Monday, April 15, 2013

You Sank My Battleship!

I thought that I might have been going on my summer schedule early when I woke up rather early yesterday without my alarm. Since the choir was off this week, that meant I could go to the early service at church, and I'd done some grocery shopping on my way home, had dinner in the crock pot and was reading the newspaper and drinking tea by the time I normally would have been heading to church. But today I was back to my usual waking schedule, so maybe that was a fluke.

Today's major task is dropping my tax return off at the post office (it's done and scanned) and then picking up some tea at the Indian market across from the post office. Then I'm back to reviewing the book that I hope to send to my agent this week.

My big movie viewing of the weekend was Battleship, watched OnDemand on HBO. I didn't want to pay to see it in the theater, but I was curious because it struck me as so very snarkworthy. And oh, but it was. Actually, the action parts weren't too bad (though probably rather implausible). It was the human side of the story that failed miserably, which is ironic because I suspect they included that part to attempt to transcend the action movie. This was one case where the SyFy "mockbuster" may have been a better movie. If they'd made that script with the production values and budget of this one, they might have had something.

I think the real problem was that the screenwriter must have read one of those "how to write a screenplay" books and taken the advice about establishing the hero's motivation and giving us a reason to root for him to heart. That resulted in 45 minutes (I was checking the time) of backstory on this guy that ended up making me really want the aliens to show up and making me cheer for the aliens. And it was all unnecessary. What more do you need for a goal and motivation than an alien invasion? What more reason do we need to cheer for this guy than that he's the one who has to stop the alien invasion? We really don't need to know about his love life, his family, his career issues. We just need to know that something bad is happening and he has to stop it. Instead, we got 45 minutes of seeing what a screw-up he was and how his Academy grad Naval officer brother forced him to join the Navy to get his life together. Then in the biggest mystery of the movie (beyond even where the aliens come from and what they want), five years later he's an officer, and I spent a lot of time dwelling on how that's possible. If you get your butt dragged to the recruiting office because the Navy is a last-ditch effort for making a man out of you, you don't become an officer. Even as an officer, he's still a screw-up and is on the verge of being dishonorably discharged when the attack happens, so it's not a case of an enlisted man being plucked from the ranks after demonstrating leadership ability. If he was Academy or ROTC, he should already be serving. Oh, and he's dating the admiral's daughter but the admiral is wise (and Liam Neeson), so he doesn't approve. And all this makes me so much want him to end up as alien chow because I like every other crew member on his ship more than I like him (there's Landry from Friday Night Lights!).

And, of course, this screw-up ends up in command of the only ship left to fight the alien invaders, thanks to a force-field dome thing and an attack that strikes the bridge of his ship. They'd have had a better movie if they'd cut those first 45 minutes and just gone with the junior officer suddenly being in charge of a massively huge situation that no one is prepared for. Then I'd have cheered for him and wanted him to succeed instead of thinking that they're all better off if someone just frags him and blames the aliens. But no, this is Hollywood thinking that only mavericks can do the kind of creative thinking that saves the day. If you're actually a good officer, you're just toast.

They did do some fun callbacks to the game, like them creating a grid using the tsunami buoys when the radar quits working and using the data from the buoys to estimate where the alien ships are and to aim attacks, or with the alien missiles shaped suspiciously like the pegs from the game boards.

I think the bottom line is that if you're writing an action movie based on a board game, you shouldn't read any screenwriting books. Those books are meant for real movies. Instead, start big and stay there and forget about providing more motivation than "save the world from alien invasion." Because if you're saving the world from alien invasion because maybe that will make the admiral approve of you marrying his daughter, you deserve to be blown up repeatedly by alien missiles shaped like game pieces.

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