WonderCon: Peter Berg Explains How Stephen Hawking And His Father Inspired ‘Battleship’, Not The Board Game
Posted on Monday, March 19th, 2012 by Peter Sciretta
I’ll be completely up front with you — I really have had no interest in the movie Battleship since it was announced. Even the recent action-packed Michael Bay-lite trailers didn’t win me over. I just didn’t see the point of making a big screen adaptation of the Battleship board game. And I also didn’t understand why an adaptation of that board game would involve an alien attack. It just didn’t make sense to me. Despite loving director Peter Berg‘s previous films and recently discovering the awesomeness of Friday Night Lights (the tv series), I just didn’t care.
When Peter Berg stepped onto the WonderCon stage in Anaheim, you could tell he was on a mission. Why a movie based on a board game? Why aliens? Berg made his pitch and somehow was able to change my mind — I now am excited to see this film.
Peter Berg never wanted to make a movie based on a board game. He wanted to make a naval movie but Hollywood wouldn’t let him.
Berg’s father was a Marine and a big Navy enthusiast. As a child, Peter was brought from Naval museum to Naval Museum, visiting famous boats and battleships. His father often knew more than the people conducting the tours.
Berg wanted to make a movie based on In The Heart Of The Sea, a book about the Essex, a whaling ship which was sunk and was the basis for Moby Dick. Here is the official description for the book:
The ordeal of the whaleship Essex was an event as mythic in the nineteenth century as the sinking of the Titanic was in the twentieth. In 1819, the Essex left Nantucket for the South Pacific with twenty crew members aboard. In the middle of the South Pacific the ship was rammed and sunk by an angry sperm whale. The crew drifted for more than ninety days in three tiny whaleboats, succumbing to weather, hunger, disease, and ultimately turning to drastic measures in the fight for survival. Nathaniel Philbrick uses little-known documents-including a long-lost account written by the ship’s cabin boy-and penetrating details about whaling and the Nantucket community to reveal the chilling events surrounding this epic maritime disaster. An intense and mesmerizing read, In the Heart of the Sea is a monumental work of history forever placing the Essex tragedy in the American historical canon.
Sounds like a great story which could’ve been the basis of a great big screen Hollywood movie, right? Well… as the description ab ove hints, the story ends with the survivors being forced to eat each other to survive, and Berg says that the studios weren’t interested in doing a story about cannibalism.
When the idea of doing a big screen adaptation of the Battleship board game was proposed to Berg, he saw potential for a fun popcorn movie. Berg described the tone of Battleship as intense, kickass and sometimes emotional but first of all, always fun — the number one importance was making a fun popcorn summer movie.
Berg explains that the reason they have aliens in Battleship was that he wanted to do something a bit more entertaining than the historic battleship military drama. So when the property was proposed to him, the filmmaker spent a lot of time trying to come up with an adversary which could incite a fun summer popcorn film.
One day Berg was watching a documentary featuring Stephen Hawking talking about the Goldilocks planets. In May 2011, a planet in the Gliese system was found capable of sustaining life.
Researchers predict Gliese 581 d, which orbits a red dwarf 20 light years away, not only exists in the “Goldilocks zone” where water can be present in liquid form, but is big enough to have a stable carbon dioxide atmosphere and “warm enough to have oceans, clouds, and rainfall,” according to France’s National Centre for Scientific Research.
Nasa has been using SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) to send signals towards those planets, and monitor the transmission of interstellar radio messages (IRMs) coming from that habitable zone of space. Berg says that Hawking thinks this is a horrible idea, as telling other possible aliens we’re out there would probably result in more bad than good.
In Battleship, Berg uses this idea: the Aliens don’t just show up randomly one day, they were invited — we contacted them.
The footage we saw revealed (watch video blog in the adjacent post) more about aliens. While most sci-fi movies these days feature computer generated creature-looking alien species, Battleship presents something closer to home. Inside the mech-warrior tech suits are creatures that don’t look that much different than humans.
Berg also defended internet criticism over casting R&B star Rihanna in the movie, listing a long history of singers-turned-thespians including Frank Sinatra and Whitney Huston. Berg said he “personally had great success in Tim McGraw”, who appeared in Friday Night Lights and The Kingdom), and added that “Rihanna asked for no special treatment, she stayed in the same crappy hotels we did, and she said ‘Treat me like an actor.’”
I’m not so convinced about Rihanna’s acting debut, but the footage they screened was enough to finally make me want to see the movie.
“Filming a film in the ocean is the stupidest thing you cold ever do,” Berg said.
A month before filming, Berg got a call from Kevin Costner who wanted to come in and give him advice based on his experiences on Waterworld. Berg explained that Costner’s talk helped them prepare for things they otherwise would have never expected.
But you can’t prepare for the unexpected: In the first two hours of production alone, their cinematographer got sea sick, they thought Taylor might have broken is leg, and one crew member stormed off, quitting the movie and vowing never to go on a boat again.
Berg also screened a new explosion-filled trailer for Battleship, which will be attached to Wrath of the Titans.