Yesterday I took an incredible trip: boarding a private jet in Van Nuys, I and a handful of other reporters went down to San Diego, where we toured the USS Sterett, the most modern destroyer in the US Navy, and met with director Peter Berg. Seeing how a cutting edge warship works would have been more than enough to drag me out of my house, but the real reason for the trip was to talk about Berg’s next movie, Battleship. Yes, the film based on the board game.
A couple of weeks ago Latino Review revealed that the bad guys in Battleship won’t be another Earthly navy but in fact an alien fleet; that revelation is what spurred Berg and Universal to put this expedition together, as they wanted to get information about the movie – which won’t start filming until next spring – out there to combat rumor, speculation and the natural skepticism that comes from hearing a movie is being made from one of the most plotless board games of all time.
Berg opened up the info floodgates, even showing us pre-production concepts of the alien ships. Designed by ILM, who will be doing the FX, the alien ships look like giant water bugs, with giant hydrofoil legs that race across the surface of the sea. They’re huge, black and scary looking.
One of the other images Berg showed us was the USS Missouri, a battleship (see below for more on it) with its guns blazing, being pushed sideways by the force of the blasts. The image was a poster mock up with the tagline ‘Fight the Ship’ emblazoned at the bottom. Fighting the ship is a bit of Navy lingo for manning the ship in a battle, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the official tagline when the movie comes out.
I’m going to be bringing you more about my experience on the Sterett, but in the meantime here are some of the salient points that Berg shared with us on the plane ride home.
- The alien race is known as The Regents. They will be a combo of actors and CGI; Berg used Davey Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean as a reference point, although he did make sure we knew that the design of The Regents is much less complex than Jones’ heavily betentacled face.
Berg: They have a similar biological make-up to us, and they come from a place with a similar ecology to ours. Our planet is of interest to us ecologically.
- The aliens aren’t on Earth to take over or destroy us. They have a goal on Earth – a goal Berg wouldn’t explain beyond saying they’re building something (he showed us concept art of this, and all I can really tell you is it looks like they’re building a huge bivouac) – and that goal brings the aliens into conflict with a five ship fleet.
Berg: I would actually say it’s more A Bridge Over the River Kwai. They’re trying to build something because they’re in trouble, and they need a power source. They’re trying to get something completed, and they’re not particularly concerned with any life that [gets in their way]. They don’t have anything against you, but if you interfere with their agenda, they’ll kill you.
- The Regents don’t have super technology. Their weapons are ballistics-based. While their boats are inserted into Earth’s atmosphere through flight, once they get to the water they stay on the water. At least one of their ships is damaged; this is likely part of why they’re on Earth.
Berg: Some of [the alien ships] are very violent. Some of them aren’t, but some of them are the equivalent of our destroyers. They fire ballistics, explosive ballistics.
[The Regent ship is] able to move in different directions. It’s not entirely hydrofoil, but if you’ve ever seen slow motion of water bugs, how they can move along the sea, think about that.
They’ve got a problem. Upon arrival one of their ships is severely damaged and that poses a logistic problem for them. [Note: could this be why they can’t just take off back to space?]
- We’ll get to know The Regents. Berg doesn’t intend to keep their tactics or their mission a big secret from audiences. We will see at least some of the action from their side.
Berg: You’ll understand [the aliens]. ILM’s doing a terrific job of creating The Regents, the folks who inhabit these ships. Some of them are very scientific and very intelligent, not violent at all, and others are more violent. But they’re all concerned with the fact that they have a very real mechanical problem with one of their ships, and they’re trying to deal with that.
- The hero of the film is the Commanding Officer of a destroyer. The destroyer is the main ship in the film, and during the tour of the Sterett Berg told us (and the Sterett’s CO confirmed) that battleships are mostly sidelined in today’s Navy.
- The hero has a team of five guys. Among them will be the XO, a Mustang (an enlisted man who has risen through the ranks to become an officer) and the chief engineer, who Berg calls a ‘modern day Scotty.’
- There is a battleship component, but Berg won’t explain how it works. However, he did mention that
- There is a WWII component as well. While the movie is set in the modern day and features the most cutting edge naval tech, a WWII element comes into play. I’m just spitballing here, but I bet that the alien’s goal, as well as the enigmatic battleship, are connected to this WWII component.
