The epic action-adventure Battleship, from director/producer Peter Berg, is about a fleet of ships forced to do battle with an armada of alien origins, in order to discover and prevent their destructive goals for the planet. Kicking off the summer blockbuster season, the movie opens on May 18th.
After their panel presentation at WonderCon 2012 (click here for our recap), model-turned-actress Brooklyn Decker and Peter Berg talked about the decision to start revealing more glimpses of the aliens and the machinery in the film, the fact that the aliens don’t act unless acted upon, the balance between the action and the love story with Taylor Kitsch and Decker’s characters, the Naval warfare aspect and what went into the decision of which ships to use, the process of designing the aliens, how much the board game is actually an inspiration for the film, Steve Jablonsky’s score, and the mini Friday Night Lights reunion, with both Kitsch and Jesse Plemons in the film. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
Peter Berg: There’s a lot that we’re not giving away. I don’t like alien films where you don’t get to see the aliens. We spent a lot of time and money, frankly, designing what I think are really awesome aliens. We worked with the best designers in the world at ILM, not only on the aliens, but the ships that they use and the equipment that they use. To us, the aliens are characters. They’re not just generic killing machines. They behave. They clearly have feelings for each other. They rescue each other, when one of them is in trouble. They didn’t come here to fight. We actually started the fight. So, it was important to me, knowing that there would be inherent skepticism and comparisons to other alien films, to do our best to quickly get out in front of that and say, “You may or may not respond to it, but I think you will judge it as something unique.” It’s not like anything I’ve ever seen.
We’re going to feel sorry for the aliens?
Berg: I think we push it right up to that edge, yeah. I don’t know that you’ll feel sorry for them ‘cause they are quite violent. At the end of the day, they did come here to check this planet out. If it’s of interest to them, they’re going to do whatever they can to take it and they’re pretty fierce, if they need to be. But, we actually start the fight.
Brooklyn Decker: Something that I found interesting, that evolved as the movie went on, was that the aliens don’t act unless acted upon. Everything that they do is reactionary and in defense. They’re not really out to attack us. They’re researching. They come down, initially, to find out more about our planet because we sent them a message. So, as an audience member, you’re conflicted because you’re like, “Well, they’re not really out to attack or kill everybody,” not that there’s necessarily any sympathy for them. At the end of the day, we live on Earth and we want our planet to survive. However, it definitely adds an interesting dynamic. They’re not just these mercenaries that come to our planet. There’s a lot more to it. Their scientists and researchers come to check out the planet. It just makes for something a little bit unique and a little bit more interesting then you’re typical alien kill movie.
Berg: The film is not a love story. The film is an action film. These two characters do love each other, but very quickly in the film, we introduce an issue, and that issue is her father, played by Liam [Neeson]. They’ve had this agreement that, on this day, before Taylor sets out to engage in these Naval exercises, he’s going to man up and ask permission to marry Brooklyn. Taylor is terrified of Liam and self-sabotages it, and ends up getting in a bunch of trouble and not asking the question. So, we separate them with a fairly substantial amount of conflict. Throughout the film, Taylor’s desire to get back and make it right is something that is a healthy component of the film, but we haven’t remade The Vow or The Notebook.
Berg: I’m a huge fan of the Navy. My father was a Naval historian, and I’ve been studying Naval battles forever. I’m a firm believer in the coolness of Aegis class destroyers, which have never been filmed before, and we take you in quite comprehensively. They’re awesome! It’s interesting how our greatest artistic accomplishment as humans, these days, are building these weapons of destruction. If you really spend time on these ships, they’re about 600 feet long with 400 crew members and the most sophisticated technology you could imagine. The capabilities are awe-inspiring. Unfortunately, most of what they’re capable of doing is killing people, but they can neutralize threats in jaw-dropping ways, with the accuracy and the lethal-ness of these ships. I thought it would be awesome to take people on them, and we worked very closely with the Navy and with real sailors to get to go out on these ships and film them and show how they operate. The big fun in Battleship is that there are no current battleships in the Navy today. The battleships are about 1,000 feet long and they have huge guns. They were what you saw in WWII. The last battleship that was used was the Missouri, which is what the Japanese surrendered to, with the Americans in WWII, in Tokyo Bay. It’s a museum, but it remains activatable, if that’s a word. It’s run by vets who served on it, and should she be needed, she could be restarted, refitted and brought out to sea. The great challenge for us was getting a battleship into the movie, and showing how those ships fight and operate. One of the things that makes this film original is that it really takes you into a world that you’ve never gotten to go to. To go out, 200 miles out into the sea, and see how these ships operate and get a sense of a world that we really know very little about is pretty awesome. You’ll get quite a bit of that in the film.
How much will audiences get to see the aliens out of their armor?
Berg: You do see them quite a bit. We walk the walk there. These aliens have come from a planet that’s got a similar climate to ours. They’ve got respiratory systems and nervous systems, and they can see. They have issues with the oxygen level, so they have breathing issues, and they’re a little more light sensitive. But, we come to get a pretty good sense of what they look like and sound like, how they behave, and what you don’t want to do around them versus what you maybe do want to do around them.
Berg: It was just more my aesthetic. Designing these aliens, you start with eight really great designers. I just started talking about what I liked and what I didn’t like, and then they went out and started drawing pictures. And then, I would find things that I liked and we would discuss it. We would do anatomy drawings, where we figured out what kind of organs they had and what kind of skeletal features they had. We’d look at different animal movements and had dancers come in and looked at different pro football players. That was really one of the fun experiences of making a movie like this, with world creation and getting to work with guys like George Lucas and his army of geniuses. It literally started with us acting it out with little toy boats.
