Battleship: The Recruiting Video, or, the ballad of Taylor Kitsch

Annette and I went to see Battleship last night, because we wanted to see something completely unique and different.  We were not disappointed.

New and different?  Really?  Another space alien invasion movie?  Yes.  Certainly there have been other movies in which evil-minded space aliens invade Earth and are defeated by the righteous forces of the American military.  I can think of a couple, maybe.  One or two.  Possibly.

But this is the first one in which the aliens are defeated by the US Navy.  So that’s new.  Plus–and I think I can say this without fear of interruption–it’s the first action movie based on a popular Hasbro board game.  (Don’t talk to me about ClueClue was a spoof.)

‘But what has this to do with Taylor Kitsch?’ you may ask.  ‘And is that really his name?’  Yes, that’s his name, and yes, he’s the star of Battleship, Tony Tacky and Tommy Tchotchkes being unavailable. And why does that explain why a couple of college-educated liberal humanists like Annette and I went to see it?

Back in 1988, a sportswriter named Buzz Bissinger moved to Odessa Texas and spent football season following the local high school football team. (I promise, this will make sense). The book that resulted, Friday Night Lights, was a really quite exceptional look at a community, a school, and particularly a few of the players.  In 2004, a film was made based on the book–it starred Billybob Thornton as the local coach, and was directed by Bissinger’s cousin, Peter Berg.  Berg was so taken by the subject, he decided to turn it into a TV series, fictionalizing the town (which became Dillon), and characters.  Coach Eric Taylor was played by Kyle Chandler and his wife, Tami, by Connie Britton.  And the break-out character in the series became the team’s fullback, Tim Riggins.  Played by Taylor Kitsch. 

My wife does not like football, and did not expect to like the series.  We watched one episode, and she was hooked.  She loved Tami Taylor, and loved the depiction of the Taylor marriage.  Coach and Mrs. Coach loved each other deeply, but squabbled and fought and made mistakes–it felt like a real marriage.  But we also loved the whole Riggins story thread.  Tim Riggins was a slow-talking, beer drinking Texas good-old-boy, a tough, partying, womanizing redneck, with a messed up family, but also a loyal friend, and a man with a remarkable capacity for kindness and loyalty and sensitivity. The show was brilliantly written and acted, and somehow survived five seasons.  And Kitsch was great in it.

The director of Battleship, the movie, was Peter Berg.  

We wondered what Taylor Kitsch would do post-Friday Night Lights.  The answer is, became a movie star for two months.  The way to be a movie star is to play the hero in a big budget action movie.  He’s had two this year.  John Carter of Mars: turkey.  (Which I reviewed for Provo Orem Word).  And Battleship: turkey. Which means, wearing my Hollywood prophet hat: he’s going to be blamed for two bad movies, he’s not going to be a movie star, and he’s a good enough actor to have a long career anyway. 

Here’s the thing about Battleship, though, which is a very strange movie.  It’s based on a board game–we’ve all played it.  It’s called Battleship.  The US Navy doesn’t have battleships anymore–they were all decommissioned years ago.  If you set the movie in the past, when we had battleships, you have to have them fight plausible enemies of the past, which means the Japanese, and there goes your Asian market.  Or you give them some other enemy (aliens!), and figure out some way to put in a battleship.  So at one point in the movie, Kitsch, playing Navy lieutenant Alex Hopper, commandeers the USS Missouri, which is a decommissioned battleship now anchored off Maui serving as a museum.  And we’re not supposed to wonder why a museum ship still has working boilers and carries live ammo. 

But the only way the US Navy is going to let you use the Missouri is by letting the movie be very pro-navy.  And it is.  I’m not opposed to that.  But, for example, it starts with a ceremony scene, in which Liam Neeson gives a speech honoring the contributions of these elderly former Missouri sailors.  And then the same old guys end up sailing their ship into battle, and doing righteous battle against space aliens.  It was great, it was even sort of inspirational, and it was also kinda nuts. 

Battleship is a board game, a grid game–you try to guess where your opponent has hidden his ships, so you guess–‘B-22, F-14’ and so on.  So you need something like that in the movie.  The aliens have knocked out all radar, radio, advanced electronics.  But they can access tsunami alert buoys.  So the alien ships move by doing this kind of breaching whale move–which means they would set off sensors in the buoys, which means Kitsch and his crew can look at this grid and kind of guess where the aliens are.  Shoot blind, miss a few, then bingo!  Sorry, that’s funny stuff, the way it manages to a) reflect the board game, b) demonstrate the ingenuity of Our Sailors Today, and c) make for pretty inventive and cool looking aliens.

The music.  Oh, my heck, the music.  Like: montage showing the old guys getting the Missouri ready for combat–the music was AC/DC, “Thunder.”  Cool song for that montage, but appropriate for seventy-year olds?  My favorite was the closing credit music–“Fortunate Son,” CCR.  It’s a movie celebrating the US Navy.  And that’s an anti-war song!  It’s like the rest of the movie–it’s cool looking, and cool sounding and exciting, and it doesn’t make any actual sense. 

You have to have some female characters in this thing, right?  Well, why not give a couple of pretty non-actors a shot at a role in a major motion picture?  So Rihanna plays a weapons officer, and supermodel Brooklyn Decker plays Taylor Kitsch’s girlfriend.  And they’re both okay, not bad at all. 

I forgot the soldier with no legs, who uses his prosthetics to defeat an alien in hand-to-hand.  I forgot the fact that the aliens put up this huge barrier thing, so Kitsch’s boat is separated from the rest of the fleet, which means it’s the alien fleet against one destroyer (and eventually, a battleship) while Admiral Liam Neeson spends the whole movie going ‘we’ve got to get past that barrier!’ and then not doing anything. 

It’s a stupid movie, is what I’m saying.  But I feel bad saying that. It took real ingenuity to figure out how to turn a board game into a movie. Great creativity is required to make a movie this dumb.  And the movie was fun.  So was John Carter–both were fun.  Just not, you know, good. 

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