Sunday, July 05, 2009

Asteroids, Viewmaster, etc.

I'm lately finding myself a bit of a rare species here on the interweb, in as much as I'm not reflexively aghast at each new "low" in the current trend of greenlighting major movies based on brand-name properties of dubious narrative potential (usually video games or old toys.) The problem is probably with me, being that I'm A.) a film geek born in 1981 and thus the textbook "mark" for these films and B.) not concerned with artificially-increasing my percieved coolness by being a snide douche and pretending these things don't still occupy a place of affection in my psyche.

For awhile, this particular trend confined itself to action figure lines from the 80s, most of which had nominal stories attached that could be plausibly adapted to film. Recently, though, it's branched off into stuff like random playthings or board games that don't really have any attendant "story" or "theme," which has gotten people all hot and bothered about "the end of cinema" and other such hyperbole. Current most-punchline-y cases: Viewmaster and Asteroids (as in the photo-viewing visor toy and the minimalist late-70s arcade game.)

Frankly, the aquisitions of THESE kinds of properties makes me a lot LESS apprehensive than the stuff that was already narrative. 80s action-figure backstories, with the mandatory dueling teams of good and evil characters fighting over some mythical widget or another, don't exactly mandate the most complex stories be told. Stuff that IS "just a hook and a brand," on the other hand, seems to me to hold more possibilities. Asteroids, for example, is "about" a spaceship tasked with blowing up space debris. Something you could build a decent scifi movie out of? Sure, I think so.

Elsewhere, Ridley Scott apparently wants to make a "Monopoly" movie - as in the board game. Now... a Ridley Scott movie about wealthy people fighting dirty over real-estate? Yeah, I wanna see that - and if he has to slap the Parker Bros. brand on it to get it made... still deserves a chance, as far as I'm concerned. Same deal with the proposed "Battleship" film. Viewmaster? How many movies have already been made about looking-glass type devices having some extra-natural function? Does the cheezy branding make it an AUTOMATIC "don't" regardless of the outcome? (Oh, in case your wondering, YES, someone already grabbed up the rights to make a horror movie out of "Oujia Board," probably the biggest 'duh' property in this cycle.)

I can certainly see, if nothing else, a kind of perverse creative "fun" to be had if one if the guy (or guys) tasked with coming up with narrative contexts for these things. Lemme try some out...

SILLY PUTTY: Terrorists pursue a kid who's unwittingly used his Silly Putty to "copy" the only known text of missle launch codes.

CREEPY CRAWLERS: Rubbery insects come out "alive," chase people.

EASY BAKE OVEN: Girl makes surprisingly-good amateur pastries, often with comically magical results (so, "Simply Irresistable"/"Like Water For Chocolate" but with a kid.)

OPERATION! Disgraced surgeon must perform delicate operation on a man who has been wired by terrorists to explode if bomb parts not removed precisely (This Summer: Don't blink. Don't breath. Don't... touch the sides!)

HOT WHEELS: That unused script for "Fast & Furious 5" might as well get used for SOMETHING, right?

TWISTER: Teen sex-comedy. Vaugely-dweeby guy re-evaluates life after round of titular party-game accidentally lands him in semi-compromising position with longtime female friend he'd previously not thought of "that way." (Paging Mr. Cera...)

RADIO FLYER: Oh, yeah. Nevermind.


Alex Howard said...

It would worry me less, except the vast majority of these properties belong to Hasbro, including anything made by Parker Bros., and especially all the action figures. That seems to indicate that Hasbro has a ridiculous amount of suction with the industry, if they can get Ridley Scott attached to a Monopoly movie. Now normally, this would bother me as much as a lone mosquito might, just a minor annoyance, but basically, when you consider that those 80s TV shows existed solely because Reagan relaxed to standards on advertising, so that people could create shows around toys rather than toys around shows, it makes these movies look exactly like what they are: giant advertisements. I mean, I read an article wherein the reviewer knocked Bay for engaging in product placement by having a Mountain Dew Transformer. And I laughed, because frankly, the Transformers themselves are product placement. I want to be able to go to a theater in the summer and see movies that have more original ideas, like Public Enemies, or Inglorious Basterds or even The Hangover. Not new ideas, necessarily, but new stories.
You're right, I think Ridley Scott could make a compelling narrative out of Monopoly. As long as Mr. Moneybags isn't allowed anywhere near it. But, I'm afraid he'd accidentally crank out Wall Street while he was doing it.

Bob said...

Everything's an advertisement, man.

I don't even mean that as snark - look around you. Not only is the U.S. fundamentally capitalist to start with, it's a capitalist country who's only viable industry is the "manufacture" of branded properties. EVERYTHING is marketing at this point. Even "classy" fare like Public Enemies is essentially advertising for popcorn and watered-down Mountain Dew at the multiplex and it's own DVD five months down the road.

Alex Howard said...

This is kinda a bizarre creepy capitalism though, one that holds your childhood hostage and sells it back to you at $10.00 a pop. Only they gave it to Michael Bay and JJ Abrams first, and they did awful, unspeakable things to it. Like whoring it up by trying to make it "cooler."
And what's more, it's not even subtle about it. I mean, there's no actual product behind Public Enemies. Any sale of soda or popcorn is incidental to the movie. Transformers on the other hand, exists solely because there is a product, and solely because that product made Hasbro enough money that they could blow it making a shitty movie about that product. And then they used the profits from that to make a longer, shittier movie. It's like going to see a live-action movie about how the popcorn is waging an age old war on the soda. Just like Transformers, it would never directly try to sell me the popcorn and the soda, but it's not exactly making a secret that the popcorn and the soda are for sale, if it's making a movie about them. I mean, everyone could agree that my Popcorn-Soda War movie is a ridiculous premise, merely because it's just popcorn and soda (if everyone can't agree to that, then I call dibs on selling it to Hollywood & Michael Bay). But Transformers get a free pass on ridiculousness?
Also, VIEWMASTER?! I'd never even heard they were doing a movie for that. Didn't Viewmaster just show stills from movies?

Vincent said...

Hey Bob,

I hope you don't mind a totally off-topic post, but I couldn't find a way to email you (I assume you have email contact details listed somewhere, but I couldn't find them).

Have you seen any of the Spectacular Spiderman cartoon? I was up early last Saturday morning and I happened to catch an episode. I'd never seen the show before, but it kicked an amazing amount of ass in my opinion. The action was pretty amazing, not just by cartoon standards but by ANY standards. Great choreography, ever-increasing adrenaline, and a decent, fairly complex story to give all the action some weight. I was blown away that a cartoon could be so good. Do you have any thoughts? Are all the episodes that good?

Anonymous said...

If Hollywood can't even make good movies out of good properties (Star Trek, Transformers) what makes you think they can make good movies out of Viewmaster and Battleship? Sure, Asteroids could be good, and Monopoly might be alright, but in order for these to make coherent naratives, they can only be tenatively connected to the properties involved.

Most of these are going to turn out closer to Mac and Me than Toy Story. Actually most of them will probably turn out like Jumanji and Zathura, which were both only okay.

Kyle said...

You're like AWESOME-O.

GamerFromJump said...

Have you seen any of the Spectacular Spiderman cartoon?

I have. Your part about the choreography is spot-on. I remember specifically saying, "This is what a fight with Spiderman should look like!" Plus, they manage to tell their own story without disrespecting the source material, and not totally lobotomizing it for a kid audience.

My complaint is that I had to torrent it because it's doesn't show where I am.

Anyway, if you can't have the Diniverse (Like Bob said in his Dark Knight review, it's still the best at everything), this was a good alternative.