Battleship: Filming at Punchbowl and Kualoa Ranch

Filming at Punchbowl and Kualoa Ranch

It was truly a different era 70 years ago during World War II, when the two current allies were bitter enemies who suffered the deaths of thousands. Many of the American casualties are interred in Hawaii at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as Punchbowl Cemetery.

Built in 1948, this cemetery is located in the Pu’owaina Crater (Punchbowl), thus the name most associated with the sacred burial ground. In ancient days, this crater was known as the “Hill of Sacrifice.” The cemetery is a memorial to the sacrifices by the men and women in the U.S. Armed Services, especially those who died in the Pacific theater. The resting grounds were dedicated on September 2, 1949, and 776 casualties from the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor were among the first to be buried here.

Majestically situated on the hills above the capital city, the cemetery includes the Honolulu Memorial, which was erected by the American Battle Monuments Commission in 1964. It was built to honor sacrifices and achievements of American armed forces in the Pacific during WWII, Korea and Vietnam. The impressive memorial sits high on the wall of the crater overlooking the cemetery. In addition to a chapel, the most striking element of the memorial is a monumental staircase leading from the crater floor. The walls flanking it include a total of 28,778 names representing those who lost their lives.

“Punchbowl is one of the most profound cemeteries I’ve ever been in,” Meehan states. The film’s key sequence, fittingly lensed on September 11, 2010, features Adm. Shane bestowing medals upon our story’s heroes. Like the Battleship Missouri Memorial, the location shoot added gravitas to the production’s efforts.

“It’s almost a shame to call it a cemetery,” Meehan continues about the impressive site, which he saw on his first location scout when flying over the island. “It’s like a shrine. Where else in the world could you see a beautiful setting in a cinder cone? It’s deeply moving, a wide-open place where your voice drops. This is a place of respect.”

Hoffman remembers that morning as being quite a touching one. He tells: “The sun was coming up as we started to assemble several hundred extras for the day’s work, most of whom were active duty and in their own uniforms. One of the extras who was portraying a Japanese naval officer, an officer with the Air Force Reserve, asked if he could sing the National Anthem before the shoot and Peter agreed. After Peter greeted the cast and crew, the assembled crowd was witness to a beautiful rendition of the anthem, in one of the most somber settings in the world. It was profoundly moving and a wonderful honor to be a part of that day.

Before the company set sail for Baton Rouge for two months of soundstage work, they spent time at one final key location in Hawaii: Kualoa Ranch, one of the island’s most popular sites for Hollywood productions. It was at Kualoa that Berg staged the explosive scenes with Decker, Gadson and Linklater, who come upon the aliens erecting a communications tower in a place called “ground zero” in the screenplay.

Kualoa Ranch is a sprawling 4,000-acre landscape on the windward side of Oahu and contains one-stop shopping for location managers. Its diverse terrain consists of verdant rain forests, lush valleys, jagged mountain peaks and sparkling white-sand beaches. Just 25 miles from Waikiki, the working cattle ranch has hosted diverse projects over the years, from TV’s Lost and Hawaii Five-0 to the films Jurassic Park, Pearl Harbor and Godzilla, among dozens of other titles.

The hallowed site, once the province of island royalty and one of the most sacred places on Oahu, has been hosting Hollywood for the past 45 years. The first film to use the ranch as a location, coincidentally, was the aforementioned 1965 WWII drama, In Harm’s Way. The ranch was purchased privately in 1850, with family descendants still on-site, and the owners operate daily tours of the facility for the paying public.

“Kualoa Ranch is probably one of the most astonishing views of greenery and mountains in Hawaii,” says local locations manager LAURA SODE-MATTESON. “It’s such a film-friendly location. Shooting at the ranch gives you the jungle and the remoteness that you want, but you still have the support and infrastructure of Oahu, with its hotels, restaurants and easy access.”

Sode-Matteson states the requirements from Berg were “a mountain ridge untouched by civilization.” The Hawaiian native notes: “We found upper-road locations where you can see all of Kāne‘ohe Bay, the largest sheltered body of water in the main islands. It’s a spectacular view and so green because of the rain. But Hakipu‘u is a part of the ranch that isn’t filmed as much; logistically, it’s more challenging. It was perfect because when we were on the hill, you could look back to the ocean as if it was Pearl Harbor with the ships on the water. So, when the destroyers come to attack, it’s believable, because it’s right there in the valley looking out to the ocean.”

For her part, Sode-Matteson achieved something never before done in the years this state has been used as a location: She closed down one of the three main highways for half of a day. The breathtaking views offered from a certain vantage point outside of downtown Honolulu—as the highway stretches toward Kāne‘ohe Bay on the eastern shores of Oahu—were too much to pass up. She confirms: “We shut down the H-3 in the opposite direction so it didn’t impact the traffic as much as people might have thought.”

Working in Louisiana

On the third week in October 2010, the filmmakers bid aloha to two months in Hawaii and headed to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where they had scheduled the next two months of interior ship work on four separate soundstages at the Raleigh Studios at the Celtic Media Centre. The new media facility—which opened in 2007 with 150,000 square feet of space divided among eight soundstages—sits less than 10 miles east of downtown Baton Rouge, along the banks of the Mississippi. The choice location also afforded the team access to yet another historic naval ship.

USS Kidd (DD-661), now a museum on the Mississippi, is a Fletcher-class destroyer launched in 1943 and named for the first Navy flag officer to die during WWII, Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd. He perished on the bridge of his flagship USS Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor. After its service in the Korean War and subsequent use as a training facility, USS Kidd was never modernized and is the only destroyer to retain its WWII appearance. The Kidd’s special mooring in the Mississippi was designed to cope with the annual change in river depth, which can be up to 40 feet. For half of the year she floats in the river; the other half of the year, she is dry-docked.

As Baton Rouge is far from any Navy base, Berg had Captain Hoffman find sailors from Mayport Naval Station, in Jacksonville, Florida, to capture necessary realism for these scenes. “I was in Mayport between Hawaii and Baton Rouge and saw my former ship, USS Hue City, in dry dock,” remembers Hoffman. “A few calls to the Captain, and we got some volunteers to come over and help us. They took some of their hard-earned leave to share in this adventure.”

Also providing needed sailors to the Baton Rouge shoot were USS Carney (DDG 64) and USS The Sullivans (DDG 68). As the flow of the day’s filming made it appropriate, many of these sailors found themselves with dialogue that was added to the scenes..