Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Dear Battleship,

Posted By on 05.23.12 at 12:38 PM

Hi, how are you?
  • Hi, how are you?
I see that you premiered in my home country, having already played all over the world. You’ve already recouped the costs of production from foreign box office, so your arrival in the United States is something of a grand homecoming. Welcome home, Battleship. You must be in good spirits.

I’m writing because I wanted to tell you about a man I met recently. In fact, I met him just a few hours before the preview screening of Battleship I attended. He was a disabled military veteran. I thought you might like to hear about him because you seem sympathetic to veterans. One of your most endearing characters is a soldier who lost his legs in combat. You make a point of showing that he’s still capable of defending his country after a remarkably short recovery period.

The veteran I met was about my age, nearing 30 or just past it. He came from a suburb called Naperville, and he’d served in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. After he got shot, he received an honorable discharge, and he returned to his hometown, where he put a down payment on a new house. When the economy turned, however, the bank foreclosed on that house. Never employed as a civilian, he’d now been homeless for over a year. He applied for a room at the YMCA, but he was still on the waiting list. He slept most nights at a homeless shelter, where he’d been robbed twice and stabbed in the shower once.

Worst of all, he’d developed a kidney condition since returning home; and in the past month, it had intensified badly. Leaking fluids retained by his organs had added 50 pounds to his person in a matter of weeks—his stomach was impacted and stiff; like a boulder on his torso, really—and just walking around seemed to pain him.

I asked him what he was planning to do about his situation. If you can believe it, Battleship, he hadn’t asked for money in all the time we’d been sitting together on the train. He just wanted someone to listen to him, I guess, and the seat next to mine had been empty. He told me that a lawyer and a military caseworker were advocating for him, but neither could convince the powers that be to provide him with medical insurance. In fact, it sounded like he wasn’t receiving much financial help at all. But he’d kept his dignity and was trying to exploit all the legal avenues available to him before stooping to beg.

I don’t know what happened to him after our encounter: we got off at different stops, and we probably won't meet again. But he was on my mind when I saw you that night. It was an interesting screening. Behind the press section where I sat were several rows of military families who’d been given free passes. They seemed to appreciate you more than I did. They didn’t mind when you stopped telling a story and just bombarded the audience with special effects. I’ve developed a low tolerance for this sort of thing, as I’ve seen too many movies in the past year that proceed along this pattern. I think it’s lazy storytelling, and I don’t much care for seeing things explode. But I know this is a convention of Hollywood movies now, and I recognize your right to maintain the status quo.

More importantly, I don’t want to begrudge a military family its fun. You'll be happy to know that they really liked you, especially your jokes about military hierarchy (did you make those just for them?). They even clapped near the end when your heroes received military honors for Valor and Glory in Defending the Pacific From Alien Attack, or whatever was written on their medals. I think they identified with the main characters, brothers who fought side by side in the same navy platoon. That part reminded me a bit of John Ford’s army movies like The Long Gray Line and The Wings of Eagles, which show how military duty can strengthen family bonds.

If you’ll permit me to say so, I think this is what you’re most interested in, not alien invasions or silly romance subplots. After all, these are just imitations of parts of the Transformers movies, and I’m sure you’ll agree that none of them were very good. No, you want to promote sympathy for the men and women serving in the Navy, their ability to work together, and their courage under fire. That’s why you show the veteran with prosthetic legs fighting the alien: once a soldier, always a soldier, you want to say.

I admire that in you, which is why I think you’d care about that veteran I met on the train. It’s ironic that some people would spend $200 million producing a movie that valorized U.S. soldiers—and then showed it off to the rest of the world—while actual soldiers in this country go homeless and without medical care. I know it’s not your responsibility to care for real people: you’re a work of entertainment, not a social agency. But maybe you know someone who can help. I suspect that anyone with hundreds of millions of dollars to its name has friends in high places. Perhaps you can forward this letter to the right person?

I wish you the best of luck in your ongoing success. And thanks for giving some funny lines to Tadanobu Asano. As a fan of his work with Katsuhito Ishii, I’m always happy to see him in lighter roles.

Your friend,
Ben

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