x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Hollywood transforms

Film studios, having pillaged comic books and television for material, are turning to toys and games for inspiration.

The director Michael Bay has made two films based on Transformer toys, both of which were box-office successes. Above, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
The director Michael Bay has made two films based on Transformer toys, both of which were box-office successes. Above, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

In waves, in droves, the little plastic men are coming for the cinema. After the improbable success of the brutally stupid Transformers movies - habitual Michael Bay spectaculars of flying metal, casual racism and bewildered-looking human actors wondering whether anyone will notice if they slip off to the loo - the toy is now the new force in Hollywood.

And we're not just talking about GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra either, in which actors as diverse as Christopher Eccleston and Sienna Miller gave their best imitations of the blank-faced action figures of the title. No, the next big film property will be the yellow men from Billund with the detachable legs, as Warner Bros announces that it is developing a film based on Lego. Details are sketchy so far, but the film is said to be a mixture of live action and animation, raising the question: who could possibly do justice to the vacuous, smiling face-analogue of a Lego man? (Who but Keanu Reeves?)

But the idea isn't as original as it may seem. A flourishing community already exists on the internet for "brickfilms", or stop-motion animations painstakingly created using Lego models. The website www.brickfilms.com showcases a baffling variety of clips, from original features to comedy sketches to brick-based remakes of Titanic, Star Wars and The Godfather. The Lego movie is but one example of a larger trend sweeping the film studios of America.

In its desperate search for new material, Hollywood has fallen upon the classic toys of the 1970s and 1980s like a plague of voracious nanobots. And the toy manufacturers have not been slow to respond: both Hasbro and Mattel have appointed heads of film development whose prime function is to peddle property to the big studios. So what can we look forward to? Are you sure you want to know? Mattel is presently rubbing its hands after shifting the rights to Hot Wheels, the miniature toy car range, to Columbia Pictures.

McG, the director of the incoherent Aliens vs Predator films and Terminator: Salvation, is tipped to direct. Tom Hanks, according to Variety magazine, is considering taking the lead role in Major Matt Mason, a film inspired by a children's action figure that was popular in the run-up to the Apollo Moon landings. And Stretch Armstrong - based on a ghastly 1980s toy in the shape of a lantern-jawed blond hunk whose arms and legs could be stretched to an improbable length of more than a metre - is being written for the screen by the man responsible for The Nutty Professor. But that's not all.

Further news from the marketing department indicates that Peter Berg, the man who directed The Kingdom and Hancock, is attached to a film adaptation of Battleships.Yes, Battleships, the game where you call out grid references in the hope of scoring a hit on a friend's concealed naval fleet. One can only imagine the thousand-yard stare on the screenwriter attached to that project. And Ridley Scott, the director of Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator, has long been attached to a film version of Monopoly.

In apparently sound mind, Scott has said that Monopoly has the potential of being "hysterical and rather exciting" particularly "when your uncle suddenly gets Park Lane ... and you watch people change. You're witness to Jekyll and Hyde." Scott's Monopoly wouldn't even be the first film based on a board game. 1985's Clue, a comedy based on Cluedo, has that dubious honour. (It, too, is due to be remade, with the director Gore Verbinski of Pirates of the Caribbean fame in charge.)

Other adaptations that Mattel and Hasbro are aggressively pursuing are Ouija, based around the supernatural intercom of the same name (Hasbro, cheeringly, sells a glow-in-the-dark version) and Magic 8-Ball, which draws inspiration from the fluid-filled, gnomic toy that will make a decision for you. Yes, it all sounds utterly terrible. In the brave new world of toy adaptations, as we watch transfixed while another battleship is sunk, while Uncle wins Park Lane amid family rejoicing, while the Magic 8-Ball rolls and rolls and finally concludes "Outlook not so good", the only possible consolation is that the despicable tradition of a four-hour Oscars ceremony may finally be put to rest.

In the future, all the awards will be carried away by little yellow men with swivelling heads, wanting to thank their parents and their manager and the acrylonitrile butadiene styrene injection-moulding machine.