Adapting board games into films may have become a huge trend as of late but Battleship: The Movie is scraping the bottom of the barrel, writes Saoirse Ní Charagáin
In a recent New Yorker article, screenwriter Mindy Kaling outlined a thoroughly disheartening experience with a major Hollywood studio. Kaling, known mainly for her work on the US version of The Office, pitched a low-budget, safe-bet romantic comedy, only to be told by executives that the studio was “really trying to focus on movies about board games”.
This is the sad reality of the studio system at present; it is actively turning away original material in favour of costly game and toy adaptations. Despite an outstanding track record of critical and commercial failures within the trend, Hollywood continues to insist that the people demand adaptations of their favourite childhood toys. With the forthcoming Battleship, a cinematic re-imagining of, you guessed it, the game ‘Battleship’, due for release in 2012, and rumours of future adaptations including Hot Wheels and Monopoly, the toy trend looks to get worse before it gets any better.
Unlike toy adaptations such as Transformers which , thanks to a previous promotional television series, entered the world of film with some degree of plotline already attributed to them, most adaptations within this trend are devoid of any pre-existing narrative. Battleship and 2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra both have base militaristic themes as toys, but beyond that they offer a great deal of creative opportunity in adapting the toys into a visual, narrative piece. Rather than grasp this opportunity, however, the trend seems to favour the approach of pinning action and/or sci-fi clichés onto the brand recognition of the toy and declaring the trite mess a plot, as evidenced in G.I. Joe. The focus is forever on the attractive power of the brand, as opposed to the merits of the film as a work unto itself.
The motivation behind the trend as a whole operates within a dependence on the past. The ‘appeal’ of these films depends on the supposed sense of nostalgia they inspire in their target audience. The general idea is that if you enjoyed playing with the toys as a child, you’ll enjoy the film adaptation as an adult, and your children can enjoy the inevitable merchandise spawned by the franchises. Thus emerges an idealistic cyclical relationship between the film and manufacturing industries, catering to a broad multi-generational consumer demographic.
The entire endeavour screams of a desire to re-capture the synergistic marketing power of film in the 1980s. However, amidst the effort to emanate the commercial strategies that created co-dependent relationships between the film, record and manufacturing industries at that time, the films themselves have acquired an overwhelming sense of the decade that spawned their toy counter-parts. Typically, the majority of recent toy adaptations are manic action blockbusters. Much in the same vein of action films of the eighties, they revel in the hyper-masculinised, in the spectacle of destruction and, it has to be said, the degradation of women.
The Transformers saga is the worst culprit of such offenses; it delights in flimsily plotted orgies of exploding machinery and oiled bodies. These features aren’t so much offensive and boorish as they are simply dated; any relevance they might have had is lost on twenty-first century viewers.
It must be stressed that these films are in no way intended to be high art, and nor should they be expected to be. What they are supposed to be, however, are high quality products, and therein lies their ultimate failure.
Despite their shortcomings, it can be argued that the one positive which can be gleaned from this onslaught of “toy films” is a return to the spectacle of cinema. Devoid of character development and anything resembling a well-structured narrative, the films compensate with stunningly extravagant visuals. This, perhaps, accounts for Transformers: Dark of the Moon reaching number two in the top ten highest grossing films of the year so far, second only to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part Two. Despite damning reviews of both the film and Michael Bay’s directorial work, the film earned an incredible $1.1 billion worldwide.
In addition to this, the film industry isn’t entirely naive in thinking that brand recognition will pack theatres. This marketing strategy succeeds, initially, with toy adaptations usually boasting impressive first week profits in the box offices. Where it fails however, is in its inability to anticipate the power of new media. After disappointed cinema-goers take to the internet in droves to express their dissatisfaction, toy adaptations see a dramatic decrease in numbers, which ultimately leaves many of them struggling to break even.
Again, in attempting to instil a sense of nostalgia and chasing a thirty-year-old method of achieving commercial success, the films render themselves redundant to a contemporary audience. They belie the bumbling attempts of an industry that has ceased to understand their target audience entirely, an industry that continues to stab in the dark, trying to get its finger back on the pulse of what people really want.