Friday, May 25, 2012

"Battleship" is an odd way to portray the dangers of drawing attention from extraterrestrials

If it weren’t for a derivation from a Hasbro computer game (link)  Peter Berg’s new film “Battleship” would seem like an odd treatment for an existential battle for survival from an extraterrestrial alien attack.
Indeed, the concept of deciding the survival of the world in a sea battle, under an isolating “Truman Show” dome over Hawaii created by the aliens, seems improbable.  The film seems a bit like a dream, with “Transformers-like” unfolding of the alien machinery, and actual humanoids (almost the same as us, maybe without body hair) under the armor, running around and oddly missing their softer human opponents on the ground, and plenty of “Star Wars” gear from Ronald Reagan’s dreams in the 80s.

Remember, however, that Stephen Hawking has warned us that, sending out broadcast signals and drawing attention to ourselves (rather as if there were such a thing as a galactic Facebook without privacy settings, and a real  “galactic online reputation” issue) could invite a hostile visit.  The aliens might treat us the way Columbus and English settlers treated the native Americans.  Do unto others!   Seriously, is it such a moral violation to draw attention to the self, talk about the self and one's work, and then broadcast?  I thought that was salesmanship without hucksterism.  So that must be so for our planetary civilization broadcasting with SETI.

In the film, the aliens are said to hail from Gliese 581G, an M-star red dwarf about 20 light years away. Theoretically, a SETI probe sent before 1970 could have prompted a response.  Any life-bearing planet around this star would be tidally locked, and any civilization would live in an annular zone.  But such a planet could have been seeded with a robot-organic civilization from somewhere farther away with a more conventional “Earth 2”.

The plot of the film is a bit silly. The first half hour “develops” the future hero Lt Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), by starting with a fraternity-like prank where he robs a convenience store through a roof to prove he can get a hot burrito for a girl friend Samantha (Brooklyn Decker) after closing.  His older brother urges him to join the Navy to grow up.  It’s not possible for someone to become an O-3 Naval Lieutenant in such circumstances.  Seaman E-1, maybe.  He’s such a cutup he’s due for discharge, but then the alien attack during maneuvers gives him a chance to command more than one battleship.

The arsenal of alien weapons is quite striking, including toothed "langoliers" that sound inspired by a 1995 Stephen King film by that name.

This time, the city that "gets it" from the wayward falling alien spaceships is Hong Kong.  The vulnerability of the skyscrapers in that city is well demonstrated.  

There are some side plots, such as that of a nerd Cal (Hamish Linklater) who worked on the transmission devices that contacted the aliens, and an Iraq war veteran who may use his artificial legs to advantage. They come into odd personal contact with the aliens, and Cal is challenged at least once to prove he isn’t a bookish coward.

I saw this at AMC Tyson’s Corner today, and noticed that AMC is now showing the calories on all concessions.  Some are really horrific (over 2400 calories for some nacho snacks).  Really, movie chains need to offer more healthful snacks, or change their concession business models and rent some space to restaurants and share the revenue (increased by the wider variety of food).  Some Rave theaters already do this (as in Fairfax, VA). 

Universal’s little “Goldilocks Planet” featurette:

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