Monday, June 29, 2009

Ask Ouija: can Battleship win an Oscar?

At NPR they took note of the upcoming movies based on various Hasbro toys and games:

"The new blockbusters, meanwhile, feature bombastic special effects and involve partnerships with some of the biggest names in movies — including Michael Bay, Steven Spielberg, DreamWorks, Paramount and Universal. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, which opens in August, will try to duplicate the success of the Transformers franchise by offering its own explosions and action.

The big-screen strategy is one that seems to be working: "It's pretty much as close to printing money as you're going to get in the toy business," said Cliff Annicelli, who runs the toy industry journal Playthings.

Annicelli says that by letting the movie companies take the financial risk of producing the films, Hasbro is playing it smart with the Transformers and G.I. Joe movies. Though the company misses out on the box office take, it gets to sell all those toys to a new generation of fans.

Up next: a string of movies based on some of the most famous names in Hasbro's toy chest, including the board games Monopoly, Ouija, Candy Land and Battleship."

Actually, Transformers and G.I. Joe are not hard to see as a source for movie ideas. As a toy series, each does have a notional back story and a continuing narrative. They are also self-evidently action oriented toys and seem an easy fit for action-oriented movies. Action movies have always served as an excellent source for action toys tie-in as well. On the other hand, how many toys came out of Shakespeare in Love, The English Patient or No Country For Old Men?

But Monopoly, Ouija, Candy Land and Battleship? While they have themes, none of these have a story, so it's hard to see how the screenwriters can do more than just borrow the name from the game. Even the movie version of Clue suffered somewhat from this problem, although even that game has a little more narrative to it and some identifiable characters. Still, while a valiant effort, the Clue movie was hardly a success.

Of the four listed, I think the Ouija board may be the easiest to write a screenplay for. For one thing, Ouija isn't really a game. It would be pretty easy to take a Jumanji sort of approach where the Ouija board is used as a springboard for some other sort of story.

Candyland also seems to have a low entry bar. It's not much of a game, so the screenwriters could use it to tell any sort of kid-friendly story they wanted without having to worry too much about being constrained by the game in any way.

On the other hand, Monopoly seems tough. Everybody knows the game, so the audience will have more expectations about what they're going to see and therefore more opportunities to be disappointed. The success of some recent adaptations such as the Lord of the Rings and some of the recent superhero movies such as Spider-Man and the Dark Knight may obscure the poor track record of such efforts. For every Batman Returns there's a dozen Daredevils.

And turning Battleship into a movie? That's going to be an interesting assignment for a screenwriter. At least Monopoly has Mr. Monopoly and some recognizable locations like Boardwalk and the Reading Railroad to anchor it.

It would actually make more sense to me to use the Axis & Allies brand as a movie tie-in, or Heroscape or maybe Godstorm Risk. While not quite as well-known as Battleship, there's a narrative to mine for story ideas.

Most of these movies are set to come out in the next few years so I guess we won't have too long to wait to see how they turn out.

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