Saturday 10 August 2013

Film: Battleship (2012)

Yes, I know, I probably shouldn't have been watching this film given the volume of critical comment it received on its release last year. The fact is I had just bought my first Blu-ray player because my DVD player had died (I am not exactly an "early adopter" of new technology and don't generally replace equipment while it's still working) and was looking for a cheap Blu-ray film to try it out. The store had a BOGOF offer on a few remaindered discs, only a couple of which were SF films I hadn't already seen, Battleship being one of them.

The plot is simple enough: hopelessly idealistic scientists (led by a gormless Brit, who else?) send a welcome message to an Earth-type planet orbiting Gliese. They receive in response several hostile spaceships which land in the Pacific near Hawaii, where they are engaged by some USN and Japanese ships on exercise. The heroes (no, I don't mean the aliens, silly) have to resort to the old battleship USS Missouri, now a museum ship in Pearl Harbour. They eventually win, the principal hero gets the girl, and the survivors live happily ever after (oops, sorry, hope these unexpected revelations won't spoil the surprise!).

My expectations were very low which probably helped me to enjoy the first part of this film a little more than I had anticipated. The story had a bit more character depth and humour than I had expected and the CGI of the alien spaceships was fun. However, while Taylor Kitsch seemed more comfortable in his role than he was in John Carter, I still find it hard to understand why he's given leading roles at all. The only real actor in the production was Liam Neeson, who could do this sort of thing in his sleep (and looked as if he was).

The film's main problem is of course the lack of credibility. No, I don't mean alien spaceships promptly arriving from 22 light years away, which even if their ships could travel instantaneously meant that they wouldn't have received the message from Earth for 22 years. I don't even mean the ludicrously inefficient guns with which the aliens, clearly aggressive beings with technology centuries ahead of ours, fired at the human ships (although the giant circular saws were fun). Or even the way in which one USN destroyer was able to knock out two of the giant spaceships simultaneously. Or even that the hero not only captained the ship but was off doing all sorts of other heroic things, such as chasing aliens gun in hand through his ship, and subsequently engaging a spaceship with a .50 cal rifle. Captain, that sort of thing is what you have a crew for, you should be in the CIC directing operations.

No, what really blew it for me was the central focus of the film, the battleship. This put to sea apparently with no delay, crewed by a few sailors from a modern destroyer guided by handful of veterans on museum duty, and successfully engaged the enemy. Umm, guys, this ship was decommissioned in 1992 and was made a museum ship in 1998. The very first thing that a navy does on decommissioning a warship is to fully destore it, with particular emphasis being given to removing all ammunition. The idea that after a decade as a museum ship it would have live HE shells and propellant cartridges on board, not to mention fuel in the tanks and boilers full of water, is ludicrous, as is the notion that you could just turn the metaphorical ignition key and sail off in it (it takes a long time to raise a head of steam). Not to mention sail and fight it with a couple of dozen crew. When last in commission this ship needed 1850 men to crew it and while it wouldn't need all of those for a quick trip to fire the main guns at the enemy, each of the three 16 inch triple turrets required 77 men to operate it. The fire control system was complex and also required a large and highly specialised crew, but in the film they fortunately had Rihanna, who could do it all by herself a few minutes after arriving on board. I was also amused by the way four men carried an HE shell through the ship. Even the "lightweight" 16 inch HE shell weighed in at 1800 lbs (the AP shell was much heavier). And anyway, that class of ship had a built-in transport system specifically designed for transfering ammunition between magazines. Now you may say that it unreasonable of me to use my somewhat specialised knowledge to criticise the film, but if they're making such a big fuss of featuring the battleship they might at least try to get major facts concerning it in vague sniffing distance of reality.

So yes, the film deserved to bomb. It seems that to enjoy modern blockbusters like these it is helpful to be as ignorant as possible, since the more you know, the more nonsensical they become. I found this one best enjoyed as a spoof, like an "Airplane!" version of a silly action movie, but it could have done with some better jokes.

1 comment:

Danny F said...

The film was advertised as being loosely based on the game of the same name. Yes, the gridded sheet of paper, 'B5', 'You've sunk my submarine' one.

Hollywood must have run out of 1960's cartoon shows to 'adapt'.