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And because this actually kinda works……

Interesting revelation from the Swedish Academy:

John Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. 50 years on, the Swedish academy have opened records of the judges’ decision which show British writers Robert Graves and Lawrence Durrell were shortlisted.

The records, which were first reported in Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, show the names of the 66 authors nominated, the shortlist and the judges comments on them. The latter suggests 1962 was a tough year in literary recognition for all the wrong reasons.

A Nobel committee member recorded, “There aren’t any obvious candidates for the Nobel prize and the prize committee is in an unenviable situation.”

Graves was rejected for being a poet first and a novelist second. The committee were unwilling to award a poet before Ezra Pound’s death as they believed his skill was unbeatable, although his politics cost him the prize.

(I suppose the article means the fact that Pound became a fascist.)

Steinbeck won for The Winter of Our Discontent, which I am happy to say I’ve never read.  My senior year of high school, it seemed as if we read nothing but Steinbeck, one damned work after another.  While I thought Of Mice And Men pretty good, each successive blast – The Red Pony, The Grapes of Wrath, The Pearl – made me cringe more and more.  Clang! Clang! Clang!  Finally, I point-blank refused to read Travels With Charlie.  The teacher quite calmly and sympathetically listened to my objections and then failed me for the unit.   Perhaps I had it coming, but I felt vindicated later on when evidence came to light that he had faked a good bit of its content.

On the other hand, I’ve always been a big fan of Graves’ historickal novels, liking in particular his efforts to shape the language of each to the period in which it’s set.  My favorite is still probably Hercules, My Shipmate.  The Telegraph article doesn’t say which work of Graves’ was up for consideration.  He had a couple collections of poetry (which generally don’t interest me) come out in 1961, and his novel They Hanged My Saintly Billy (which I haven’t read) was published a couple years before.

Too bad.

(Oh, and I’ve never heard of Lawrence Durrell.)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers and happy Friday!  Only two more days of Christmas left and I hope you’re continuing to celebrate!

When it comes to charging up the ol’ Netflix queue I have always been a real impulse shopper, rarely pre-planning but instead nipping over at random to add new flicks whenever something prompts me to do so.  It could be anything – a mood, a chance remark, word association.  I then forget about it, only to be surprised when I later get notification that it’s on its way to the port swiller mailbox.

Because I usually have somewhere between twenty and thirty DVDs in my queue at any given time, whatever it is that prompts me to make a particular selection is usually long gone by the time that movie actually gets to me.  In the past, this loss of the moment (as it were) has sometimes caused me to simply put the DVD back in its envelope and return it without even watching it.  However, within the past six months or so, I have made a new rule for myself:  If I order it, I must watch it.

I bring all this up by way of explanation for why I popped in Battleship last evening.  I can’t now remember what spurred me to pick it, but once it appeared I felt honor-bound to see it through.

Well, I suppose that I can at least pat myself on the back for sticking to principles, but there’s little else to justify throwing away a couple hours on this film.  Yes, it touts itself as being based on the old game that so many of us played in our misspent yoots, but it’s really just a sea-borne rip-off of Independence Day, right down to the semi-nerdy, semi-cool brilliant-scientist-who-warns-everyone-of-the-impending-threat whom Jeff Goldblum ought to sue for identity theft.

This time the space aliens are an advanced scouting party come to establish a beachhead on Earth after we grab their attention by shooting a high-energy communication beam at their distant planet.   The aliens come down right in the middle of an international joint-fleet naval exercise off Pearl Harbor and quickly establish a force shield over and around the Islands within which they wipe out all opposition.  Except, of course, for the Plucky Hero and a small band who somehow manage to survive and turn the tables and……well, you can pretty much figure out the rest.

First off, about this Plucky Hero:  In the clunky build-up at the beginning of the movie, he’s a 26 year old slacker, sleeping on his naval commander brother’s sofa and doing drunken hipster-doofus things to try and impress chicks.  The next thing we know, he’s a junior officer aboard an Aegis-class frigate a guided missile destroyer thanks to his brother’s pull.  I’m not a military man myself, but something tells me that naval recruiting doesn’t exactly work that way.

And speaking of things not exactly working that way, I understand that science-fiction allows for a certain freedom.   Just because we don’t have real lightsabers and hyper-drive, for example, doesn’t mean that aliens shouldn’t.  But when the premise is that those aliens come here, to the Earth of 2012, you’ve got to keep the “real life” part of things if not completely honest, at least within visiting distance of plausibility.  Which brings me to my biggest gripe against what would otherwise be a vacuous and lifeless but harmless shoot-em-up, made all the more so because it is the device on which the entire plot hinges.   (Warning – Massive spoiler alert if you care.)

