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Greetings, Studio Execs and Mini-Moguls!
I've got to tell you, sometimes this comic is guided by powers beyond my control or understanding. Take tonight. It's been a stressful week here at the lair, dealing with some serious family health issues (all of which seem to be resolving well, knock on unobtainium), and arrived home tonight, short of sleep, after a day mostly spent in the car driving mountain roads, and with no new comic to post. I didn't even have a germ of an idea.
And part of me said, "screw it, it can just be late this week, or I can take a week off! There are more important things, and I'm due!" But I took a few minutes to wander over to the Minions at Work stage and look around for some inspiration. And I picked up a box of assorted props that I hadn't look at in I-don't-know-how-long. And my hand fell on a tiny replica of a Battleship TM game! No, fate had decreed that sleep would be a while in coming.
Now, if you didn't know it, the "Battleship" movie opened in U.S. theaters this weekend, where it promptly caught fire, capsized, and sank. Based on weekend box-office numbers, it looks to follow "John Carter" as this summer's second big-budget flop.
Now, part of me feels bad about this, because there are some nice folks over at Hasbro, which makes the Battleship game these days, and of course, I'm a huge fan of their classic GI Joe line, and have always had a soft-spot for the Transformers too. But for the life of me, I can't understand how a movie like Battleship ever seemed like a good idea to anyone.
I mean, first of all, the idea that the game is a strong enough property to hang a major movie on pretty questionable. I mean, there aren't even any characters (unless you count the plucky PT boat defending its two peg holes)! But then, who thought, "let's turn it into an alien invasion movie? And then pack it full of effects that look like outtakes from Transformers: Dark of the Moon!"
This isn't the eighties folks! You can't just blame it all on the cocaine!
But wait... Maybe this isn't as insane an idea as it seems! How's this for an alien-invasion "Battleship" movie premise:
The nuclear aircraft carrier USS George Washington is scheduled to arrive at San Francisco harbor, but just off shore, the vessel slows to a stop and begins to drift. There are no signs of damage or distress, but the ship doesn't answer. When a helicopter is sent to investigate, the ship is empty, the crew missing. There is no sign of a struggle, no sign of violence. The crew has simply vanished...
Meanwhile, back at the Pentagon, Admiral Distinguished (played by a distinguished elder actor with a certain kind of rough grit, Clint Eastwood being the perfect choice, but there are others) and his talented but abrasive new aid, Commander Studmuffin, have been charged by the Joint Chiefs to get to the bottom of the mystery. The Admiral is of course regarded as the greatest naval strategist of the modern age, and rapidly approaching retirement. Commander Studmuffin is brilliant but insubordinate. The Admiral, seeing his potential, has rescued him from a possible court-martial, and this is literally his last chance.
They soon learn that naval crews, only the very best, are disappearing all over the fleet, and when a Russian frigate is found adrift in the north Atlantic, the admiral realizes it isn't just happening to the US Navy. He reaches out to a Russian admiral, and the two old cold-warriors face off. The Russian is at first reluctant to admit the truth, but then is convinced to confirm that the same thing is happening to them.
Commander Studmuffin identifies a pattern in the disappearances, and is able to predict that the next disappearance will be the crew of a destroyer that his just left the very port they're at! Radio communications are down, and a storm has grounded aircraft. Fortunately, a small, plucky patrol boat is available that the Admiral commandeers to go after the destroyer and try and warn them.
They arrive, but too late! They break out the fog and clouds to see a huge UFO hovering over the destroyer, which is trapped in a bubble of energy, like a fly in amber, a some kind of beam of energy scans the vessel. A second beam sweeps the plucky patrol boat, which fires off a missile to try and distract the UFO. This seems to work a little too well, as the UFO releases the destroyer and turns its attention on the little boat. They try to escape, using every trick the Admiral and his aide can come up with, but it's not enough. An energy field envelops the little vessel and...
The Admiral and the Commander wake up on the bridge of a ship. A very OLD ship, though all the paint and equipment looks factory new. They stagger out onto the gangways and look down on the deck of a vast battleship floating in a calm sea. Below them, hundreds of sailors are pulling themselves from the deck, emerging from every hatch and passageway, dazed and confused. Where are they, and how did they get on the deck of the U.S.S. Iowa, looking as new and ship-shape as when it set out for sea-trials in 1940...
As the movie continues, the Admiral rallies a fleet of other US Naval vessels, all dating from the early 20th century, and they soon encounter a second fleet, lead by the Battleship Potemkin, captained by Admiral Distinguished's Russian counterpart! But that isn't all. There are other fleets, and other battleships: the Yamoto, the Bizmark, the Hood.
The aliens appear and announce their intentions. They have been observing humanity for some time, and find our concept of war "entertaining." They want a show, and they've created this scenario to accomplish it, a watery "game board" on an alien world. The fleets must fight to the death, or their homelands will be "punished," both for failure to fight, and failure to win. Historical allies US and Britain are allowed to form an alliance, as are Russia and Japan. The Russians are left as a wild card, and may ally with any other fleets.
