June 6, 2012 was the 79th anniversary of the First Drive-In Movie. The first drive-in opened in Pennsauken, New Jersey and the first film was Wives Beware. Seventy-nine years later, I was at the West Wind Drive-In in Reno to watch a doubleheader of Snow White and the Huntsman and Battleship, a seemingly odd pairing of films that ended up complimenting each other rather well.
I love the drive-in; I remember seeing Star Wars for the first time at a drive-in, as me and my brother sat in the back seat of my dad’s Ford Granada. I wasn’t even old enough to be in kindergarten, yet I can remember all kinds of things from that night, not just the movie but the snack bar, the playground, the clunky metal speaker you had to attach to your windows, and even the bathrooms.
I love that every drive-in I’ve been in over the years (which, admittedly, probably barely touches double digits) seems stuck in the ’50s. Even last night, in a drive-in with four screens going, the snack bar and bathrooms don’t look like they’ve been updated in at least four decades. (Though they were clean, which is the important thing.)
The prices were reasonable and the popcorn was really tasty, as long as you got a piece that had been hit by the butter.
Looking around at the other screens, I had The Avengers followed by Dark Shadows to my left, The Chernobyl Diaries and The Dictator to my right, and Men in Black 3 and The Hunger Games behind me. I have no idea how these movies were selected to be paired with one another, but I was happy about our pairing because I hadn’t seen either film before tonight.
Snow White is a feminist, fairy tale power fantasy while Battleship is a straight-up masculine, military stroke-fest.
Both films are heavy on CGI spectacle, but they use the technology differently; in Snow White, it’s done to enhance the natural world while in Battleship, it’s done to enhance the technological gang bang going on between the Navy and the alien ships. While the Drive-In experience doesn’t provide the best screen experience, both films looked beautiful, and it’s to the credit of all the CGI artists involved that these films looked so different from one another, but both were still beautifully rendered.
While both films were more hit than miss, they moved in opposite directions; Snow White started strong and then petered out, while Battleship started out horribly derivative and predictable as you can imagine and then somehow rebounded into a highly enjoyable second half. It’s not hard to pinpoint the reason why, either, because while Battleship perfectly understood what it’s here for, Snow White takes itself way too seriously for a summer movie experience.
Battleship is exactly what it says it’s going to be: a big war movie between Navy ships and alien ships. The film starts out laughably bad as we’re introduced to bad boy Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), who’s 26 and doesn’t have a job and who thinks it’s a good idea to break into a convenience store after hours to get a burrito to give to Samantha (Brooklyn Decker). There’s all kinds of ridiculous implausibilities here, but why wouldn’t there be in a film like this?
The whole opening half-hour or so felt like one big homage to Top Gun, except with less homoeroticism. (They play shirts-on soccer here instead of shirts-off volleyball, for instance.)
All sorts of unnecessary and pointless subplots abound, about Hopper’s relationship with his brother and that Samantha isn’t just a hot blonde who’s into burritos, but the daughter of the Big Cheese Naval Man in Hawaii, Liam Neeson. We have to sit through Hopper getting dressed down by his brother for being a loser and Hopper psyching himself up (not once, but twice) to ask Liam Neeson for permission to marry Sam.
When the aliens show up and things start blowing up, that’s when Battleship becomes entertaining. It’s a clumsy story at times, but there’s enough little things here, such as the alien artillery looking like the plastic pieces from the board game or for a sequence where the Navy tries to attack the alien vessels in a manner similar to the game, as the soldiers need to guess where the enemy will be.
I love these bits, just like I love how Hopper and the rest of our heroes end up asking some World War II vets for help during the final battle.
As great as these bits are, however, don’t let yourself think Battleship is anything but pro-military masturbation.
If I was going back to the theater tomorrow, I’d probably pick watching Battleship Snow White, but I have a greater fondness for what Snow White is attempting.
Unlike Snow White, Battleship knows that it’s good to lighten the mood every now and then.
But really, shit gets blown up. That’s what Battleship sells, and that’s what Battleship delivers.
I have a certain set of skills. The Love Boat soon will be making another run. And I will kill you.