Santa Monica

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 December, 2011, 12:00am


In one of the opening scenes of Battleship, a big-budget action flick that will be released in May next year, massive chunks of an alien spaceship hurtling through the skies above Hong Kong, shredding the Bank of China building, crashing through crowded streets, sending throngs of people screaming. It is visually stunning and nerve-rackingly familiar, a dramatic way to set up the two hours of carefully crafted mayhem that follow.

For director Peter Berg, however, there was another - slightly selfish - reason for him to use a Hong Kong backdrop in a small part of the film. 'It was a way to spend a couple of days there,' he says. A favourite Hong Kong haunt is the Captain's Bar in the Mandarin Oriental hotel.

Not that Berg hasn't been entirely consumed with Battleship for the past couple of years. With a budget rumoured to be around US$200 million, it's not lost on Berg just how much is riding on this.

'We were looking at where the business is today,' he says, after a sneak preview of a clip in his Santa Monica office. 'The 1980s were all about action films, but now, everything is much more towards visual effects. Some of the most exciting and creative films being made today are built around computer generation.'

That was the sort of movie he wanted to make, he says, especially after admiring his peers like James Cameron, Gore Verbinski and Michael Bay.

Berg's father was an amateur naval historian, and the director remembers, as a child, 'being dragged out to museums and reading all sorts of books'. He also played the Battleship board game; indeed, his original set, from the 1960s, has pride of place in his office. 'So all that got me thinking,' he says, 'about battleships, and what a big modern reinvention of a naval warfare movie could be like. The old aircraft carriers are in museums, and there are now these big new technically savvy lethal ships out there and nobody has ever filmed them. They can do terrifying things. They look like alien ships.'

The starting point of the film is an invitation sent to a Goldilocks planet - one relatively close to earth that may be habitable - by some astronomers. The invitation is accepted and the alien spacecraft (five of them) land on earth to explore. Their first point of contact: a group of naval officers with their fingers on the trigger. Things go downhill from there.

The cast includes Liam Neeson, singing superstar Rihanna, Alexander Skarsgard, and young actors Taylor Kitsch and Brooklyn Decker. There are a lot of things being blown up, but also some human-scale storylines - a romance, and a friendship between a Japanese sailor and an American one.

'If the story is not there first, if there is no emotion, you can blow things up over and over again and it won't make a difference,' says Berg. 'I want the audience to feel taken someplace they've never been. Go in with a sense of adventure. That is the most joyous part.'