We live an incredibly derivative cinematic time. It often seems that everything is a sequel to a reboot of a remake of an adaptation of an existing property. Some of these are good (one of my most anticipated films of the year is an 8th Batman movie, so I’m at least a part of the problem), many more of them are not. When I looked in the mirror this morning I saw reflected back the deep, horrible certainty that if I live to see 40 it will be in a world where a sequel to a Children of The Corn reboot was released in theaters. If God has utterly abandoned us and we are all truly damned, it might even be a prequel to a Children of the Corn reboot. Nothing I can do will change that. But I have hope today. For I see the opportunity for the blossoms of originality to take new root in this incestuous, creatively fallow environment. I see board games being adapted into movies.
This may be the ravings of a madman. It’s possible that I have stared into the depths of Hollywood’s creative bankruptcy for long enough that I’ve come to embrace my most heinous tormentors simply for making me feel something. But consider a few things. For starters, game adaptations actually have a better track record than any genre you could compare it to. I base that claim on questionably scientific criteria that the only one I can think of is Clue, and Clue fucking rules. Sure, the genre is unlikely to continue to bat a thousand as more get made, but from time to time it’s important to remind people that Clue still is, and is awesome.
But Clue is really a bad example of what I’m getting at, because it actually has an unusually defined cast and plotline for a board game. Most games have nothing but the vaguest bit of a concept and (more importantly) some name recognition that can maybe help a skittish studio stooge greenlight what is essentially an original script by letting him pretend it’s an adaptation of a known property. I’ve seen plenty of people laugh off the trailers for Peter Berg’s upcoming Battleship movie as the height of Hollywood hackery, but to me this is essentially an original sci-fi flick.
And that flick might very well suck, but it won’t be because the source material is irredeemably bad. It’s neither good nor bad, because it’s so slight that it can hardly be said to exist. The most striking thing about the movie so far is that the villains are aliens, and aliens aren’t even a part of the Battleship mythos, assuming there is such a thing. I’m up for a navy vs. aliens movie, whatever they call it. In the absolute worst case scenario, it still can’t be half as shrill and aggressive in its stupidity as Michael Bay’s similarly themed Transformers series (rumored to be getting rebooted with Bay himself at the helm in a year or two, which is a recipe for originality if ever I heard one), which has much more substantive source material to draw from and therefore be constrained by.
A board game movie has the potential to surprise me in a way that something like The Avengers, where I have actual enthusiasm for the property and which will almost certainly be better, simply can’t. Will it deliver on that potential? Probably not. Most movies that get made are nothing special (that’s basically the definition of “special”) so you can’t go wrong betting on any one movie to disappoint. But there’s nothing about this premise that’s stopping it from being great and original; I can be pretty sure that the aliens won’t win in Battleship, but other than that anything could happen. Whereas when you’re remaking The Thing, as much as I love the original I pretty much no what has to happen.
Case in point: did anyone ever think a person could be coked up enough to pitch a Candyland movie as an action epic, a “Lord of the Rings in a world made of candy”? Of course not, because that’s more insane than making a Candyland movie about absolutely anything else. But because someone did that, I have come to the conclusion that Candyland could very well be parody that Epic Movie should have been. The concept is just too slim to get in the way of that if it’s what someone wants to do. Then I start thinking that Boardwalk Empire wouldn’t be any less great if it were called Monoply: The Show, or that in the hands of Terry Gilliam, Chutes and Ladders could be a brilliantly surreal, existential allegory. And that I want a Hungry, Hungry Hippos movie. Because the only thing that title tells me is that at some point the film will feature Nature’s biggest assholes eating a person, and of course I want to see that.
So bring on the board game films. Hell, I’d like even less coherent ideas to get adapted. Let’s see Tallness: The 3D Experience or a TV show based on a man’s struggles with the different possible shades of purple or Big League Chew! The Musical. Because when the thing you’re “adapting” isn’t a story or a character and may or may not even qualify as a concept, you’re essentially producing an original script. And that’s not easy to pull off in the Prebootquel Era, so I say slap whatever title on it you have to if it means getting it through.