Films About Toys: Does Hollywood have it right?
There's a veritable torrent, if I'm still allowed to use that word in public on a film site without fear of persecution, of films based on toys being developed just now, and while initially I thought it was complete rubbish, the more I thought about it the more I saw the positives.
While Hollywood strives to get properties with an established audience and make films to draw them in, up until now their focus has been on novels, video games, plays, television series and other films.
Now they are turning to a new genre, the toy. From Battleship to Barbie, we're going to see them on screen, and while I initially couldn't believer what a film about the Monopoly game might have to offer story wise, now I've realised something, this might actually be a very creative move from Hollywood.
The ideas honestly sound completely idiotic. A film based on the View-Master, that toy you put a disc of images into, pressed the lever, and watched an image come to life before you, in later versions in 3D? At least with the Monopoly idea there's some complexity to the game, but a film about property tycoons fighting for money? Really?
What could these properties have to offer a film other than the recognisable brand name? There's no plot behind it, no real dramatic story to playing the game. In Battleship you chose random squares to blow up randomly placed boats on the oppositions' board, with View-Master you look at pictures, and Barbie? Well what does a plastic doll with the image of a blonde skinny model have to offer?
There's no real substance to these properties, no depth, no real character and no story for the film to follow.
That's where my thinking suddenly took me off on a total about turn. Having no pre-set story, no predefined character, no laid out path for the film story to follow could be a total liberation for the film, it could actually give the writers more creativity and possibilities for the film.
I think a prime example of the difficult road that Hollywood has to travel with an adaptation is best shown by Lord of the Rings or Halo. The Lord of the Rings is a huge success story but it was up against a great mountain of difficulty.
The novels it was adapted from were some of the most loved books of our time, a mammoth audience had read them, and were fired up with their own imagined world ready to compare to the films. The writers had little chance, they had to take the original material and lovingly turn it into a film which all these Audience members would love. For that they had to stay true to the original, and that leaves little room for creativity.
The same went for Halo, a video game film that had a huge following as a game and series of novels, and if adapted for film just right then it would have attracted a huge following. There lay the problem. The attention to detail required and the need to get everything just so meant that costs escalated, the game studio wouldn't relinquish control in order to get it made just right, and the film was abandoned. Writers and creatives had little chance to do anything significant with the property.
Then, look at the spate of film adaptations of toys and boardgames, and indeed some video-games that have no story or plot to them, just a purpose or a simple brand name and identity that gives some meaning to an idea behind it. Isn't that perfect for the creatives? It gives writers the freedom to go anywhere with the story, do anything they want to do, and the freedom to develop something that will capture the audience.
Of course that's where a lot of them fall over and we can get something poor and half-arsed, just enough to exploit the idea to make some money, but if there's some care and attention the writers can go anywhere with the idea and deliver something rather special.
With something like Battleship what are the constraints? Two people in combat with ships, trying to blow holes in each other's fleet. That suggests huge naval battles and possibly something in the future using technology for remote warfare perhaps? What about having rich, controlling individuals, so powerful that they are above governments and their private armies do battle for ownership of land and resources? See, already the ideas are pouring out and widening up the possibilities for a concept as shallow as Battleship the board game. That couldn't be done with Halo.
So maybe we're being too harsh. Perhaps in these toe shallow concepts with absolutely no story or plot, there's far more room for the writers and directors to breathe, and without studio demands they can develop something away from the constraints of the people who own the property.
There's another side to this as well, the money that the studio can save in marketing and publicity, as well as the money that they can recoup from the huge merchandising potential. Now if we were living in a much rosier world you could argue that this gives the film more budget and more leeway to stretch out a little, the money saved and made would provide the film with more budget.
Except we're not, but it would give the producers more room to push for more budget, and a better chance of getting it. In all ways it would seem that an idea based on nothing more than a brand could bring much more throughout the process, from writing to selling.
So these ideas for films which seem so shallow and useless - Battleship, Monopoly, View-Master, Cluedo (Clue), and on and on – actually can bring more creativity options, wider development opportunities, more freedom for the writer and director, greater potential for the producers on budget increases, and more opportunity for the studio to earn more back on merchandising and save more on marketing.
However, despite it giving more opportunity, it still relies on the studio and production company allowing more freedom to the writers and directors to exploit the potential, and if they just pull in anyone and push them in one direction, all that potential is lost.
That's why projects like Battleship and Monopoly shouldn't be scorned and instead we should be excited for. They have huge names behind them, Ridley Scott and Peter Berg are directing these two, and there could be something amazing that comes out the other end. When these films are released we could be forgetting our concerns as we're lost in a rich story filled with superb visuals and exciting action.
There are clearly two sides to this debate, and the question is where do you lie? Do you think that it's just plain stupid, or do you see the increased potential for the creatives and think that they could produce some very strong films? Is it just a plot by the studio to hit a ready made audience for guaranteed cash or are they actually thinking beyond that?