Donald Clarke on the toys for Hollywood’s big boys
Next year, following the success of Transformers and GI Joe, another great movie inspired by a toy will be coming your way. Yes, indeed. Gird your loins for Michael Bay’s Weebles.
Starring Robert Pattinson as the blue one in the dungarees and Vanessa Hudgens as the pink one in the polka-dot dress, Weebles tells the thrilling story of a people who – when riddled by fighter jets, rattled by ballistic missiles and bombarded by mortars – wobble rather thrillingly, but, crucially, don’t fall down.
The paragraph above is currently a joke, but it might not remain so for long. In the past few months, Hollywood studios have optioned two board games, neither of which boasts anything like a story arc. No kidding: property-flogging capitalism primer Monopoly and ruthless, world-domination jamboree Risk are coming to the multiplex. Before too long, we will be thrilling to the sight of Russell Crowe erecting a large green hotel on Boardwalk (I assume it’s the US version) and Martin Lawrence launching a full-scale invasion of Kamchatka (that’s in Russia, you know).
One of the most oft-quoted aphorisms in Hollywood is William Goldman’s shrewd “Nobody knows anything”. The veteran screenwriter was getting at the sheer unpredictability of the movie business. You spend five years planning the latest superhero flick and then watch, aghast, as a musical based on the songs of Abba becomes the biggest film of the year. You hire James Cameron, director of the hugest of all movies, to harness the latest 3-D technology for a sci-fi epic, and then stare goggle-eyed with disappointment as . . .
Oh, let’s not attempt to finish that sentence. If there’s one thing that nobody knows anything about, it has to be the upcoming Avatar.
Does this uncertainty lead producers to ignore last year’s figures and trust in the creative originality of writers and directors? It does not.
For decades, a key task of studio bosses has been to scrutinise recent smashes and discern which aspects of them can influence forward planning. Hence the raft of big, dumb musicals that followed The
Sound of Music. Hence the swathe of sword-and-sandals flops that followed Gladiator. Hence the current craze to adapt movies from toys. The strategy almost never works, but it helps executives feel they’re struggling against the horror of uncertainty.
I have a suggestion. Maybe the studios should widen their gaze. Perhaps the root to success involves basing films on random items that lie around the house. What did you stand on after you tripped over that discarded Optimus Prime doll? Well, who says you can’t construct a film around the life of a slightly wheezy vacuum cleaner? I envision Eric Bana as the Hoover and The Jonas Brothers as the scurrying flakes of dust.
You stumbled into an ironing board leaning against a set of golf clubs? Hey, that movie appeals to a whole range of demographics. You’ve just stood in dog poo? Oh, sorry, they already made that movie. Didn’t you see The Boat That Rocked? Har, har!