The movie Battleship is bad. Very bad.
I could write a book on all the ways this movie is terrible, starting with the fact that it is essentially a Michael Bay movie without Michael Bay. Everything you hate about a Michael Bay movie is here – the destruction porn, the fetishization of the American military, the hot women that exist to be hot, the obnoxious lead character, the ludicrously dumb plot… it can go on forever.
I will be fair, however, and note that it is better than a Bay film in several ways. There is no racism on display, not much terrible comic relief, the obnoxious lead character is actually acknowledged as being an idiot and a perennial screwup, Rihanna is realistically de-glammed, and real military personnel are shown genuine respect rather than being treated as square-jawed macho dolls for Bay to make pew-pew noises with.
But in the many ways that this movie is bad, one thing really stuck out at me: the aliens.
Yes, instead of making some kind of period wartime story about depth charges or missiles, they decided to make it a science fiction story about a bizarre alien invasion. Again, I could write a sequence of essays about the many ways this is mishandled, but today I’m going to address the fact that the aliens are really bad.
A lot of this comes down to the design. If you’re going to have your aliens show up in scary-looking all-concealing armor and masks that hide them from sight, one of two things has to happen.
One, they have to remain armored and masked so that they seem more menacing.
Two, they have to be really well-designed. If you pull off that mask, people have to gasp in horror at what they are seeing, and marvel at just how alien and freaky the creature underneath looks.
Battleship… does neither.
The sad thing is that the alien armor is sufficiently menacing-looking that the aliens could have worked if they had just kept it on, maybe with some subtle glimpses of something weird peeking through the visor. The problem is, partway through the story, the Navy captures one of the aliens and pulls off its helmet.
And it looks… pretty bad. By “pretty bad,” I mean it’s wildly unimaginative – they basically took the overall look of a human, stuck some keratin spines on the chin, gave them catlike eyes, and tweaked the details just enough that they don’t look technically human. It’s a design that you’d expect to see in a subpar episode of Star Trek.
I don’t know about anyone else, but the sheer lack of imagination in their design really killed any sense of menace they had for me. All I could think was a sarcastic, “Oh no, the Earth is being invaded by goat people.” Even when we saw them striding around in their intimidating armor, I couldn’t stop seeing those terribly-designed goat people. There’s nothing about them that activates instincts of fear and revulsion.
And remember, this was a tentpole blockbuster. It had a budget of well over $200 million (which seems like way too much for a movie that doesn’t have a well-proven franchise or director behind it). I do not for a second believe that it didn’t have the money to spare to make something really bizarre and creative! I’m not talking about John Carpenter’s “Thing,” but throw on some nonhuman skin textures or a bunch of extra eyes or tentacles or something.