A Battleship movie?
The inspiration to create a blockbuster film can come from anywhere, from comic books (The Avengers) to theme park rides (Pirates of the Caribbean) or even from popular video games (…uhhhh, we'll have to get back to you on that one) so can’t a board game that turned a simple guessing game into a mock simulation of strategic naval conflict be turned into an big summer movie featuring Liam Neeson (Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace)? After all, like a lot of things that come out of Hollywood, it’s been done before.
In 1985 Paramount released Clue, a movie that adopted the board game of the same name’s process-of-elimination detective gameplay into a murder mystery farce taking place in front of the backdrop of American early Cold War era paranoia. Despite the popularly of the board game the movie version was not well received, earning less than 15 million in non-adjusted dollars, but it lives on as a cult hit thanks to its casting of solid comedic character actors, a simple but sharply written screenplay and its trailblazing use of alternate endings.
So what can a nearly thirty year-old movie about a completely different game tell us about the Battleship movie before it is even released? Quite a bit, what makes a good board game isn’t that far from what makes a great movie. What are the elements that make it engaging? Is there at least the illusion that the competition is fair, that the universe the game creates plays by its own rules? And is victory something that is achievable in a clear, satisfactory fashion that doesn’t make the loser(s) want to flip the table over in a rage?
In the Clue movie, the player’s color coded avatars are largely fleshed out based on their names and/or sketchy descriptions given in the game’s rulebook. Martin Mull’s (Roseanne) former military man Colonel Mustard or Christopher Lloyd’s (Back To The Future) absent-minded Professor Plum are straight from the source while others were reimagined like Mrs. White from a nosey maid into Madeline Kahn’s (Blazing Saddles) “Black Widow” archetype.
The Battleship game is completely lacking in characterization, which works both to its benefit and detriment. Players are at the ‘controls’ of one of two completely identical navies, distinct in only the color of their individual game board and sometimes not even by that. This has freed the movie of any constraint to have to shoehorn in any established canon and instead focus on the cannons of the titular vessel. Just as the game itself is only a simulation of strategy, the film appears to be an arcade version of naval combat, more like its visual sister film Transformers than realistic cinematic depictions of naval warfare like Sink The Bismarck or Run Silent, Run Deep.
While the disparate rooms in the game Clue were separated by rolls of the dice taken in turn, the film substituted this orderly process for a lot of madcap dashing about in a mansion set designed specifically to emulate the rooms found on the game board, right down to the enigmatic ‘conservatory,’ a room whose purpose was as ill-defined in the movie as it was to the 99% of game playing children who did not grow up in a English-style manor house.On the other hand, movement is strictly verboten in Battleship. Despite the natural tactical advantage for a ship to be able to move during combat, in a fashion that would make the guards at Buckingham Palace run screaming for cover, the Battleship game forces the players’ navies to trade blows while sitting still as the shells zero in on them. One hopes that the heroes (and for the sake of drama, the villains), of the Battleship movie break that particular game commandment.
Unlike the classic locked room/closed circuit mysteries that are at the heart of both the game and movie versions of Clue, the timelessness of Battleship is in doubt. Great gunned warships are largely relics of the past as technology expands the range of navies to project force and protect shipping far beyond the ballistic reach of cannon fire. The battleship itself is now just about as archaic as the phalanx or trench warfare, more so in the age of the single Superpower that makes the idea of two equal forces meeting at sea unlikely. Clearly deep thinking went into a cinematic solution to this conundrum that surely adheres to the logic of a beloved game that has endured for decades.
Or they went with aliens.
Oh well, there is always Hungry, Hungry Hippos.