Why 2012’s ‘Battleship’ Is My Latest Guilty Pleasure

The glory days of the battleship USS Missouri (the actual ship is shown above) began in World War II, peaking on her deck in Tokyo Bay as the Japanese signed the surrender documents. It’s now a museum piece, but (according to this film, but far from reality) still fueled, armed, and ready to go with a skeleton crew at a moment’s notice.

The opening of this 2012 box-office misfire nearly sank it for me. Taylor Kitsch, in his usual wooden but well-buffed style, plays Alex Hopper, a loser whose Naval-officer brother convinces him to sign up and make something of himself.

The next time we see Alex he’s a full Navy lieutenant—a head-spinning development given what we see of him in the film’s opening scenes. And he’s still a bit of a slacker, arriving late for a major formation and at risk of being discharged if he screws up again.

So goes the plot’s laughable first 15 minutes. From then on, however, Battleship becomes a solid science-fiction actioner. The plot kicks in when we learn that we’ve sent a message to a nearby habitable planet (though nearby in this case suggests beyond the solar system by several light years!). The response to this is a visit in the form of alien spacecraft larger than any of Earth’s warships, plus some nasty, highly advanced weaponry. They’re obviously not here to chat, or start friending us on their Facebook page. They splash down near Hawaii, where our hero Alex is participating in a multinational naval exercise.

As with most sci-fi films, science is the first thing to get tossed out the window. The distances involved in travelling from even the nearest star (particularly with such an immense payload) are, as usual, ignored. A later plot point involves the aliens trying to communicate with their home world; their communications vessel was lost on Earth entry. But are they prepared to wait at least 10 years for a response? While no one in the film stops to consider this minor wrinkle, it’s common sci-fi shorthand. Warp drive, anyone?

If you can get past the Hollywood science, however, Battleshipcontinues on as a fun ride. Director Peter Berg knows his way around an action film (his three most recent efforts were Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day. As drama, this is nowhere near those efforts, but we don’t expect them to be. The special effects here are extremely well done, and the designs for the alien craft and weapons unique. The link to the classic Battleship game is also clever. And while the entry of the battleship itself in the plot is more than a bit far-fetched, it’s nevertheless part of a well-choreographed action sequence. There’s even tactical homage (or rip-off, if you prefer?) to a battle tactic used in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

Taylor Kitsch and Tadanobu Asano (the latter as the captain of a Japanese destroyer caught up in the action) dominate the acting chores. Rihanna has a role as a weapons operator. She handles it well, but was likely cast mainly as audience bait, has only a few lines, and doesn’t sing a note. Alexander Skarsgard and Liam Neeson, while headlined, have even less to do in parts that, between them, don’t eat up much more than a few minutes of screen time.

The original 1080p HD Bu-ray release is an excellent transfer, with crisp imaging and exceptionally dynamic DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1 sound. The film has also recently been re-released as a 2-disc package containing both the original HD transfer plus an Ultra HD disc. The latter is also superb, and more than a few scenes clearly show off the high dynamic range remastering. The UHD disc (but not the HD version included here or the original release) also sports a DTS-X immersive soundtrack. I was unable to sample the later, but even without it the overall UHD sound is comparable to the already superb HD mix.