Across the Universe: 'Battleship' on Blu-Ray
Is the era of the brainless blockbuster over?
By Don Kaye
Special to MSN Movies
Watching “Battleship” on Blu-ray (it arrived on Tuesday in a BD/DVD combo edition), one is first struck by the impressiveness of the disc itself. “Battleship” would make what is called a great “demonstration disc”: a Blu-ray to put on so one can demonstrate the vividness of the image or the clarity of the sound. Even with the volume fairly low, the audio has real power and heft, while the visual component of the film is never less than dazzlingly sharp and detailed. This is state-of-the-art home entertainment.
On a technical level, the same can be said for the movie itself. Directed by Peter Berg, “Battleship” was made for a reported $209 million, and it’s a film in which one can say that every dollar is on the screen. Based (loosely) on the Hasbro board game, the movie chronicles a massive battle at sea between U.S. Navy warships and the leading edge of an invading alien fleet. The game, which did not feature aliens, was about strategy and outthinking your opponent. The movie pays lip service to that but is really all about blowing things up in really spectacular fashion, which it does frequently and well. Berg goes big in the movie with the pyrotechnics, special effects and battle sequences, which are all impeccable on a technical level.
It’s sad, then, that all this effort was spent on such an empty exercise. Because that’s what “Battleship” is: a hollow shell of a film that looks fantastic, can even be occasionally entertaining in a slack-jawed way, but leaves one with that, pardon the pun, sinking feeling that one has just lost two hours and 10 minutes that could have been spent doing something else. It has all the surface excitement of a video game, contains not a single character that resonates as a real person, and slathers it all in a cheap glorification of the military that is made ironic by the use of the song “Fortunate Son” over the closing credits.
Berg (who also made the excellent “The Kingdom” a few years ago) seems to genuinely like the material, and his cast (Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgard, Rihanna, Brooklyn Decker) give their all despite not one of them actually being a decent on-screen presence. The cast’s generic nature and a lack of genuine tension or emotional investment add to the sense that this is one big, cynical piece of Hollywood “product”: Reference some nostalgic memento of years past – a quaint board game, in this case – puff it up to the size of a behemoth, throw in some aliens, visual razzle-dazzle, human eye candy and a dash of faux patriotism, and watch the money roll in.
Except that didn’t happen. “Battleship” was probably the second-biggest flop of the year behind “John Carter” (also starring Kitsch, who needs to rethink his career). Even with overseas box office being considerably better than U.S., the movie has lost $100 million for Universal Pictures. But equally idiotic and similar films like “Transformers” (of which this is heavily reminiscent) do blockbuster business every time out. What gives?
Perhaps alien invasions are played out at the multiplex, or maybe the board game just didn’t stir too many memories in the era of video games that are getting closer all the time to virtual reality. Or perhaps … 2012 was the year that audiences finally tired of movies that were all brawn and no brain.
We’d love to think that was the case, since it was character-driven spectacles like “The Avengers,” “The Dark Knight Rises” and “The Hunger Games” (and to a lesser extent, “The Amazing Spider-Man”) that all did the blockbuster business at the box office this year. All of those movies gave viewers the action and excitement required, yet each also focused on creating or extending memorable characters and even touching on serious themes (“The Hunger Games” and “TDKR” were especially strong in that regard). Did “Battleship” – or “John Carter” or “Dark Shadows” or “Total Recall” -- offer anything like that?
No, we didn’t think so either. Now, of course, as we hinted above, we may be too hopeful that this is the case – all it takes is “Pirates of the Caribbean 5” or “Transformers 4” to make us look stupid or naïve about audiences’ tastes. But there could be a real reason why “Battleship” and all those movies we mentioned above either failed outright or underperformed in theaters – and that may be that moviegoers are tired of movies treating them like morons.
In the meantime, if you want some of that feeling back again, feel free to put in “Battleship” on the Blu-ray player. As we noted earlier, the disc itself is a pleasure to watch, and as dumb as the movie is, it looks and sounds amazing. There’s a bevy of special features, most of them mini-docs or featurettes on various aspects of making the film, and once you’ve watched the whole thing, you can take it out and forget all about it. It should take about three minutes.