Jan 4 2010

Board Game Cinema? Balderdash.


Early in 2008, Universal Studios and Hasbro arranged a six-year partnership, which will result in series of films based on a number of popular board games.  Ladies and gentleman, Hollywood has officially run out of ideas.  Or, at the very least, has run out of clever producers.

The first set of games chosen to become major motion pictures are Battleship, Monopoly, Candyland, and a remake/reboot (or whatever bogus term they’ll use to justify poor decision making) of Clue.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, other film companies have followed suit, with Risk, Magic: The Gathering, and Ouijia, the latter of which will be produced by Michael Bay.  Michael Bay.  A film based on a ouijia board, produced by Michael Bay.  I can’t wait.

Following 2009’s blockbusting “Summer of Suck”, the consensus from critics, analysts and internet geeks alike was unanimous: Hollywood has run out of stories to tell.  Although the deal between Universal and Hasbro was signed a year and a half prior to this period, the byproduct of this godless merger has garnered quite a bit of attention, mostly because in this era story-less stories, Universal has decided to, rather than throw us a rope, piss on the masses.  I’m not sure if the board game film trend is a product of corporate greed, bad analysis, or the result of a few high-powered suits with really good senses of humor.

It would be one thing if these films were to be done in a cheeky or campy style, basking in the absurdity of the very concept of a motion picture based on a board game, much like the original Clue film in 1985.  Judging from the directors slated to direct these films, it appears that these films are going to be taken fairly serious.  Peter Berg, who previously directed Hancock and The Rundown, is going to man Battleship.  Although I hope the film will resemble PT 109, it will most likely play out like a sequel to Pearl Harbor.  Kevin Lima, the director of Enchanted, is set to direct Candyland, and will probably make it as saccharine as possible.  The remake of Clue will be helmed by Gore Verbinski (the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy), and probably star Johnny Depp as Mr. Green and Orlando Bloom as Ms. Scarlet.

The most puzzling of the Universal/Hasbro films is Monopoly, which will be helmed by, of all people, Ridley Scott.  It’s difficult to predict whether not Scott can make Monopoly work; although Scott has an impressive list of films under his belt (Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator), some of his most recent films have been rather mediocre, such as Hannibal and American Gangster.  And then there is his desire to direct a prequel to Alien, which, to say is unnecessary doesn’t quite express how bad that idea really is.

Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200

Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200

Scott’s talent as a director aside, there’s also this question:  How the hell does one turn Monopoly into Monopoly?  Monopoly is, essentially, a game of extreme real estate that lasts forever.  Are we going to watch characters aggressively buy and sell properties?  And what about that whole “pass, go, collect 200 dollars” thing?  How the hell is that going to work out anywhere else but in the game?  If he casts Russell Crowe, at least the jail will become prominent in the film and stay accurate to the game, as will the inevitable fistfight that concludes every game of Monopoly I’ve ever played with my own family.

How can any of these games be made into films, really?  Granted, we can all guess the plot of Battleship, Risk and Clue, but can anyone really take these films seriously?  I cannot imagine any response other than laughter when, at the end of Battleship, the antagonist screams, “You sunk my battleship!” as his ship goes down.  I cannot imagine sitting through a serious, Agatha Christie-esque rendition of Clue while characters still sport monikers chosen to spoof the very same genre.  And Oujia: The Movie?  I’ve seen Monster Squad, and I hate spelling bees; I don’t want to see a film that combines the two.

There is a way to make board game films correctly: be self aware, be absurd, over-the-top, and mock the very idea of a film based on a game.  None of these films seem to be doing this.  Come one guys, a film based on a board game is ridiculous; go nuts.  Let David Lynch direct Candyland, or play Monopoly play out like a farce on the breakup of an all-American family due to an evening playing Monopoly.  Hell, why not make a film version of Mystery Date with John Waters directing, or Scrabble: The Movie featuring a battle of wits between Gary Busey and Nick Nolte?  Ridiculous? Yes.  Absurd?  The very definition of, I believe.  But I’d rather see a film that takes a stupid concept made to turn an easy profit and laugh at itself, than a serious rendition of Battleship.

I shouldn’t be surprised by this seemingly thoughtless idea from the moneymakers of Hollywood.  The powers-that-be are always looking for the next gimmick to get the masses into megaplexes on a Friday night.  Seventies television shows, comic books, reboots… these ideas have been milked over and over again; time for a new idea, I suppose.  Sort of.

For the last thirty years, various production companies have always seen “the business” as movie marketing, rather than movie making.  Once studios realized the massive profit that could be made regularly from blockbuster pictures, the approach to filmmaking changed in the minds of many producer and studio executives.  Though, to be fair, any and all entertainment businesses have never been in short supply of publishers, producers and managers with money on their minds, and nothing spells “easy money” like an easily marketed trend.

Coming to a Theater Near You

Coming to a Theater Near You

For as unusual as a film based on a board game is, it really isn’t once you take a look back on the various adaptations of pop culture to film.  There isn’t much else to adapt into a film nowadays, save for a good old fashion, well written story, which is, apparently, hard to come by nowadays (for producers, at least).  Besides, the well of video game adaptations has dried up, thus video games’ cardboard counterparts is the logical next step; once you’ve made films based on Double Dragon and Super Mario, what else is there to do?  Not to mention that, in a system criticized for having run out of new ideas and churning out stale, shallow stories, what better than board games to turn to for salvation?  They are, by their very nature, the personification of the two-dimensional.

When devoid of creative license and a post-modern sense of humor, board game films are better left unplayed and should remain in the dark.  The lack of any conceivable depth aside, no one really plays board games for the game itself, but for what the players add the game, whether it’s the laughter, the arguments, competition, or cheeky conflict.  Once you take that human component away from the game, the game is little more than a collection of colorful cardboard pieces, hardly worth any time or price of admission.

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