We've already glimpsed the marauding swarms of aliens in Battleship, with their shiny armor and sinister goatees. (In fact, if you live outside the United States, you've already seen it.)
But the aliens in Battleship could have been a lot more bizarre than just humanoid creatures in spaceships. We spoke to the film's writers, Jon and Erich Hoeber, and they told us some of the alien ideas they and director Peter Berg had toyed with. Plus they explained why this film needed to have aliens.
Battleship could have been more like The Thing
The Hoeber brothers went through a few different ideas for Battleship's alien threat before they settled on the alien soldiers you see in the film. At one point, they considered having an aquatic monster of some kind, that lived in the water and could attack these naval vessels.
They also considered having the monster be "a creeping alien mold, but that didn't last long," laughs Jon Hoeber. The idea behind this was, "What if you took a The Thing-type alien, that was disembodied and would take them over and have them fight [each other's] ship and start to change and metamorphise our indigenous technology."
Adds Erich Hoeber: "So essentially, they're cannibalizing us and our ships for their own nefarious purpose. So we're, in a certain sense, fighting each other. That was an idea we explored early on, but it wasn't really as conducive to the big action kind of stuff. It was more of a horror movie. So at the end of the day, we thought that's a fun idea, but it's not going to be for this picture." Considering lots of different kinds of alien monsters was part of the fun of putting this project together.
But ultimately, they wanted a movie that allowed for lots of ship-on-ship combat action, and a certain amount of homage to the sort of war movies that used to be made in the 1940s and 1950s, which you don't see any more.
Why a Battleship movie needed aliens
The notion of putting aliens into Battleship was director Peter Berg's idea. They worked much more closely with the director than they usually do with movie assignments, and he threw out the concept of an alien-invasion movie right when the brothers joined the film as writers. "That was something we really ran with," says Jon Hoeber.
And the reason why this movie needed aliens? That's simple. Explains Jon:
In reality, there's very few people in the world who would be a fair match for the U.S. Navy at this point in a sea battle. So I think part of it wa just the idea of making a big summer movie, and part of it is just [asking], "Who could these guys credibly fight?"
Of course, you could have the Navy fight the Chinese, or Somalian pirates, or terrorists at sea, but then it becomes something more like Black Hawk Down on the water, which was never the goal.
In order to create a fun action movie with believable stakes, you need a threat that is huge "but not absolutely dominating," and that's where these aliens come in.
The brothers actually got to see the Navy up close, going on board some of their ships and interviewing lots of sailors. "The hardware they have is absolutely awesome, the sailors are absolutely awesome," says Jon.
When aliens invade, you need to turn off your brain a bit
In real life, if aliens were advanced enough to travel all the way to Earth, they would kick our ass. The movie even acknowledge's this, by having a SETI employee discuss Stephen Hawking's theories that aliens who came to Earth would be hostile and overwhelming. But in this case, the aliens are just a scouting party (more on that below) making them beatable.
Jon Hoeber says there's never been an alien invasion movie that stood up to determined scrutiny. "I've always loved big summer action films, and when it comes to alien films, it's so funny. There are certain things you have let go and embrace and enjoy the fun of."
You see this in every movie that's ever been done, in terms of aliens. In Independence Day, is a computer virus really going to do take down [the mothership]? Really? Battle: L.A., I mean that whole thing is just stupid! [But] oh my god, I love it... That's the thing, I love those movies. [But] if you pick something apart hard enough, it'll fucking unravel.
Both brothers seem pretty happy that Battleship has a 50 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is "actually not kind for this kind of movie," laughs Erich. The 50 percent of critics who enjoy Battleship are the ones who are willing to let go and enjoy the ride, adds Jon,"versus people who are really trying to nail you to the wall for how it's unfolding. And I think the tone Pete [Berg] captured is a good balance of rock 'n' roll, muscley, tongue-in-cheek, and 'how the fuck can this be happening?'"
On the other hand, he wants the characters to be the most important part of the film, and he always applies this test: If you take away all the action and explosions, is there still a good movie here? He also wants the film to be true to the military hardware and to the reality of the Navy. The movie spends a surprising amount of time with its characters before the aliens ever actually show up.
Says Jon, "Is this a movie that's going to change the world? God, I hope not. That's not what we're going for."
As we mentioned above, this is an alien expeditionary force, not a full-fledged invasion. If the aliens showed up in force, we'd be screwed. (Although both brothers are hopeful that this film will get a sequel, so you never know what we'll see next time.)
"We definitely get the feeling that if they sent more than a scouting mission, we're toast," says Erich. "We're attempting to contain the scouting mission. That's the point of the film."
Also, the alien scouting mission runs into some problems on its way to us — on their way down to Earth, one of their ships runs into a satellite, gets damaged, and winds up crashing. "Even for a little scouting mission, they've had a bunch of bumps before they ever encounter us."
The brothers promise we learn quite a bit about the aliens over the course of the movie, and they're a "complete race" with a lot of explanation as to their backstory. They come from a "goldilocks planet," just the right distance from its sun, and they are "very water based." They're obviously humanoids, and they're very tech-savvy — most of their prowess comes from their use of technology, although they do have a couple surprising biological powers too.
Not a Transformers clone
This is definitely a Hasbro joint, and the brothers point proudly to Hasbro's track record with the Transformers films as well as G.I. Joe. At the same time, they think the meme that this film is another Transformers has been played up too much because of the Hasbro connection — the main things the films have in common are Hasbro, the U.S. military, extraterrestrials, and music by Steve Jablonsky.
"There are some of the same people involved," says Erich, but the ships look different. "From our point of view, we didn't feel we had to go there at all." One huge difference between Battleship and Transformers? Pretty much all the people in Battleship are in the military, or connected to the military — there's no teenage civilian in the mix.
A major difference between Battleship and the other Hasbro movies is that there's never been a cartoon of Battleship, the brothers point out. The Transformers and G.I. Joe movies were based on the 1980s cartoons, more than the actual toys. Because of the lack of a cartoon, "we got to create all that stuff," says Erich. The only thing people know is the title and maybe the game — and the movie does include a few little homages to the game.
"People are going to see the movie, not because they like the game Battleship, but because they think it's going to be a cool movie," Erich adds.
Red 2 will have some surprising new stars
The other project the brothers have in the pipeline is the sequel to Red, which they hope will start shooting in the fall. "If the last one was domestic, this one's going international," says Jon.
Adds Erich: "Pretty much all the original cast is back. All the surving cast. So John Malkovich, Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Mary Louise Parker, they're all back. And we're going to be introducing a couple other stars of that Oscar-winning caliber, who will be additional characters whom we'll see. Not quite locked down, but we're close. The script is written, but we're doing some last-minute tweaking."