WonderCon 2012: Director Peter Berg Talks 'Battleship'

Monday, 19 March 2012 15:52 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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WonderCon 2012: Director Peter Berg Talks 'Battleship'

Peter Berg (The Kingdom) brought his upcoming summer blockbuster Battleship, based on the popular Hasbro board game to WonderCon 2012 on Saturday and the director had a lot to answer for as the film has been surrounded by criticism practically since it went into production. In addition to the somewhat ridiculous idea of basing a movie on a board game, it has also received criticism for its cast, which includes non-actors Rihanna, and Brooklyn Decker, as well as the alien invasion aspect of the film that has nothing to do with the original source material it is based on.

After a successful WonderCon presentation and panel, which included co-stars Alexander Skarsgard (HBO’s True Blood), and Brooklyn Decker (Just Go with It), director Peter Berg took some time out of his busy schedule to speak with IAR and several other members of the press about the upcoming film, its controversial cast, the origins of the project, and of course … aliens.

I began by asking the director if the idea of adding aliens to an adaptation of the popular board game was already in the works when he came aboard the project. “About two years ago my partner and I were trying to figure out what I wanted to do and we kind of looked at where movies are today,” Berg explained. “I really think that if you look at guys like Jim Cameron (Avatar), Jon Favreau (Iron Man), J.J. Abrams (Star Trek), Gore Verbinski (Rango) or Michael Bay (Transformers), these guys are making films that I call “Super Movies.” They’re going out and they’re having this incredible global reach, they’re taking audiences places that they’ve never been able to go. These are the films that, when you look back at this time … you know, when you look back at the ‘70s at guys like Hal Ashby, what (Francis Ford) Coppola was doing, and Sidney Lumet, those were certain types of films, gritty character films. Well, in twenty or thirty years they’re going to look back at this time of big “Super Movies” that have huge special effects components, that are fun, and that are global. I wanted to make one.”

I followed up by asking Berg if he thinks he could have made a “Super Movie” without adding aliens or if he needed to have that component in the film in order to attract today’s audience. “I don’t really think so. Having studied naval warfare as much as much as I have, there’s very little fun about men dying out at sea. You get burned, you get shredded by metal, you get decapitated, if you live you get eaten by sharks, or you end up drifting for years until you eat your friend, it’s rough. I thought with the alien component, if I did it well and weathered the storm, we could find our own original way of doing it and I think we have. I feel like it opens the film up in the way that we wanted it to be open.”

With a cast list that includes Brooklyn Decker and Rihanna, Berg continues to cast strong female leads for his films and the director spoke about why that is so important to him. “We try to make all of our characters relatively strong and compelling but I think that a lot of times the women in some of my films, whether it’s Jen Gardner (The Kingdom), Brooklyn, or Charlize (Theron) in Hancock, they represent some version of my ideal woman,” said Berg. “You know they are all really strong, smart, beautiful women that can actually kick ass, which I think brings an inherent complexity if you can pull that off. Who wouldn’t want that?”

Berg hinted that he is ready for the inevitable negative response the film might get on first glance because of its unique cast of actors and it’s board game roots, so the director spoke about how he plans to navigate around that with the film’s marketing campaign. “I mean I think it comes with the territory. Look we announced that we were making Battleship based on the Hasbro game, which as we all know consists of random seemingly completely strategy void lunacy. And we had Rihanna in it as our star, so we were out of our fucking minds! At least that was the initial reaction,” said Berg. “Then people actually started to realize that there actually is a story, and it has been one of the more creatively challenging projects of my life. We are taking people out in to this world.”

The director continued by defending his choice to cast music sensation Rihanna in her debut film. “You know, Rihanna is part of an ensemble and she is actually quite a good actress. As was Whitney Houston (The Bodyguard), Lenny Kravitz (The Hunger Games), Mariah Carey (Precious), Frank Sinatra (The Manchurian Candidate), Mick Jagger in Performance, David Bowie (Labyrinth), Barbara Streisand (The Prince of Tides), Tim McGraw (The Blind Side), and lots of them before her. So the whole idea of, ‘Oh my God, this is the most shocking and outrageous thing, and how dare they put Rihanna in this film,’ that all started falling away. I always follow my own instincts when I make films. I’ve been doing this for a long, long time, since I was in high school. I’ve never had skepticism and I don’t think there is a director that you will talk to whether it is Ridley (Scott), or anyone here, you have to just ignore that in order to make a film,” Berg explained. “To make a film, you are basically setting out to do the impossible, which is make people believe in something that is not real. There will always be doubters and I’ve enjoyed watching most of those skeptics start to turn around and singing a different tune.”

Since the film also stars Taylor Kitsch, who’s recent attempt at becoming an action star in the movie John Carter turned out to be a financial disaster, I asked Berg if Carter’s lack of success worries him at all about selling the movie on Kitsch’s name. “No, I’m not even worried in the slightest,” he replied. “I’m not even remotely concerned. John Carter suffered from marketing challenges and that is very common. The way in which a film looses its ability to find an audience is very complicated. You know, Hollywood is not stupid, contrary to popular belief; it’s really a lot of intelligent people trying to figure things out. They had some bad things happen on that film, and some régime changes.”

I followed up by asking Berg if there are lessons that he can take from John Carter, which could help him sell Battleship. “I think you have to really listen to your audience when you’re talking about marketing a film, which is much different than making a film. But when you are marketing a film and you’ve invested as much as some of these films that you’ve looked at today, there is a responsibility on the part of these guys to really kind of listen to what the world is saying. The tricky thing now is, obviously it’s much harder to figure out who to talk to and how to adjust the message. How do you get a new message out? But for us, I love Taylor. I know him very, very well. He’s like my stupid little brother, who I adore. And I’m his ass-hole big brother that he wants to kill half the time. He’s a great actor. He’s very funny and charming in this film. So I don’t even think about, I just hope John Carter makes some money back over seas.”

Finally, Berg was asked if the film simply takes its name from the Hasbro game or if fans can expect to recognize some Easter Eggs in it such as the classic line: “You Sank My Battleship!” ”We have lots of references to the game including some of the ordinances that the enemy uses, which probably look a little bit like pegs. There was never a mandate that you have to do this, or you have to do that. That line (“You Sank My Battleship”) may or may not exist in the film,” Berg teased. “Look, there’s some, I think, call me after you see the movie. There are some very clever references to the game and it was a lot of fun to do. But there was never a mandate saying that we had to do anything.”

Battleship goes to war in theaters on May 18th. 

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