Battleship: Another Perspective

Think of this next guest post as a companion piece to the Battleship movie review I posted last year. It’s written by the rather Canadian Foxtale.

—Written by Foxtale—

—Edited/formatted by Vagrantesque—

When I first heard that Battleship was going to be a movie, my first thought was “How?” That thought was pretty quickly answered when I jumped online and checked out the trailer. I assumed straight away, as most people must have, that someone had decided to get Giorgio A Tsoukalos to write an American patriotic piece and he somehow snuck in his favourite subject matter.

If he hasn’t already used this movie as evidence of Ancient Aliens, he’s losing his touch.

If he hasn’t already used this movie as evidence of Ancient Aliens, he’s losing his touch.

But then I went and saw the movie. And I’m not sure if it’s just my overimaginative use of deconstructive theory that led me to this Alternate Battleship Hypothesis, but I think this was one of the most subversive films of 2012. While on the surface, Battleship appears to be a cheesy showing of Americans shouting “MURICA” and winning the day through good old freedom and American ingenuity, I think underneath the script writer was brilliant.

I realise this film has been covered in a previous Vagrant Rant post, and so I’ll leave it to you to read that for the surface criticisms (for which there are many). I’ll deal with the underlying themes, for hidden in this movie is a brilliant commentary on American over-aggression against foreign foes, a realistic view of how first contact might play out, and some good old fashioned paranoia over China.

Let me lay it out there and you can judge for yourself. Humanity reaches out first to these aliens, as the beginning of the movie indicates. We send out a signal welcoming them. To our enormous surprise, they show up. Sadly, like a friend dropping around uninvited for dinner, we’re totally unprepared for them.

It all goes wrong when the alien communication ship hits one of our satellites. Unlikely, given their scanning technology, but sure, let’s suspend disbelief on that point and say it was hard to see. After all, we have a lot of satellites around Earth; some don’t even emit a signal as they might be upwards of 40 years old and no longer functioning. In any case, this ship goes out of control and crashes into Hong Kong, causing a massive disaster and not the best first impression for humanity. But let’s say it’s an accident. Suddenly the other aliens, who we find out later were relying on this communication ship to call home, are left without a phone. They regroup in the Pacific Ocean where, as it turns out, America is doing some naval exercises with Japan.

(Just as a side note, did anyone else find it highly suspicious that China identified the alien ship as constructed mostly of Lithium? China, the world leader in Lithium exportation? I suspect they’re harbouring this new alien material and just finding some new markets for their Lithium at the same time.)

Australia also gets a nice mention in this movie. Our flag shows up next to America at the soccer match, and the hero of the day is an Australian fighter pilot called “Boomer” Jackson. You can’t get much more Aussie than that.

The aliens are regrouping when American and Japanese ships show up and try to signal them by blowing their horn. The aliens respond in kind, with their own horn which is so powerful that it blasts the glass from the windows on the human ships. That is taken as a sign of aggression and in this tense stand-off, note that the first shot is then fired by a human vessel. It all goes downhill from there as the aliens try to call for help from home and the Americans blow the hell out of the foreign invaders. We also get a whole lot of US patriotism which even had me wanting to enlist in the American navy.

Huge props must go to this film for its use of Chekhov’s Battleship.

Huge props must go to this film for its use of Chekhov’s Battleship.

Eventually the aliens get to Hawaii and instead of killing everybody, they send out weapons that destroy only military equipment but leave people without weapons alive. Somehow these aliens respect the rules of warfare, which is good because otherwise Hawaii wouldn’t have fared too well.

On reflection, this feels like the exact sequence of events which would follow from first contact. It’s a far more realistic vision than Star Trek and a much less scary alien threat than the locusts in Independence Day.

I think a lot of critics panned this film as a cheap American pat-on-the-back, and I think it was directed, acted and produced in the same way. But I have to take my hat off to the script writer who, if this was his real intention, has created an excellent social commentary on the need for American restraint when dealing with foreign threats. A commentary which has been, for the most part, ignored in criticism of Battleship.

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