The coordinates of Battleship

This board game adaptation is surprisingly fun, but unsurprisingly dumb.

In Battleship, a plucky team of Navy crewmen fight for the survival of Earth against an unknown alien force. The exposition also sets up a bit of a romantic sub-plot between the protagonist (Taylor Kitch), a Lieutenant on a US Navy destroyer, and the admiral’s daughter (Brooklyn Decker), a leggy, blond, physical therapist.

Just as a round of international war games are about to begin, mysterious objects from the sky crash into the ocean, and one of them sets up a force field that traps three US destroyers near Hawaii along with three alien ships of roughly equivalent role, if not slightly better fire-power and maneuverability.

The science is preposterous, of course, but not as bad as it could have been. The aliens came to our world because of a targeted signal sent out from earth, which is seeking intelligent life on a specific planet, one which seems to have similar atmosphere and gravity to that of earth.

The signal was sent out in 2005, and the aliens arrived here in 2012. Anyone with even a Star Trek level of space travel knowledge knows that even the closest star systems to our own are too far for that to be possible unless the alien technology includes faster-than-light travel.

However, the “Planet-G” that they talk about in the film is actually 20 light years away, and even if we had discovered it in 2005 (it was discovered in 2010), any signal we sent to it would not arrive for quite some time still.

That’s just one example; every bit of ‘science’ in the film is similar. I mean: at least the aliens didn’t arrive the day after the signal was launched.

What they did seem to get right was the naval operations. The filmmakers consulted with the US Navy for their operations material, wanting to make the Navy in the film look and feel genuine. Fortunately,  they succeeded. I’m sure a veteran of the force would be able to find something silly, but my untrained eye was convinced.

The protagonist, while well-played, is entirely unlikable. He’s not a lovable screw up, he’s just a screw-up. He’s abrasive, arrogant, and selfish, and his redeeming actions only just barely redeem him. In fact, very few of the characters are interesting or relatable. The supporting characters are mostly just walking clichés. The girlfriend is caring to a fault, the admiral is shouty and perpetually stone-faced, the scientists are all bespectacled wimps, etc. All of the epiphanies and revelations are completely predictable, and totally non-compelling. Sometimes, I wondered if I wasn’t watching an advert for the US Navy recruitment office.

However, the effects and the alien design are outstanding. The aliens themselves are a bit silly, but the ships, armor, and weapons are all neat, sort of Eldritch meets HALO. The cinematography is artful, and the detail in the CGI is impressive.

The action and combat scenes are fiery and rousing. Most of the film is action scenes of one type or another with very little down-time, so it’s easy to get lost in all the action, but everything remains clear throughout, so the audience is rarely left guessing what’s going on. The slow-motion bits are well-placed, and the music is perfect for each fight.

I also really enjoy some of the ways they work the mechanics of the classic, tactical, guessing game into the plot of the film and there are a lot of clever moments. I especially liked the way the producers worked the coordinates grid from the game into the film, when one of the characters had the idea to base their targeting on tsunami buoys, which are named on a grid, with names like E11 and F32. The big thing, of course, is the idea of the blind, matching fleets on a limited field of engagement. It would have been even better had the fleets matched the ones from the game (Destroyer, Battleship, Carrier, Submarine, Cruiser).

Overall, Battleship is a fun film with some great cheering moments, but you’ll have to take it for what it is if you want to enjoy it. The under-developed plot and poorly-wrought characters might be too much for some to ignore.

Battleship is in theaters now.