Battleship Down

The trailers for Battleship give everything away, if anything can be said to be secret about a movie based on Hasbro’s popular board game. There are naval vessels. There are aliens. They fight. Without any related IP baggage of any kind, Battleship had the freedom to make a great naval warfare movie; I’m even willing to give them the aliens just because the sci-fi geek in me screams at the thought of World War II class 16 inch guns firing 2000 pound shells at E.T. I’ve seen Midway, Victory at Sea, and In Harm’s Way. I knew what to expect from a movie about naval warfare. I expected carnage. I expected explosions. I expected fleets of ships in classic naval maneuvers that pushed through deep water and came home bloody but unbroken. I hoped for David Weber’s Honor Harrington on the ocean. As it is, this film barely made it out of the harbor, let alone onto the roll of honored dead.

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Story (Pass/Fail) – Pass

What do we really expect from a film named “Battleship”? Two enemy forces engage each other on – well, near – the open ocean. There’s a ridiculous subplot about establishing a communications array, and more than a bit of cringe-worthy cinematic physics, but this is a fantasy action film after all and I’m prepared to suspend the laws of physics if it serves the cause of drama. Since every event serves to advance the action and promote the naval engagement, the story gets a passing grade – but only just barely.

Characters (Pass/Fail) – Pass

Taylor Kitsch carries the emotional weight of the film squarely on his shoulders, and he undergoes a solid journey from slacker to hero in the best short form character arc tradition. There is a token attempt to give a character arc to a disabled Army veteran, but it seems tacked on at best. The rest of the movie is populated a recognizable cast of characters, you know the ones: the pop star, the humorous guy, the nascent best friend, the authority figure, the love interest. All of these people are simply vehicles upon which Taylor Kitsch’s character carries the audience to the credits. For all the pressure of having the only developed character in the film, Kitsch fills the role with empathy and aplomb.

Production Value (Pass/Fail) – Fail

I’m so tired of second-unit film students being given a multimillion dollar budget and a hand held video camera. Whatever happened to the art of cinematography? This movie should have been filled with sweeping shots of entire carrier fleets engaged in mutually assured destruction. Instead, we get a camera shoved up the actors’ noses and being bounced all around the place. The result is almost unwatchable. All of that luscious tech design and expensive CGI is wasted because I couldn’t figure out what I was seeing on the screen.

Meaningful Content (Pass/Fail) – Fail

There is a passing reference to the Art of War that makes no sense at all and depends on a highly personal interpretation of the laws of physics in order to work at all. No attempt is made to touch on themes of steadfastness and sacrifice. The writer makes no effort to familiarize himself with the mindset of the military man in general or the naval officer in particular. I didn’t expect Shakespeare on the ocean, but I hoped for something resembling the values and ideals of the military. Instead, we get a pathetically obvious condemnation of early exploration of the Americas by them-thar evil Conquistadors and that dastardly Columbus fella.

Shelf Life (Pass/Fail) – Fail

I saw it on the silver screen. I wish I had waited for the small screen. I can’t image any reason to watch this movie again. The story and characters only barely scraped a passing grade. There is no action eye-candy to keep me entertained. The schizophrenic soundtrack is simultaneously in love with AC/DC and The Blue Danube.


I’m just not sure what to say in closing. This isn’t really a movie that stays with you after the credits roll. Speaking of which, there is a completely predictable tag after the credits which it won’t hurt anyone to skip. In fact, skip this film entirely and get the far more satisfying American Warships from The Asylum.

The Odds Favor a Sequel

Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” debuted in US theaters this week, to much hype and the attendance of many teenagers. For both of you who may be unfamiliar with this violent work of chick-lit, in a dystopian future, The Capitol forces each of the 12 Districts in the nation to send a pair of teenagers to fight to the death in the annual Hunger Games. Think “A Clockwork Orange” meets “The Running Man” and you get the basic look and feel of the movie. The book series was aggressively advertised as a sci-fi action novel – which it most definitely is not. The movie suffers from the same poor marketing, as it is being portrayed as an action film when it is in fact a drama of the much more ordinary sort. Which isn’t to say it’s not a decent enough movie.

A little while back I reviewed the book trilogy, both on my podcast and in a guest post over at the Two-Fisted Blogger. I’m afraid neither review was very favorable. Looking at it from the perspective of time, I see that both reviews were colored by a desire for the novels to be something that they expressly were not. I wanted an action novel, and I got chick-lit teen drama. Perversely, I was aching to see The Hunger Games made into a movie. Unfortunately I wanted an action movie, and I got a chick-flick teen drama. I suppose it serves me right.