As I say, the aliens have established an impenetrable barrier around their beachhead and the only remaining opposition within it are our Plucky Hero and what’s left of his destroyer crew.  Eventually, the destroyer is sunk by the aliens and our survivors swim ashore at Pearl, seemingly utterly disarmed and defeated.  Except that toward the beginning of the film, as part of the naval exercises we see a ceremony taking place on the deck of the U.S.S. Wisconsin honoring a handful of vets who had served years and years before on her.   Well, as he assesses the situation, our Plucky Hero’s eye falls on the Wisconsin at her moorings and he suddenly realizes, “We’ve got a battleship!”  (Get it?  Get it? That’s the level we’re talking about here.)   He then rounds up the handful of vets (who apparently have been loitering on the docks during the several days over which the story is stretched) because they’re the only ones who know how to work her antiquated equipment.  Together with his own group of survivors, they then immediately steam straight into full-scale battle with the shield-generating main alien ship and blow it to bits, thereby allowing the rest of our fleet (cut off behind the shield all this time) back in to wipe out the remaining aliens.

Okay, I get that if you’re going to base a movie on the game “Battleship”, you almost have no choice but to work a real one into the plot somehow.  But couldn’t the writers have found a way to do so even marginally less ridiculous to anyone who has any inkling of naval matters?  The Wisconsin is moored at Norfolk and not at Pearl.  She’s “museum” ship (as even the film acknowledges) and yet Plucky Hero &c. find her here carrying a full load of fuel and live ammunition.  And is it pedantic of me to argue that there’s no way in heaven or on earth that a crew of no more than about twenty (including several octogenarians) could get steam up on a stone-cold and semi-mothballed Iowa-class battleship in a matter of minutes, navigate round Oahu and then fight all of her main batteries at maximum firepower?   It’s one thing (referring back to Independence Day) for Goldblum to create a “computer virus” that somehow can communicate with a completely alien operating system.  In the right frame of mind, we can suspend disbelief about that (although plenty of people have refused to do so.)   But these kinds of brick & mortar physical impossibilities are, IMHO, a different order of absurdity altogether.

(The film seems to try hard to celebrate our Navy, btw.  Nothing wrong with that, of course, but I wondered how many of our current and former sailors actually howled or snickered at it over this biznay and other matters which I’m sure I missed.)

Oh, and as for the aliens themselves.  I confess to not being much of an aficionado of these things, but there seemed to be a certain Keystone Kops feel about them, for all their wiz-bang technology.  First, after navigating a gazillion miles across space along the communications beam we sent to their planet, they managed to lose their own communications ship when it flew smack into the satellite from which our signal was being sent.   (That satellite seemed to come back in the end somehow, but this remained unexplained.)  Sure, the collision gave the director the excuse to rain CGI debris down on Hong Kong, but I found myself asking just who the hell was flying the thing.   Aliens warriors don’t do dumb stuff like that.  Second, they had some kind of odd battle protocol wherein they wouldn’t shoot at anything except a strategic target or an attacking hostile.  So in the first encounter between forces, when our Plucky Hero’s destroyer sheared off from an attack in order to pick up survivors from another sunk vessel, the aliens stood down.  Huh?  Mighty chivalrous (and short-sighted) behavior for a force bent on planet-wide conquest.  Finally, the individual aliens all wore some kind of super-tech battle armor.  (Underneath, they looked like refuges from Jack Sparrow’s pirate ship.)  The visors in this armor gave the wearers instant threat-analyses of anything they encountered – human, animal, technological.  And yet when one of these soldiers had got our Plucky Hero down on the deck and was about to do him in, it utterly failed to notice the 5-inch gun being swiveled round at its head.

I guess I would have let all these things go if the film had some other redeeming qualities about it that entertained me.   But it really didn’t.  It was loud.  The attempts at sub-plots and character development failed across the board.  I think the dialogue was supposed to be snappy and hip.  It wasn’t.  The cast, most of whom I’d never heard of, were forgettable, the two exceptions being the Biscuit, perfectly cast as a weaselly Secretary of Defense, and Liam Neeson who, as an admiral, proved once again that he’ll do anything for a paycheck.

This is twice within recent memory that I’ve been disappointed of what ought to have been some brainless sci-fi fun, the other instance being the horrid Cowboys & Aliens.

UPDATE:  Regular friend of the decanter Mike F was too polite to bring this up in the comments, but dropped me a note that Plucky Hero’s boat was a destroyer, not a frigate.  My mistake and a constant risk for those of us who don’t know what the hell we’re talking about.


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January 2013