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The prospect of taking classic board game Battleship, a guessing game with no real story, and turning it into a big-budget summer film for Universal and Hasbro Studios — with clear hopes of it becoming a blockbuster franchise like Hasbro's massively successful "Transformers" — is no easy challenge, but it's one that director Peter Berg was up for.
Berg, reuniting in the film with "Friday Night Lights" TV star Taylor Kitsch, talked to SPACE.com's sister site Newsarama about converting skeptics, working with novice actors like pop megastar Rihanna and the real-world science that went into his film of nautical alien invasion, which is in theaters this Friday.
Newsarama: Peter, was it a daunting proposition when you were originally faced with the task of turning a board game like Battleship into a movie — a board game that doesn't even really have a plot?
Peter Berg: Any time you set out to make a movie, or television show, or documentary, it's always a daunting proposition, and every project has its own particular challenges. Battleship certainly had its fair share. There were a couple of things that I liked: I'm a huge student of Navy history, my dad was a Navy historian, and I've always wanted to make a film about Navy combat. [Gallery: Aliens Invade Earth in 'Battleship' Film]
When thinking about the game Battleship, one of the things I liked was the inherent violent tension. I'm trying to find you, you're trying to find me; once we find each other, we're trying to kill each other as brutally and mercilessly as possible. That's actually good DNA for a film. I thought that between those two elements, there was enough there for me to embark on the creative challenge of trying to figure it out.
Nrama: There are a lot of people who will immediately dismiss a movie like "Battleship," thinking that there's no way a movie based on a board game could be any good. Has your process making the movie taught you that it doesn't matter where a film comes from, but rather the final product that's important?
Berg: Absolutely. There will always be skeptics, and one of the fun and challenging aspects of what I do is converting skeptics. A movie can be made about absolutely anything. I'm staring at two men outside of a building in New York right now, having a conversation, and I guarantee that if you gave me or any writer enough time, a story could be told, and that's what we do.
Nrama: And there are definitely connections to the game in the movie, including a sequence where the crew has to essentially play a game of Battleship against the aliens. What motivated having that type of direct acknowledgement of the game?
Berg: I wanted to see if I couldn't find ways to reference the game in the movie. That sequence is certainly one of the ways that we reference the game in the film.
Nrama: Though "Battleship" is obviously a science-fiction film about aliens, it takes place in the "real world." How much of the movie is based on actual science?
Berg: The entire Goldilocks planet came from Stephen Hawking's documentary on Goldilocks planets, and aliens. We are really targeting these planets with beacons, we've identified them, and Hawking came out and said that this is a horrible idea; if there is contact made, it's probably going to get really bad. That was really the inspiration for not only the science, but the entire alien component to the film. [10 Wildest Attempts to Contact Aliens]
Nrama: So it's a safe assumption that there were a lot of consultants involved?
Berg: There were consultants, there were astronomers from LSU that were on set while we were filming those sequences, and obviously we were on the Naval ships; we had many Navy consultants with us to make that all as realistic as possible.
Nrama: There are no aliens in the original Battleship board game, so the ones in the film are original to the movie. What went into developing their visual appearance and overall attributes?
Berg: In "Battleship," the aliens come from a planet that's similar to Earth. It's got a similar relationship to its sun, it's got a similar climate. My take was that the aliens should be somewhat human-like. That was the defining principle that we used. Then it was sitting down with designers from ILM and other artists, and creating human-like aliens that were certainly not humans. Everything that you see came from that original starting point.[10 Alien Encounters Debunked]
Nrama: One thing that's striking about "Battleship" is that though it's a sci-fi action movie, it also has a spiritually uplifting element throughout the film that's clearly deliberate. How important was it to you to include that side?
Berg: It was very important to me. I'm very public about my admiration and my respect for veterans, and for the men and women who serve our country, and I wanted to pay my respects to those men and women, in a way that didn't take away the fun of the film.
Nrama: "Battleship" also features several players in key roles who are in either their first film, like Gregory D. Gadson and Rihanna, and Brooklyn Decker, who is fairly new to acting. Was that a conscious effort on your part, or did it just kind of happen that way?
Berg: With Greg Gadson, obviously it's hard to find real, active colonels who've lost their legs in a war. There's not that many actors that fit that bill, so I knew I was going to go with an inexperienced actor there.
Rihanna, I just was so excited to be the first director to work with her. I felt that she had so much charisma, and I knew she hadn't acted before, but I was willing to take a chance because I worked with musicians-turned-actors before and it always works well.
Brooklyn has done a few films, and I think has that combination of real, incredible beauty, and she's a very smart and talented young woman. She seemed like the right girl for that part, too.
It wasn't something I set out to do, it's something that just sort of happened, and I think it's fun for audiences to come and see new faces, and I balance that out with people like Liam Neeson and Alex Skarsgård.
Nrama: Between "Hancock" and now "Battleship," you've worked on a couple of science-fiction movies. Is that a genre you're specifically interested in?
Berg: My interest generally goes to men and women who are willing to put themselves in potentially violent or dangerous situations. I'm attracted to kind of the psychology of violence. In any area I have to explore that, whether that's western, or a Navy Seal war film, or a sci-fi picture; that's something that, for whatever reason, I'm continually drawn to.
Nrama: Though the movie isn't out in the states yet, it's already made more than $200 million overseas — is there any talk of a "Battleship" sequel, or is it too early?
Berg: It's too early. Right now we hope the movie comes out, and plays as well in the states as it did internationally, and that's a conversation we'll have at a later time.