Battleship vs. The Lego Movie

I found this Overthinking It piece contrasting the Battleship movie to the Lego Movie to be interesting, but I feel like it missed the most important distinction.

The Lego Movie was created because people had a good story to tell.  Starting with a good story, it’s not surprising that we ended up with a good movie.  (Not that every attempt at telling a good story works out, but it is generally a necessary precondition.)

Whereas Battleship was just a cynical cash grab.  Some studio executive looked at a list of old toys and board games, picked out some that he thought people had heard of, and then decided to buy the rights and make movies out of them.  There was zero thought given to whether these would make good stories, or even if it was possible to make a story out of them at all.  It was just “People have heard of this, therefore [I hope] they’ll show up in theaters to see a movie version.”  As I recall, the same deal included the rights to make Monopoly, Stretch Armstrong, and Ouija Board movies.  (Though I’m going by memory of an article I read like 7 years ago, so I could be mistaken.  Also, I have to admit that I can imagine a decent Ouija Board movie.)

Consider this: Milton Bradley does not own the concept of battleships.  They own the trademark for a board game called Battleship, and the patent to those game mechanics.  But that intellectual property doesn’t extend to film.  Any studio that wanted to could have made a movie about a battleship, and probably even called it “Battleship,” without paying Milton Bradley a cent.

The only reason that the studio bought the the completely unnecessary rights to a game with no plot was to allow them the opportunity to lie that the eventual movie would have some connection to something people have vague affection for.  And telling that lie to the audience was the entire purpose of the movie.

All that was left to do was slap together a script that was just a means to get to ships firing guns, explosions, and someone saying “You sank my battleship.”  And when that wasn’t enough to reach their desired run time, pad that with more random action scenes like fist-fights and an alien in an exoskeleton.

Then the producers figured that they could just sit back and wait for all the people who played the board game as a kid to show up in the theaters.

But that didn’t work out for them.  I suppose we should be a bit thankful, as this whole exercise finally disproved the famous HL Mencken quote, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”  So there’s that.


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