Asylum's Mockbusters and "Battleship" - spoilers ahoy.

For those who don’t know, The Asylum is a film studio that specializes in cheap direct-to-DVD movies that have titles similar to (and are typically released at the same time as) major-studio blockbusters, solidifying the genre (such as it is) of the “mockbuster”. Some of their more recent titles include:

Snakes on a Train
Street Racer (glomming onto the title of Speed Racer but actually more similar to Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift, which came out around the same time)
Almighty Thor
I am Omega (released alongside the Will Smith movie Legend)
The Da Vinci Treasure
Sherlock Holmes (public domain title, I guess - anyone can use it)
A few weeks back I watched Battleship, expecting (and receiving) a brain-dead effects-driven popcorn flick. Out of curiosity, I checked for a “half in the bag” review, because those guys are always entertaining as they dissect a movie, and they were rather unkind (and deservedly so) to Battleship. They mentioned in passing that Asylum had produced a knockoff called American Battleship (since retitled American Warships, apparently after some legal action from Universal Studios) and this made me curious so I acquired a copy.

Now, the acting in Battleship was okay, and in Warships was pretty terrible, and the effects in Battleship were okay, and in Warships were pretty terrible… but I ended up concluding that Warships was actually a better movie, and if it had been given Battleship’s budget, it could have been a pretty good movie.

The antagonists in Battleship are pretty conventional alien invaders, smashing and crunching everything in sight until the last ship facing them happens to be the USS Missouri. The ticking-clock element is that the aliens have to broadcast a signal back to their home planet (that this signal will take years to reach it destination is not an element the movie takes into consideration).

In contrast, the antagonists in Warships are also aliens, of the cheesy CGI variety, but their plan is actually much more subtle and indeed more plausible. Using a stealth ship and a buttload of EMP devices, they basically clobber the entire U.S. Pacific fleet (the Enterprise carrier group gets smoked in the first ten minutes) in an effort to get the Americans to use nuclear retaliation on the North Koreans and Chinese, triggering Judgement Day, I guess. This movie’s ticking-clock is the time it takes for a squadron of stealth bombers to fly a polar route to China, ready to unleash Armageddon. The idea of a third party trying to trigger World War III is not an original one, of course, it’s a cold-war thriller standard, used in Sum of All Fears, The Spy Who Loved Me and, to a lesser extent, in Tomorrow Never Dies. This movie’s battleship is the USS Iowa, preparing for its final voyage across the Pacific to its permanent docking as a museum. Every modern ship and plane is crippled by the alien’s EMP devices, and even the Iowa herself suffers the loss of all her latter-day tech, having to fall back on the World War II-era systems that were being restored for the ship’s museum-mothballing.

There is actual tension in this movie, as the Iowa chases the stealth ship as best it can, firing manually-targeted five-inch guns at it, trying desperately to determine if it is indeed Chinese or North Korean in origin. The intelligence officer on the Iowa has to develop actual photographs and scrabble around for a still-functional VCR to study images of the enemy vessel. In contrast, tension in Battleship has to be contrived, with the aliens becoming oddly passive when the Missouri approaches, despite their displayed ability to destroy it with ease.

Anyway, I invite anyone who likes navy movies to compare and contrast the two. Sure, the effects in Warships are cheesy and the acting stiff - the original Star Trek suffered that, too. But it is possible to overlook this and, I believe, see something that at its core had some elements that were actually pretty thoughtful. Battleship, by comparison, has nary an idea in its pretty little massively-exploding head.

You’re right, that does sound like a better story.

I’ve always felt that’s what Asylum should aim for. They can’t match the big studios in star power or special effects. But good scripts can be had cheaply. It doesn’t cost any more to film good plots and dialogue than it does to film bad plots and dialogue.

On a side note I will say Battleship had one surprise for me: Rihanna did a credible job. I’m not saying she was Meryl Streep but I would have expected a Barbadian pop singer to look stupid playing a USN sailor in an action thriller. But she managed to carry it off - to put it in perspective, she did as good a job as Michelle Rodriguez would have done.

And credit to the casting department for finding Gregory Gadson and putting him in a role where he was essentially playing a movie version of himself.

I would love to do what Asylum does, but just that little bit better than them. They have no budgets, which is their real downfall, but they also seem to not really care. It’s a shame that they squander what little talent and experience they have to make such crap.

Just thought I would note that this is the exact plot of the rebooted Battlestar Galactica pilot miniseries, the Galactica is the oldest spaceship in the fleet and being decommissioned and turned into a museum when the Cylons(robots) attack with essentially computer viruses over wireless computer networks. The entire fleet is taken out except for the ancient Galactica which only survived because of its low tech nature.

There’s even a moment when the captain of the Iowa talks to the Pentagon over a scavenged short-wave radio and identifies himself as “Iowa actual”, as Adama did a few times in BSG, and how a real-life naval CO might. It was a nice minor detail, the kind of which was missing from Battleship.

“American Warships”: Sixteen-inch guns vs aliens! BOO-YAH! Gotta love a battlewagon.

Far from the worst movie I ever saw.

Haven’t seen either movie, but some fun baseless trivia:

I read in a few places that the Iowa class battleships (and many of their contemporaries) were unique in that they were the only warships that could keep pace with the much lighter Aircraft Carriers, making them invaluable as escorts during WWII. Very very big and heavy, but with careful budgeting of weight (if it wasn’t vital in battle, it wasn’t protected by armor hardly at all) and some very powerful engines combined with a lot of bunkerage for carrying fuel. Smaller ships could match for sprinting speed, but never for endurance with the bigger battlewagons and carriers.

Might have to get a six-pack of Shiner Bock, some friends, and some popcorn and get a hold of Battleship on DVD sometime.

That’s quite possible - with traditional shipbuilding techniques, larger (and longer)ships tend to have a higher top speed. Modern catamaran designs can cheat on this a bit, but there’s a reason Clipper ships were so fast.