|Fri, August 13, 2010 at 4:23 AM|Send Blog · Share on Facebook · Bookmark on Delicious
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – As "Battleship" steams toward a start date this month, the pricey adaptation of the Hasbro board game is entering deep, treacherous waters.
With a budget of $200 million or more and no major movie stars on board, the Universal project is raising eyebrows among industry insiders who question whether the expensive gamble will pay off when the film comes out in 2012.
"It's a big bet like many, many big bets from many studios," Universal chairman Adam Fogelson told The Hollywood Reporter. "We will be nowhere near the high point and nowhere near the low point of what people are spending."
But several huge questions hover over "Battleship" -- which begins filming in 15 days in Hawaii -- that simply don't apply to other big-ticket movies. In "Battleship," Universal has a director, Peter Berg, with some experience in action films, but he's not a brand name in the genre. And the concept is based on a board game that has sold more than 100 million units and raked in $1 billion-plus. This comes at a time when some studio executives wonder if the public is tiring of the presold concepts to which Hollywood has been clinging.
By far the most significant entry from the relatively new regime of Fogelson and co-chairman Donna Langley, "Battleship" is based on the Hasbro game about naval strategy that has been around since World War I. Berg has come up with a modern twist: making "Battleship" a movie about an alien invasion at sea.
But the grief and financial woe brought about over the years by oceanic epics -- think "Waterworld" -- is a part of Hollywood history.
Adding to the pressure: new bosses at Comcast waiting to finalize the acquisition of NBC Universal from General Electric Co. Aside from "Despicable Me," the studio has been on a cold streak and at the same time is developing a reputation for bloated budgets.
Universal's "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," opening Friday, cost $80 million-$90 million (the studio puts the number at closer to $60 million) -- rather pricey for a genre movie based on a cult comic book. Last year, the studio spent $100 million on the Adam Sandler comedy "Funny People," compared with the more modest $60 million that Paramount, DreamWorks and Spyglass spent recently on a comparable film, "Dinner for Schmucks."
Executives even considered scuttling "Battleship" in June, sources said. Such a move isn't unprecedented: Universal did that with "Cartel" five weeks before the Josh Brolin crime drama was to shoot this year in Mexico City, and with "American Gangster," the Russell Crowe-Denzel Washington crime drama that came back to life with a smaller budget.
Fogelson denied the project was ever in jeopardy and said the studio was firmly committed based on Berg's vision for the film. Berg, whose previous movie was 2008's "Hancock" for Sony, is the son of a naval historian, and he wrote a high-school essay about how the Japanese could have won the Battle of Midway. He also directed the 2004 feature "Friday Night Lights" and 2007's "The Kingdom," both for Universal.
"He has a very strong passion and affinity for this material," Fogelson said. "He is a fan of the history and the current state of the military. He knows that world really, really well, and he is inspirational when he is talking about it."
Fogelson said he wasn't concerned about Berg's relative lack of experience on action films