The much-maligned board game adaptation Battleship may be facing some serious budgetary woes. Peter Berg’s alien invasion-themed adaptation is “raising eyebrows” among industry insiders, according to the Hollywood Reporter, as the film approaches its production start date at the end of the month.
The aquatic thriller is considered an exceptional gamble for Universal Studios, for a number of reasons, but it’s the budget that seems to be causing most of the concern. The film’s reported $200 million price tag isn’t unheard of, or unprecedented, but water-heavy pictures are infamous for going over budget (Waterworld, for instance). It’s also expensive for a film with no name stars attached; stars Alexander Skarsgard, Taylor Kitsch, and recent addition Hamish Linklater are known in the world of TV, but have never had to lead a big-budget blockbuster. The project’s largest attraction is probably pop music star Rihanna, whose acting experience consists of dancing in front of a burning house in Eminem’s latest video.
But according to Universal, Battleship isn’t dead in the water yet. While a source suggests that the studio considered “pulling the plug” on the film in June, Universal Chairman Adam Fogelson voiced his support for the project, and denied that it was ever in jeopardy. The studio’s enthusiasm seems to come, in part, from faith in director Peter Berg, who also directed Hancock. “He has a very strong passion and affinity for this material,” Fogelson said. “He is a fan of the history and the current state of the military. He knows that world really, really well, and he is inspirational when he is talking about it.” Plus, as the Hollywood Reporter points out, he once wrote “a high school essay about how the Japanese could have won the Battle of Midway”.
So far, this newfound skepticism towards Battleship largely avoids the fundamental problem of the project: it’s based on the board game Battleship. Fogelson contends that awareness of the Battleship brand will help the project, and draws comparisons to other toy-based properties (“Worldwide, more people have played Battleship than played with Transformers”). But, to defy conventional wisdom, I’m not sure that all publicity is good publicity. Sure, a lot of people have played Battleship, but that means that a whole lot of people know that Battleship is kind of boring, and mostly random guessing, and has very little to do with aliens. Or nothing to do with aliens, really. It’s true that the film could get extremely lucky and wind up like Pirates Of The Caribbean (which is something the producers clearly have thought of, since they bring it up 3 or 4 times), but as audiences get more and more tired of sequels, adaptations, and spin-offs, it seems in line to be a casualty to growing audience disinterest. Battleship may be well served by changing it’s name, whether it’s to Ships in Battle, or Battling Ships, or Alexander Skarsgard Hangs Out Naked For 2 1/2 Hours. (I’m rooting for that last one.) It would be a very, very simple change to make, because Battleship already has nothing to do with Battleship.