At first they all refuse, but the aliens stage a demonstration, blowing a crater in the middle of Siberia that makes Tunguska Event look like a firecracker. They are stunned and horrified, but the Russian Admiral most of all, since even if it is empty tundra, it is still Russian soil.
Fighting begins, at first reluctantly, then more seriously as damage and losses mount. The Admiral tries to court his Russian counterpart to join him, but the "Allied" fleet suffers early losses, and when the Hood is forced to sacrifice itself in a gambit to save the Allied fleet, he see weakness there.
Shocked by the sinking of the Hood, all sides call a cease fire while ships of all fleet sweep in to rescue the crew. But that doesn't suit the aliens, who sweep in and make the survivors vanish before they can be plucked from the water.
The Russian commander reluctantly announces his intention to ally with the "Axis" fleet. "I am sorry," he says to the Admiral, "but you are now weaker. I must think of my country. I must win!"
But meanwhile, the Commander has been nagged by something from their first encounter with the aliens. It seemed as though the ship had faltered, not when the missile had hit it, but when they'd swept it with their radar at short range. This is interesting, since the Iowa has a primitive but powerful radar system, as do the other battleships. If they could be turned into weapons...
But the Iowa is called to battle stations, as a flight of Japanese planes attacks. The anti-aircraft crews are inexperienced with their primitive weapons, and a single plane gets through to drop a bomb on the Iowa. It is a wooden practice bomb, with a message inside from the Japanese Admiral. One of their pilots, lost in fog, has found a way off the "game board" a passage to an alien base from which they appear to control the game and where their spacecraft are based.
A single allied plane soon stages a "counter attack," dropping plans to convert the Yamoto and Bismark radars to disable alien spacecraft. Keeping up feigned engagements, minimizing losses, the fleets plan an attack on the alien base. The four Battleships may be able to protect a small volunteer fleet on a suicide run on the base. The Commander is given command of a destroyer whose captain and senior officers were killed in an earlier skirmish, and will lead the suicide fleet. The remains of the British fleet, eager for revenge, make up the bulk of the rest, though all fleets are represented. A massive battle is staged near the "exit," and when things seem hottest, all the fleets suddenly turn, the battleships and the volunteer fleet moving as one, the rest scattering to distract the alien ships and keep them busy. Every ship with a radar has been retuned as an anti-alien weapon, so this time they can do some damage...
Under heavy fire, the attack fleet steams into the alien nest, catching them totally unaware. Everything blows up, including the special-effects budget! The battleships take incredible damage, but keep fighting like the juggernauts they are. There are losses everywhere. Ships are destroyed. Alien ships are destroyed. The Admiral makes a brave sacrifice, but even battered and in flames, the Iowa's guns keep firing.
The Commander's destroyer steams on, but alien forces are overwhelming them, and the Battleships can't hold on much longer. But just then, the rest of the fleets, having circled back, join the fight. The destroyer slips through the small opening that's been created in their inner defenses and attacks the alien headquarters, all guns blazing, and the alien commander watches incredulous as the building falls in around him.
The war has been won, but at what cost? The alien base is in tatters. The alien ships all lay broken and ruined. Ships are sinking. Many are run aground. All are damaged, and there are many losses. And how will they ever get home?
Six Months Later: Back on Earth, there has been no sign of the aliens since the Siberian attack, and the missing sailors have been given up as lost. A world-wide day of mourning has been called, when suddenly, NASA spots an unidentified fleet of spacecraft crossing the orbit of the Moon. The President is preparing for interstellar attack when a video communication comes in from the approaching fleet. It is Commander, now Captain (field promotion) Studmuffin. He explains the situation briefly. "Sorry we were gone so long, but even with the best Naval men and women in the world it took us a while to figure out the alien technology and salvage whatever we could."
"Then," says the president, "the aliens won't be back."
Cut to Captain Studmuffin on the bridge of the USS Iowa, now retrofitted with alien controls and technology. "I'm afraid we haven't seen the last of them, Mister President. But next time will be different. Next time..." The view pulls back though a porthole, away from the Iowa, cruising through space, patched together and enhanced with alien engines, weapons, and technology. Around it are the similarly outfitted Potemkin, Yamoto, and Bismark. We pull further back, and as the music rises, the Hood, salvaged from the bottom an an alien sea, passes in the foreground. "Next time they'll have to face our battleships!"
Would have been in line to see that this weekend? Oh, hells yes, you know you would!
Sorry Hasbro, Universal. Better luck next time. Email me at j-steven-york AT sff DOT net if I can help!
I should really go the hell to sleep now...
See you guys next week here at the Lair Theater.
- Evil Script-doctor Steve