Transformers was essentially a 20 minute advert for the collectible figurines, which went on to become a series of Michael Bay blockbusters. While merchandise is probably the main reason George Lucas gave Star Wars a 3D overhaul. Just when you thought Hollywood had milked the "toy" department dry... Hasbro smashes a mini champagne bottle on Battleship, a popular table top game and now $200 million blockbuster.
Most people's first response to hearing that Battleship has been adapted to live-action film is a quizzical look... followed by "you're joking?". Ironically, the lead naval officer and protagonist is Taylor Kitsch, probably best known for his title role in box office flop John Carter. It's not a great precursor for a film, which you would expect to be wafer thin, short on plot and ready to belly flop like that old lady from Titanic.
Surprisingly, Collateral director Peter Berg and R.E.D. writing duo the brothers Hoeber manage to keep Battleship afloat. You'd expect the producers to go for a World War II inspired historical piece about two commanders in a naval fleet duel, but everyone still has a special place in their heart for that shrapnel from Pearl Harbor and how would that translate their Transformers market?
So the next best thing was to go for an all-out alien encounter to revitalise the Hasbro game and serve up fresh popcorn entertainment, tongue planted in one cheek with a slice of cheese in the other. How else could you explain Peter MacNicol (better known as John Cage from Ally McBeal) as U.S. Secretary of Defense?
Battleship is probably best described as Top Gun meets Transformers, with a dash of Hunt for Red October. You can visualise the pitch: "What if the enemy was... wait for it, ALIEN: armed, dangerous and bringing their own seafaring spaceships and weaponry to the party?"
Instead of Tom "Maverick" Cruise, we've got the new and improved Christian Slater 2.0... also known as Taylor Kitsch. Alexander Skarsgard replaces Val "Iceman" Kilmer, Liam Neeson gives the blockbuster some credibility, while Rihanna tags-and-bags a typical Michelle Rodriguez role with Just Go with It's Brooklyn Decker to rile up the seamen.
The visual effects are what you'd expect from a film with a $200 million budget. They could have given Liam Neeson more screen time instead of the glorified cameo and it could have wrapped about fifteen minutes sooner, but that wouldn't have left enough time to star-spangle some real American bravado for the final showdown.
Other than that Battleship actually makes for pretty decent popcorn entertainment. The action sci-fi element and strategic warfare are the focus with a bit of light comedy around the fringes. Not nearly as pathetic as you'd expect from the Chess/Minesweeper bastard board game, in which most of the fun is in making your own explosion noises. KA-BLOUGH!!! Don't fight it.
The bottom line: Fun