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Publication Date : 14-04-2012
"Battleship", the big-budget sci-fi war film based on the children's game of the same name, has just opened in Thailand. It stars Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgård, Liam Neeson and, making their big-screen debuts, model Brooklyn Decker and singer Rihanna (see sidebar).
And the man who directed the anticipated blockbuster was Peter Berg, previously known for "Friday Night Lights", "The Rundown" and "Hancock".
Universal International Pictures, the movie's distributor, sent us the following interview with Berg.
What appealed to you about this project?
Being the son of a marine who was a naval historian I grew up with boats and a love for the military. My father took me to war museums and was always talking about the great battles of World War II. I think the first "A" I ever got in school was for an essay I wrote on how Japan lost the Battle of Midway, which was a turning point in the war.
So I had affection for the navy. As a filmmaker, I was always looking to do a naval movie. I first thought of doing a movie about John Paul Jones, the founder of the American Navy, but I couldn't get my head around it. I also thought of shooting a film about the Essex, which was a whaling ship that was sunk off the coast of South America by a whale and inspired Herman Melville's classic "Moby Dick", but there was a lot of cannibalism in it.
A few years ago I started thinking about the game Battleship as an entry point to make a film about modern naval warfare, with two reasonably matched fleets fighting each other.
How did you manage to assemble this diverse cast?
I enjoy mixing it up and working with actors of different experience levels. I did a lot of acting and I'm always looking to find people that maybe haven't quite broken out yet, but have real charisma and complexity that can bring something fresh.
So here we have a balance of young actors that have proved themselves, like Taylor Kitsch or Alexander Skarsgård, with complete fresh faces like Rihanna or Brooklyn Decker, along with a veteran like Liam Neeson, who is solid and simply incapable of delivering a bad performance.
You worked with Taylor Kitsch before.
Taylor is like my little brother. We started working on the show "Friday Night Lights". The truth is that, from the moment I met him, I saw he had all the elements a movie star should have. He's good-looking, smart and funny, but also able to be self-deprecating and let other people shine.
To have people like Taylor, Jesse Plemons - also from "Friday Night Lights" - or this crew, most of whom I have worked with on almost every film I've done, makes it more comfortable for me. There are fewer surprises.
What can you say about Rihanna and Brooklyn Decker?
They are mature young women who people are intrigued by. They happen to be really good actors, too. I like to find interesting people and work with them, as long as they have the goods.
For instance, we have a lieutenant colonel in the film who lost both his legs in Afghanistan and has never performed before, but I think he's going to blow people's minds with his charisma.
How did you find Tadanobu Asano?
I didn't know many Japanese actors, but people started to talk to me about him. I saw his performance in "Mongol". He's a very good and smart actor.
You also have the American and Japanese military working together.
I'm in Pearl Harbour and to my left I see an American destroyer docked next to a Japanese destroyer. That's the modern world we live in. My grandfather would be shocked to see a Japanese warship in Pearl Harbor and the sailors of both navies getting along. It's part of reality and the film.
How collaborative has the US Navy been?
I developed a good relationship with the Department of Defence preparing another movie that I hope to do next called "Lone Survivor", based on the true story of a Navy Seal mission in Afghanistan.
I think they recognise that I respect the men and women of the Navy, just as I do the men and women of any military anywhere in the world. I admire anyone willing to sacrifice their lives for others, regardless of political ideas.
What ships were you given access to?
We had unprecedented access to the legendary battleship USS Missouri, destroyers, nuclear carriers, submarines, missile cruisers, cargo carriers and frigates. It's going to be pretty cool to show all that access on the screen.
Tell us about the science-fiction aspect.
I came up with the idea of having an alien component because I didn't want to make it about Americans fighting other countries. And, to borrow something from the game, the battles would be contained.
I've always been a fan of what Ridley Scott did in "Alien", because it was very realistic. The idea of presenting a reconnaissance party from another planet with aliens that are not that dissimilar to us and get in trouble as soon as they arrive on Earth was interesting.
I never wanted it to be about millions of them invading us. This is a very contained, and I hope, realistic take on a human encounter with aliens.
Did you play Battleship growing up?
Yes, I played it as a kid. We borrow some things from the game, like the fact that we can't see each other clearly. We also talk about hitting and missing.
How comfortable were you with all the special effects?
I liked it because it was challenging. It's a mental exercise. I learned a lot with "Hancock". Working with special effects requires patience and sitting around people that are more intelligent than you and trying to communicate with them.
What should we expect from "Battleship"?
You should expect a big kick-ass adventure, guns the size of buildings, a really compelling story of heroism and just a good time. It's going to be a fun and entertaining picture!