Don­ald Clarke on the toys for Hol­ly­wood’s big boys

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion - dclarke@irish­times.com

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!

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