Battleship to Destroyer
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
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
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 reimagined manner. Plus, we believed that
bringing the alien element into the property would make it contemporary and very
At its core, according to the producer, is a story of strategy that engages
audiences. Goldner reflects: "No matter whom you're playing in 'Battleship,'
you're sizing your opponent up, both from a personality standpoint as well as
strategically. It was that face-off that intrigued us, because that's the mark
of the brand and what has made the game popular around the globe for so many
years. That sense that you and your opponent are strategizing against the blind
reveal is so critical to the game play. We knew we could make a film story
Several years ago, Goldner had recruited film executive Bennett Schneir with the
goal of tapping into Schneir's expertise to develop movie franchises and
tentpoles from Hasbro's catalogue. Schneir says: "We looked at the core of this
property and recognized that 'Battleship' is a game of wits, intuition, logic
and smarts as you try to figure out who your enemy is and win the day. We
thought it had all of the elements for a huge, incredible movie. It's cinematic,
exciting and adventurous. To our filmmakers, the game was an incredible
Addressing the skeptics, Schneir reflects: "It's easy to ask, 'Why do you need
'Battleship' to make a movie about ships versus aliens?' You could also ask why
you would need Pirates of the Caribbean to make a movie about pirates and
skeletons, or why you would need Transformers to make a movie about robots from
space who come to Earth. There is so much in the core DNA of 'Battleship' that
is a source of inspiration for filmmakers. There are signposts along the way of
the concept of the blind reveal, of knowing nothing and then knowing everything.
The three-act-play structural experience of the game, the fantasy of game play,
and how that translates into a movie became the canvas upon which our filmmakers
painted their vision of the story."
Like Goldner, Schneir approached the film's development by underscoring what is
unique about the game. "'Battleship' is a big part of our childhood and part of
the family experience," the producer says. "I like the notion of fighting
against an enemy you can't see. Little by little, the curtain is raised, and you
learn where your enemy put his ships and where you should strike next. That's
what leads you to victory. Bringing that emotional connection to the big screen
is powerful and compelling."
Though its modern counterpart is the destroyer, the war machine known as the
battleship was prominent in WWII and was in use until the first Iraq War in
1991. Explains Stuber: "Battleships were defined by their power and muscle and
built to take on shrapnel. They were giant ships with giant guns and thick hulls
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