- Aspects of the game will be in the movie, and Berg wants them in there as intelligently as possible. As you know, the whole point of Battleship is guessing where your enemy has his ships, and sinking them. While touring the Sterett Berg pointed out ways that actual naval warfare could be applied to this concept. For instance, while visiting the CIC, we were shown how the destroyer identifies boats, planes, subs and other objects around it (they’re called tracks) and then makes the decision if they’re friendly or hostile. We were then shown how, using high tech weapons systems, the destroyer fires upon the track and adjusts fire if need be. Of course, what would happen if all of that technology doesn’t work? Well…
- The Regents will in some way render the Navy’s high tech inoperable. Falling back on old school methods, our heroes must track and destroy the alien fleet with whatever tools they have, including trial and error. Just like in the game.
Berg: These ships don’t constantly show up on our radar; we can’t find them. The ways we go about fighting them is a recurring theme throughout the film.
- This is more strategic warfare. Again, since the alien tech is not unbeatable or far beyond our own, and since Berg wants to reflect the game, the battle won’t be about our Navy fighting an unstoppable opponent but rather about two evenly matched groups out-thinking one another through strategy.
Berg: Some take more shots to sink and kill than do others. Just like our ships. But they’re killable.
- Someone will say ‘You sank my battleship!’ in the movie. In fact, Berg is adamant that it has to be there. He also said there will be other nods to the game.
Berg: Hells yeah!
- The hero fleet will be cut off from the rest of the world in some way. There will be a five ship fleet taking on The Regents, and for whatever reason, they cannot communicate with the rest of the Navy and so must handle the threat on their own.
- The hero fleet will have an international component. One of the ships will be Japanese. Will this Japanese ship be part of the WWII component? Unclear.
- There will be close quarters fighting. In the Navy they call it a ‘knife fight,’ when two ships are close enough to fire small caliber weapons at one another (keep in mind that in the Navy a small caliber weapon is a huge machine gun. That’s small when compared to the mammoth 5 inch rounds the destroyer’s main gun fires).
- Berg wants to make Battleship as realistic a look at naval battle as possible, considering the bad guys are aliens. Berg opted not to have any Earthly foe because he thought the plot gymanstics required to explain why the US Navy is at war with any of the comparable navies would be too much.
Berg: The idea of finding a credible context for that eluded me. The idea of a film where America goes to war against China, or a movie where America goes to war against England or Australia or Japan, one of the countries that has a credible navy, felt like it would borderline on some kind of jingoistic American military exercise I couldn’t get my head around. I like the idea of something bigger, larger than life and the challenge it presented.
- They’re casting now. Berg says he’s a fan of the way JJ Abrams cast Star Trek, which I take to mean he’s looking for some unknowns (but if you’re reading this, Peter – John Hamm as the captain of the destroyer!)
- The USS Missouri could play a role. This is interesting for a couple of reasons: The Missouri is a battleship in service today, but it also fought in WWII. The ship had been decommissioned but was refitted in the 90s, modernizing it. But there’s more! The Missouri is where the Japanese surrendered at the end of WWII – you get your WII, your battleship and an aspect of the Japanese all in here.
Berg: It’s in Hawaii now. It fired the first shot in the Iraq War. It’s a 900 foot battleship, it’s got 16 inch guns. The one 5 inch gun you saw on the destroyer is more accurate because of the radar system, but the power of this ship is awesome and unequaled. When it fires [the ship] blows about 50 yards sideways. They call it fighting the ship.
- Our tour of the Sterett was intended to show us locations that will be in the movie. They included the bridge, the 5-inch gun loading bay, the rocket loading bay and the CIC (combat command center).
- Berg has a response to Stephen Colbert’s joke about the movie that will be put out virally.
- Dune impacted Berg making this film. While that film won’t happen, the prep gave him confidence to do Battleship.
Berg: It got me excited about the idea of world creation. Any time you embark on world creation – even if you’re James Cameron and you did it before, even if you grew up designing space ships – it’s any incredibly daunting and unnerving task. To think ‘Okay, I’m going to throw my hat in the ring of world creation,’ you’ve seen my films, I’ve never done that before, and it was intimidating. I met with enough world creation designers to get over the hump and understand how you would go about doing it. - Expect Battleship in IMAX. And Berg is also thinking about shooting some sequences in 3D.
Look for my recounting of the visit to the Sterett later. In the meantime, give us your thoughts and speculation on our message boards.