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Battleship

Year: 2012
Studio: Universal
Director: Peter Berg
Producer: Peter Berg
Writer: Jon Hoeber/Eric Hoeber
Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Rhianna, Alexander Skarsgård, Laim Neeson, Brooklyn Decker

It was bound to be hated by critics and discerning filmgoers, so unashamedly going for a Transformers On The Water vibe – everything from the way the alien watercraft clank and shake when they reform to fire their weaponry to the marketing – I thought it'd be a dead cert with the kind of movie fan who keeps lining Michael Bay's pockets.

Of course it's derivative, badly scripted, full of stereotypes we've seen a million times, flag waving for the military and way too much CGI. But say what you like about director Peter Berg – he knows how to fill up a movie screen and like Transformers and Super 8, this is a big screen movie with all the gleeful excess and lack of subtlety that comes along with it. Of course it was a bad movie, but it didn't make $302 million back off its $200m budget by being boring.

The most interesting aspect was how Hollywood scriptwriters (Jon and Eric Hoeber in this case) manage to so completely enmesh two beloved institutions that seem so at odds – the Devil-may-care rebel hero Alex Hopper (Kitsch) who likes to make up his own rules, and the rigid strictures of the military that does its best to crush that sort of individuality.

After causing trouble once too often, loser Hopper is given an ultimatum by his upstanding brother Stone (Skarsgård) – yes, that's really his name. We cut forward what appears to be a few months and he's a clean cut Navyman with a hot girlfriend and an auspicious career if only he can control his hotheadedness.

When he takes part in the RIMPAC Naval exercise off Hawaii Hopper gets his chance when aliens conveniently land huge ships in the Earth's ocean, in response to a signal scientists have been sending to a planet that might harbour life.

In fact it's during the opening scenes when they switch the signal on you'll be able to see exactly what kind of film you're watching. Unlike a real radio astronomy signal that would be invisible and silent, it shots orgasmically from Earth to be relayed by a deep orbit satellite that spins and heats up something like a jet turbine to thrust a bright shard of pulsating light on into space.

When the huge alien landers encase an area of the sea in an impenetrable shield, several ships are trapped inside with their huge water-hopping attack craft and the battle's on, Hopper left in charge and having to prove his mettle aided by the most unlikely Navy gunner in history in Rhianna and an appropriately motely crew.

I heard a lot of complaints about how stupid the 'battleship' sequence of the movie was, but I thought it was kind of fun. It was easy to forget it was based on a board game until Hopper and the Japanese Captain he's thrust into co-command with are left without radar and have to target the enemy craft using water displacement buoys that show up on a grid just like the game.

And all the while, Alex's hot physiotherapist girlfriend Sam (Decker) is climbing the mountain where the aliens are trying to co-opt the astronomy facility and has to save the day along with an egghead scientist and a convalescing marine who's learning to use prosthetic legs.

The huge, stoic black guy is part of the mecha-military love that Berg wields as much as Michael Bay ever has, but most of it's reserved for the climax, when Hopper and his ragged crew liberate the USS Missouri, now a museum, to strike the final blow. When the former crew (now old blokes with white hair and false teeth) all step up in slow motion to assist him, you're not sure whom to be more embarrassed for, Berg for putting them in this flag waving CGI trash or the men themselves for 'acting' alongside a Hollywood prettyboy and a Barbados-born pop singer with a penchant for public nudity.

But as soon as you sit down you know you're going to be subjected to all that. Universal and Berg no doubt signed every wavier, contract and promise they could to make the US military out to be shining light of virtue and discipline in return for an extraordinary amount of access.

Tune at least 30 percent of it out and watch it on a big screen. Don't tell your more cine-literate friends and you'll be fine.

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