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When filmmaker Peter Berg signed on to develop and to helm ‘Battleship’ for Universal Pictures and Hasbro, he was conducting early research for another film about the U.S. Navy, a lifelong passion of his.
Hasbro president and CEO Brian Goldner and top company movie executive Bennett Schneir were keen to partner with the director, who had not only brought spectacle to the juggernaut ‘Hancock’ and action and drama to ‘Friday Night Lights’ and ‘The Kingdom’, but also harbored a deep passion for all things nautical since boyhood. Goldner shares: “Pete has such a love for these ships, the history of the Navy and being out at sea. We knew it would come across on the big screen.”
The action-adventure represents the culmination of a lifelong dream for the director, who often toured naval museums with his father. Berg says: “Battleship is a passion of mine because, as a kid, I spent so much time on ships, absorbing detailed histories about the great battles of WWII from my father.
When this fell into my lap, it didn’t take me long to find a take for the film—a contemporary story of an international fleet engaged in a very dynamic, violent and intense fight that’s chock-full of action-packed sea battles with big hardware and conflict. You can go anywhere in the world and say ‘Battleship’, and people will know it. In today’s market, that’s a big plus for turning a brand into a film.”
Berg had forged a fantastic relationship with this division of the armed forces, and that would serve him well as preproduction began. He shares: “The Navy liked the fact that their branch gets to save the world. The destroyer sailors liked that for the first time a movie’s focus wasn’t on an aircraft carrier.
If you talk to Navy destroyer crews, they are engaged in real fighting. Their kick-ass ships protect aircraft carriers.” Still, the movie’s title is a bit of a misnomer. Explains Berg: “Even though the film is called ‘Battleship’, actual battleships have been taken out of active naval duty and replaced with these bad boys—Aegis naval destroyers—the most lethal fighting ships on the planet.”
Sharing in production duties on ‘Battleship’ is Bluegrass Films producer Scott Stuber, himself the son of a naval veteran. The epic action-adventure represents his second project with Berg, after their 2007 collaboration, ‘The Kingdom’, and is the latest offering from the producer who brought audiences the blockbuster action-thriller ‘Safe House’.
Though the producer knew he was headed into an enormous production, he wasn’t daunted by the thought of ensuring that audiences would see a “complete naval fleet unleashed.” Stuber says: “Having worked with Pete before, I knew he would make a movie about a modern-day naval conflict with authenticity and excitement.”
Stuber offers that the game’s lack of narrative structure turned out to be a plus for its translation. “When you work on movies adapted from literature or comic books and such, the audience has predisposed notions of the characters’ arcs,” he says. “They visualize the story as they read it.
This is a whole different challenge, because we had to create characters. The fun of the game is the blind reveal, the strategy, me versus you. Conversely, it’s freeing not to begin with preexisting characters, because you aren’t restricted to what is spelled out in the source material. You can create that within the dynamic of the story, one that translates into a big action movie.”
The story of this source material is an interesting one indeed. In 1984, Hasbro purchased the Milton Bradley Company and inherited several global-brand-name toys and games, including “Battleship.” As one of the world’s premier toy manufacturers, Hasbro began strategizing about how to translate its popular brands into other mediums.
Under the leadership of Goldner for the past decade, Hasbro has successfully reinvigorated its classic brands. The company has reinvented them for a variety of new mediums, including blockbuster feature films, television, digital entertainment, publishing, consumer goods, licensing and retail.
After the blockbuster success of the toys-to-films ‘Transformers’ and ‘G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra’, Hasbro reviewed the catalogue and focused on “Battleship” as its first game-to-film. Still, the company knew it wouldn’t move forward until a crucial dilemma was resolved: how to logically transfigure a beloved property into a cohesive and entertaining motion picture.
Discussing the reasons to tackle this ambitious project with Berg’s team and Stuber, Goldner explains: “‘Battleship’ is a global brand that has been enjoyed for nearly 40 years in more than 30 countries.
It’s known as ‘Battleship,’ or ‘Naval Battles,’ everywhere around the world. People know the game play and understand the face-off nature of it. We knew we could take its compelling elements and play them out in a re-imagined manner. Plus, we believed that bringing the alien element into the property would make it contemporary and very universal.”
Image Courtesy of Battleship