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Story (Pass/Fail): Pass

For what it is, the story holds together well enough. It is a straightforward tale of one girl’s life experience within an oppressive dystopian future. This kind of thing eschews conventional plot device in favor of using the narrative as a sort-of biopic about the main character. Genre fans will find every expected beat hit right on cue – no surprises there, Collins is an experienced screeenwriter. Viewers looking for conventional storytelling devices such as metaphor, foreshadowing, plot threading or anything more complex than simple narrative will be disappointed. Still, it executes by the numbers without any glaring faults.

Characters (Pass/Fail): Fail

It’s a good thing that Jennifer Lawrence has such a likable appearance, because she is on camera and in close-up quite a lot. Hutcherson delivers a sympathetic and strong Peeta with his customary charm and charisma. Bizarrely for all the time the camera spends focused on them, neither of the principle characters are given enough screen time to flex their emotions and reel in the audience in any meaningful way. The performances are almost uniformly of the strong, silent type. It works exceptionally well in the novel, but leaves the viewing audience unimpressed and unsympathetic.

Production Value (Pass/Fail): Fail

For the amount of money spent on this thing, you’d think it would feature some visual spectacle worth watching – sweeping FX shots of the area, the Districts, and the Capitol; devastatingly brutal fight scenes; bizarre and disturbing mutant creatures. Heck, I’d have been happy if they just held the camera still once in a while. It seems like the entire movie is filmed in close-up on the shaky-cam; this device seems to be in vogue right now, and I’m heartily tired of it. For a haunting tune that led every trailer, the movie makes no use of musical score in any memorable way, and closes with a strange song that seems unrelated to the rest of the film. It’s like the director went out of his way to miss every opportunity to impress the viewer with visual or audio spectacle.

Content (Pass/Fail): Pass

This is heavy stuff, watching teenagers fight to the death. Collins meant her story to comment on media obsession with violence, and the point comes across very effectively. Much of the novel’s subtext is lost, as is an attempt within the movie to inject some of that subtext, but what remains is worth noting.

Shelf Life (Pass/Fail): Fail

Saw it once. I’m done. The visuals aren’t strong enough to bring me back. The music is entirely forgettable. The story is captivating, once I adjusted my expectations away from the action genre. Honestly though, at two and a half hours to sit through a poorly filmed movie that eschews much of the value of the novel, I’d rather spend the six hours on the audiobook and get the full experience.

I suppose the key to enjoying this movie or the novel trilogy is to manage expectations. Understand that this is teen chick drama and not sci-fi action, and …. well, the book is quite good but I’m afraid there’s little to be done for the movie.

Asgardian Box Office

Curtis and I gather round the coffee table to kick around Thor. Not harshly, mind, but we do feel that it needs to be kicked a bit. I really wanted to like this movie in the same way that I like Iron Man or the Incredible Hulk. Unfortunately, the result was somewhat lackluster – with a story that just didn’t live up to the potential of its characters. Nevertheless, there is a great deal of good stuff going on in this movie, and we found it to be an acceptable offering, if not a particularly outstanding one.

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Corporate Oppressors

Released now, calculated to bring as little benefit or press to the film as possible, Curtis and I break down as much of “Avatar” as we can stomach. We lay the entirety of the blame at James Cameron’s doorstep – he really ought to know better. We do some side trails into the fad that is the current generation of 3D movies, “Prince of Persia” – which we both really enjoyed, in spite of my frustrated rant about the ending, and then plug upcoming RPG projects here at Critical Press Media. Hey, it’s worth repeating: look for OpenD6: Agents to hit digital download and POD before the end of the summer!

In the meantime, stick around and kvetch about “Avatar” with us – and if you’ve seen the film, you know exactly why we’re so dissatisfied with the movie – or if you haven’t seen it yet let me get right to the bottom line. Skip it.

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Censorship and Ratings

Gather round the coffee table while Curtis and I discuss our reactions to the documentary “This Film is Not Yet Rated”. Topics of the show include censorship, the ratings system, the rights of artistes, and what makes a film age or content appropriate. Just because something reflects real behavior does not make it art.

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State of the TV Address

Gather round the coffee table for a discussion of the state of television today. Kick back, relax, and grab a cup of coffee while the guys and I kvetch about those shows that should have been, those show we wish weren’t, and reality vs actuality.

Am I Blu-Ray?

Not all claims of High-Definition TV are equal.  I give a quick primer on HDTV, Blu-Ray, and thing to consider when setting up your home entertainment area.  Lite on links this week, so click around the website!

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