Over the last number of years, American film producers appear to have collectively dismissed the idea of an original concept for a film. Amid brash, cameo-infested re-imaginings of classic 80’s movies, films based on comic books boasting scripts that make porn dialogue sound like Patrick Stewart reciting Hamlet, and endless strings of unnecessary blockbuster sequels to equally unnecessary original films, it had seemed as though Hollywood had finally slipped to the bottom rung of the greasy ladder of derivativeness and banality.
But wait, there’s more. May of next year sees the release of Battleship, a movie based on the popular classic board game of the same name. What’s that sound I hear? Why it can only be Hollywood’s producers falling off the aforementioned ladder, then rolling into a giant pit of unoriginality and absurdity that someone carelessly left unguarded. Probably Michael Bay, he doesn’t give a damn about rules. Only explosions. I’ll let you know when I hear them hit the bottom.
As ludicrous as this idea sounds, the trailer actually makes it look like it could be a bit of fun. Mindless fun, but fun nonetheless. And it does have Liam Neeson in it so you just know that at some stage someone is going to get an inspiring speech, followed by a beatdown, followed by some sage advice from the wise old Ballymena man. Which will promptly be followed by another beatdown.
The most puzzling aspect of the trailer for those acquainted with the rather simple board game, is that it seems to take quite a few liberties with the original premise. There’s a bit of a leap from ‘Guess a number and I may or may not have to remove one of the tiny pegs from my board, edging you ever closer to a famous naval victory’, to ‘Oh shit, this routine mission has somehow deviated into a pitched battle against an enormous aquatic alien vessel which seems capable of flight. What do we do Liam Neeson?’.
That’s like basing a movie on Scrabble in which sentient vowels invade Consonant Land, raping and pillaging in gangs of seven and rounding up all the Zs and Qs so they can ransom them for the most points. Or a film based on Operation in which a clearly conscious man is horrifically butchered by amateur surgeons who want to harvest his organs. Actually, that’s not too far away from the game at all…
Although in fairness, they have already made a successful film of Monopoly, where a greasy, unscrupulous tycoon uses insider trading to gain power and influence and rise to the top of the business world, only to be caught in the end and have to go to jail. I’m just glad they took out the scene of Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen passing Go and collecting 200 quid, it really didn’t sit with the rest of the film.
It may seem farcical to have a movie so loosely based on an existing concept, but the fact is that a recognisable brand is far easier to market. Original films have to be sold on their merits alone, which requires good acting, a great script, and many other features that most producers are too lazy to shell out for just so that the film can make a few bob at the local cinema while Saw 11: Let’s Get Gristlier is raking in the dough down at the 3D Cineplex.
Of course there have always been blockbusters, and they are by and large quite enjoyable distractions. There will also never be a shortage of cheaply made independent films. You know the type, seven hour long Ukrainian features about the grim reality of working in a smelting factory in wartime Kiev, set to a soundtrack of mechanical gears and the wailings of orphaned children. The kind of films that win all sorts of prestigious awards and critical acclaim at film festivals the world over, but will only ever be seen by that weird girl you know who’s into making her own jumpers.
The danger is that the films that make up the middle ground between the two extremes will become commercially unviable. People are going to the cinema less and less, and you can be assured that a big-name action blockbuster will draw the crowds, so why bother making anything else? Hopefully Hollywood will continue to produce great directors and screenwriters whose films contain some semblance of plot, feeling and intelligence. And hopefully producers will keep giving them a chance.
As for the future of the blockbuster, one of these days all the books, comics and board games will be used up, and nothing will remain to inspire our summer’s viewing. Although by that stage we could probably just get away with remaking them all again and nobody will know the difference.
Hang on a minute, I hear something. It’s coming from the bottom of the pit. It sounds like they’ve found a barrel down there and they’re scraping the bottom of it. I can even hear them whispering about how they could definitely get away with at least three more Pirates of the Caribbean films before anyone notices that nothing happens in them. God help us. God help us all.