Peter David isn't just a prolific contributor to comics, novels, television and various other media, he's also a huge player in the field of movie novelizations. (As opposed to media tie-in novels, which he also casts a massive shadow in.) One day, future scholars will study the novelizations of Peter David, with elective courses in "The Embedded Ironies in David's Novelization of Ang Lee's Hulk.") And when scholars pore over David's novelizations for signs of Peter David's distinctive voice seamlessly integrating with whatever Hollywood archetypes he's dealing with this time around, they'll find his novelization of Battleship an important cornerstone.
Battleship, in case you missed hearing about it, is the movie about the U.S. Navy (and some Japanese sailors) fighting against some aliens who come looking to start some trouble. And as usual, David's novelization takes a reasonably sturdy movie script, and transforms it into a PADsterpiece, full of all the usual Peter David humor, character and gritty nihilism that we've all come to expect.
The fun starts on the back cover, where a giant tagline proclaims, "You Sank The Wrong Battleship." Yes, it's a reference to the actual board game's famous catch phrase, which the movie has assiduously avoided mentioning in its marketing materials, and left out of the actual film.
The actual novel is fun and breezy, as a good movie novelization should be, and it's suffused with the Peter David writing style, in which action, humor, sarcasm and some knife-edge suspense combine into a fun package. There's the usual amount of Davidian humor, ranging from puns to slapstick to well-observed character humor. Oh, and lots and lots of pop culture references. Like, tons.
After the aliens actually show up, the characters do nothing but trade movie and TV references for like 10-15 pages. There's even a scene where the President of the United States quotes from Liam Neeson in Clash of the Titans, discusses the X-Files spin-off The Lone Gunmen, and then cites the movie Independence Day. All in like two or three pages. Later, he has Rihanna's character make a Harry Potter joke. And so on.
The central arc of the book (and, I'm guessing, the movie) is how Alex "Hopper" Hopper goes from being a rebellious fuck-up who can't handle authority to becoming a seasoned commander who takes out the aliens. It's the same arc that Captain Kirk has Star Trek, and it's also in countless other movies. And without having seen the film yet, I'm guessing David does a way better job of selling it than the actual film — he turns Hopper into the prototypical Peter David Smartass, who's excessively competent but too snarky and hot-headed for his own good. In David's hands, the character is cut from the same cloth as the BannerHulk, Madrox, Mackenzie Calhoun, Chuck Simon aka Psi-Man, and countless others. And it totally works.
The central relationship of the film — Hopper's bromance with his actual brother "Stone" Hopper — is still there, but David manages to give it a tremendous weight and tenderness. He also concocts an explanation for the brothers' differing approaches to life that's so flimsy, it actually makes total sense. Some of David's major innovations include a bit where Hopper reads his brother's lips from a distance using a telescope, right before something traumatic happens, and it's actually quite moving.
And then of course, Hopper is surrounded by the usual cast of Peter David maladjusted suporting characters. Half the fun of reading this novelization is imagining Rihanna talking like Siryn from X-Factor.
You can actually watch Peter David shoring up this story and punching up a lot of the little moments, in the week or however long he had to write this. David understands cameraderie, and he's really good at portraying the ways people pull together in a bad situation. And he keeps all the strategic "naval battle" stuff engaging, while still being quite silly and tongue-in-cheek about the whole thing.
There are italicized passages from the POV of the aliens, which are super helpful in understanding what's going on, and also laced with funny alien monologue stuff, like:
Their heads explode in a shower of blood and brain. The danger readout on both of them goes from red back to green. The humans go down immediately, leading the warrior to conclude that the inefficiently created humans only have one brain apiece rather than a far more elegant three. Poorly designed race. Next thing you know, they'll turn out to only have one heart.
I'm not saying that the novelization of Battleship is a worthy substitute for watching the film — although it might be. It is definitely a fun, zippy read, which contains enough of the stuff that's always fun about David's writing to be enjoyable. The basic story is fun enough, and it's interesting to see how David finds his way into it and charges it up. Most of all, when our descendants are mounting their detailed studies of David's work in the novelization area, they may find this particular book to be a crucial example of how his personality suffuses and transforms an action-movie narrative. Put this on your syllabus, for sure.