Director Peter Berg and star Brooklyn Decker met with reporters at WonderCon in Anaheim to discuss Battleship, the big-budget summer blockbuster inspired by the classic Hasbro children's guessing game.
Because the most recent Battleship trailers have focused primarily on the alien antagonists set on taking over the planet, Berg was asked how much of the invaders audiences will ultimately see when the film opens in May.
"I don't like alien films where you don't get to see the aliens, and we spent a lot of time, and money frankly, designing really -- what I think are really awesome aliens," he said. "So, I think it was important for me, knowing there would be inherent skepticism or comparisons to other alien films, to kind of do our best to quickly get out in front of that and say, 'Look, you may or may not respond to it, but I think you will judge it as something unique.’"
Crediting his team of designers, the director spoke about how critical research was during pre-production.
"We'd do anatomy drawings, where we figured out what kind of organs they had and what kind of skeletal features they had,” he said. “We would look at different animal movements and had dancers come in and different pro-football players. We looked at Ndamukong Suh, who's the defensive end on Detroit that has a little bit of a temper problem. That was really one of the fun experiences of making a movie like this -- world creation -- and getting to work with guys like George Lucas and his army of geniuses."
Working with Industrial Light & Magic to design the creatures and their ships, Berg also created character motivations for the alien invaders. "They're not just sort of generic killing machines,” he explained. “They behave-- they clearly have feelings for each other. They rescue each other when one of them is in trouble.”
A self-professed fan of the Navy whose father was also a naval historian, Berg spoke at length about the Aegis Class destroyers used in the film. "These ships are about 600 feet long and 400 crew members. The most sophisticated technology you could imagine, and the capabilities are awe-inspiring,” he said. “Unfortunately, most of what they're capable of doing is killing people, but they can kill people or neutralize threats in jaw-dropping ways. They're awesome. I think it's interesting how kind of our greatest artistic accomplishment as humans these days are building these weapons of destruction."
One of the key production challenges Battleship faced is that there are no current battleships in the Navy. Berg related that the very last battleship, the USS Missouri, is now a museum. "It's run by vets who served on it, and should she be needed, she could be restarted and refitted and brought out to sea,” he said. “So, the great challenge for us was getting a battleship into the movie and showing how those ships fight and how they operate. One of the things that makes this film original is just -- it really takes you into a world that you've never gotten to go -- to go out 200 miles out to sea and see how these ships operate and get a sense of a world that we really know very little about."
When he was asked how he conceptualized the battles at sea, Berg scooped up all of the reporters’ recorders and began to wage an imaginary war on the table, with the Comic Book Resources recorder serving as one of the alien invaders. After about two minutes of this elaborate firefight, complete with character motivations for both sides, Berg looked up and said, "I swear to God, this is how we did it!"
The director was also asked how much the movie would pay homage to the Hasbro game on which it’s based. While he confirmed there would be references to the game, Berg stopped short of revealing whether the infamous line, 'You sank my battleship,' will make an appearance. "I'm not telling," he said.
Executive producer of the critically acclaimed Friday Night Lights television series, Berg was asked whether he had intended Battleship to be a mini-reunion of the NBC drama, as the film stars both Taylor Kitsch and Jesse Plemons. “Well, I love working with, you know, friends," he said.
Knowing how comfortable Kitsch was with his former co-star, Berg wrote a role in the film especially for Plemons. "I think he’s going to be a huge star one day, and I know that he’s really good for Taylor and he makes Taylor better," Berg said. “I never thought of it as a Friday Night reunion, but I thought of it as, like, protection, you know, bringing family, a trusted family member, in."
Decker, who plays Kitsch’s love interest, was impressed with the work ethic of recording artist Rihanna, who makes her big-screen debut in Battleship.
"To see her come to set and want to work hard and want to be an actor and want to work for Pete was really exciting, and I think all the actors really respected her for it,” she said.
At their first meeting, Berg learned that the singer does a pretty funny impression of a Valley Girl, and so he had her do some unorthodox improvisation.
"I had her read Liam Neeson's role like a stoned Valley Girl, and it was hilarious!” he said. “And what it showed was a desire to not take herself too seriously -- to not be afraid to be stupid -- which is half of what I think being good at acting is: just being willing to take a chance."
Battleship opens May 18.