Did you do any pitches using the Battleship board game to act it out?
Berg: No, but we used toy battleships. But, I would fucking use anything. Imagine that you are the presidents of Universal and your careers are riding on this, and you have me, crawling around on the carpet with toy boats going, “Yeah!” It’s truly amazing to see it come to life. It gives you goose bumps when you see it. We had no original source material. It all came from our imagination. To be able to get actors that are actually smart and complex and emotional, and put them in this crazy madness, I felt like it was the most original thing I’ve ever done, by far.
Berg: There’s a lot of that. We never had a mandate that said, “You have to say, ‘You sunk my battleship.’” But, part of the fun was that everybody has played Battleship, which is a simple, stupid little game, so how could we have fun making reference of the game, in a way that takes smart people can respond to. Kids don’t care, but savvy adult film goers who can be especially critical are going to be like, “You know what? That’s actually pretty clever.” I feel very confident that you will see the film and see lots of references to the game, and none of them will make you storm out of the theater saying, “These fucking assholes! How dare they!” That’s not going to happen.
Brooklyn, do you get to get in on the action, too?
Decker: Yeah, a lot. Water effects are pretty special, unique, different and cool, so you see a lot of that, but there’s a lot going on, on land as well. I play a physical therapist, and my father is the Admiral. Hopper, played by Taylor Kitsch, is left to man-up on his ship for the Navy. I’m one of the few non-military people in the film. One of our great characters, who hasn’t been exposed a lot yet, is this guy who is an active Colonel in the Army. He lost both of his legs in 2007, fighting, and he plays that character in our film. I’m a physical therapist and he’s one of my patients, and we have a very tumultuous relationship.
Decker: The ships come down and we’re left to fight the battle on land. There’s definitely a balance of the two going on, at the same time. The really big stuff is definitely on water because it’s rare to have these water special effects, but there’s a really great storyline on land, as well.
Peter, why did you decide to have a mini Friday Night Lights reunion on this film, with Taylor Kitsch and Jesse Plemons?
Berg: I love working with friends. Making movies is hard, and making a movie like Battleship is hard. That saying that sometimes actors are a little bit tricky, and really crazy and really difficult and really make your life hell, can be true. But, I knew how comfortable Taylor is with Jesse. These guys understand. If we have a shot in hell of elevating this material and actually making it emotional and making it a little off-beat and finding the humor and the quirk, that involves a lot of improvisation, and Jesse Plemons is as good as they get. I think he’s going to be a huge star, one day, and I know that he’s really good for Taylor. He makes Taylor look better. So, I wrote that whole part for Jesse. Jesse is one of those actors, like Jason Bateman, where you just know, if they’re in a scene, something is going to happen. I never thought of it as a Friday Night Lights reunion. I thought of it as protection, bringing a trusted family member in.
Can you talk about Steve Jablonsky’s score and what it adds to the film?
Berg: He’s a genius. Steve Jablonsky is the shit! I think that guy is the best composer working today, hands down. Working with composers often is a really frustrating experience because you speak a different language and, oftentimes, they take two or three jobs, at the same time. They’re difficult and pretentious and they’re tormented artists. I’m not going to name names, but most of them are. One guy who isn’t is Hans Zimmer, who taught Steve Jablonsky. We had a couple of meetings and I came up with this idea. The day I met with him, I had had an MRI for my neck, and they make that really scary sound. I was like, “I just had this MRI, and when I was in there, I was thinking about the aliens, and it was really scary.” And he was like, “Oh, that’s awesome!” He went and recorded MRIs and made music out of MRIs, and that’s the theme of the aliens in our film. He is no drama, and just goes and gets it done. The score is big and awesome and scary and driving. At times, it’s very simple and acoustic and touching and emotional. He’s the best I’ve ever worked with.
Decker: I was excited to work with her because it was my second film and her first, and both of us felt a little bit like rookies on set. We were really the only girls on set, as well. She’s a strong girl who wears a million hats. She’s a designer, she has a perfume, she’s an actress and she’s a singer. To see her come to set and want to work hard and want to be an actor and want to work for Pete [Berg] was really exciting, and I think all the actors really respected her for it. Her and I didn’t get to do a ton of scenes together, but the little time I did have with her, it was just nice to see somebody who is humble and who was there to work. She could go on being a singer and never have to experiment with anything else, but she desires to do something different. She likes to challenge herself and she wants to put herself out there, and I respect that.
Berg: Rihanna is an artist and she works her ass off. I put her through [the ringer]. She came in for her first meeting and I told her to just come in and be herself with no glam. She was in a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, no make-up and a pair of flip-flops, and for two hours, we just played. She improvised. She read Liam Neeson’s role. She has voices that she can do, that she plays around with, with her friends. She does a really dumb, stoned valley girl who’s really funny. I had her read Liam Neeson’s role like a stoned valley girl, and it was hilarious. What it showed was a desire to not take herself too seriously and to not be afraid to be stupid, which is half of being good at acting. You have to be willing to take a chance .There’s a long, long list of musicians who have become successful actors. Frank Sinatra in From Here to Eternity was my first recollection of it. I thought The Bodyguard with Whitney Houston was a great film. Mariah Carey blew my mind in Precious. If you look at Rihanna’s videos, she’s obviously incredibly sexy, she’s very intense, and she’s really hot. If it was that easy to do that, there would be thousands of Rihannas. If you’ve never been on a video set, there’s nothing glamorous or sexy about it. That all comes from her. She’s a performer, and she does a great job in Battleship.
Will her audition with Liam Neeson’s role be on the DVD extras?