the appearance of The Regent, Berg referenced "District 9" as his inspiration for the realistic tone of the film and that while the aliens would be humanoid in some way, they would also have CG elements close to, but not as detailed to the work ILM created for the Davy Jones character in the last two "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies.
"Some are intelligent, some are more violent, but they are all concerned with the fact that they have a very real mechanical problem with one of their ships and they are trying to deal with it," Berg volunteers.
The former and sometime actor added, "They have a very specific agenda and that agenda is not global domination, but that agenda puts them into conflict with members of our Navy. And there technology is relatable. It's not incredibly far out and unbeatable. It's not incomprehensible. Hopefully it will make for a very fun and intense ride."
Our heroes will be lead by the Captain of the unnamed destroyer, his No. 2 in command, the XO, the "Mustang" who runs the control room and the ship's Engineer or as Berg referrers to him -- the "Scotty" character. Interesting fact: of the 309 crew members of the Sterett, around 90 worked directly in engineering. That's how important that segment of the ship is to keeping everything running whether its engaged with the enemy or not. Berg says they are just beginning to cast "Battleship," but it doesn't sound like there will be a lot of big names attached to the production. The filmmaker says he's a big fan of how J.J. Abrams cast "Star Trek" which was filled with young, up and comers who weren't exactly household names before the blockbuster was released. As for where the picture would shoot, Berg told HitFix most would take place in Australia, but he didn't commit to a start date.
Back to those aliens. For those of you who are assuming the game's creator Hasbro or the studio came up with that idea it's entirely not the case. Berg says both of the companies behind the film have allowed for a tremendous amount of creative freedom and both Hasbro and fans will enjoy "a lot of really great homages to the game."
Berg adds, "A relatively sophisticated filmgoer can go, 'My hat's off. That's a great wink. That's a great reference to a board game I frankly never thought of.'"
One figure who has already had his say about Berg's cinematic "Battleship" is none other than Stephen Colbert, who mocked the news by engaging in a dramatic version of the game with guest Jeff Goldblum. Berg takes it all in stride.
"I thought it was hilarious. I hear it. I've heard it countless times. 'What's the movie? Why the movie?' I've come up with an interpretation of the movie a little bit of what you've seen. I believe I can pull it off and make it work so all of you guys aren't like sharpening all your swords for mine and everyone else's head."
"Flattered" that Colbert took the time to mock the project (thereby giving it pop culture credibility) Berg adds, "I have a response to Stephen Colbert that is about to be put out virally. I'm a huge fan of his though."
That was news to our Universal rep as well as the reporters, but we're all curious just what that response will be. Perhaps a game challenge for Mr. Colbert? We wouldn't bet against it.
Most important, however, what many moviegoers want to know is whether Berg and his screenwriters have found a way to insert the famous line from the game "You sunk my battleship!" within the film.
Without missing a beat, Berg replies, "Hell yeah."
That may be all he needs to make "Battleship"a blockbuster when it hits theaters sometime in 2011.
To find out Berg's thoughts on the upcoming "Hancock" sequel (hint: not so fast Sony), click here.
What do you think of a movie version of "Battleship"? Share your thoughts below.