Hello my people, it’s your friendly neighborhood board game geek with your semi-regular post rambling on about all things board-games. With the summer blockbuster season coming up just around the corner and recent political happenings driving the need for constant escapism, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about something we all hold near and dear to our hearts: big screen adaptations of things you’d never expect.
In that vein, I decided to watch five film adaptations of popular board games and give my first impressions, honest opinions, and some general thoughts regarding their quality.
Directed by: Peter Burg
Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgard, Rihanna
I remember when the first trailer for Battleship dropped and the internet burst into flames. 2012 was still early in the prime of reboots, remakes, and weird adaptations, so there was plenty of ill-will directed towards Universal, considering we were still in the midst of Michael Bay’s Transformers cataclysm.
The basic plot of Battleship is pretty…basic. In essence, an alien spaceship crash-lands near a beacon in Hawaii and it’s up to a series of battleships to take them on and prevent them from signaling the mothership. Overall the movie is fairly unexceptional, managing to capture the blind-fire of the game it is based on while having top-notch visual effects and alien designs.
One thing to note is that the parts of the White Pegs were played by actual US Navy sailors, though they tend to make better shots than I do whenever I play the actual game.
Directed by: Daniel Espinosa
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, and Ryan Reynolds.
One thing most film watchers will admit is that most adaptations require some twisting in order to make it appropriate for the screen. It’s not uncommon for most adaptations to mutate the premise somewhat to better fit a dramatic structure…of course, it’s also not uncommon for it to be taken too far.
For those of you who haven’t played the classic Milton-Bradley board game Life, it primarily concerns a cluster of yuppies who wander around their town buying things they can’t afford, having children they can’t support, and otherwise experience all the wonder of post-graduate life in the modern era. It seems like the perfect setup for a Pleasantville-style send-up of modern suburbia, so I’m not sure why we got a space-station horror film.
Now, depending on the version of Life you’re playing I think it’s probably reasonable to expect a player or two to have a career related to space or exobiology, but it’s obvious this film went through some changes between conception and release. The most obvious change is from an Earth suburb to a space station, which is understandable; changing the setting to a more exotic location makes sense to draw in audiences, and if it sells copies of the outer-space version of Life, all the power to them.
Without getting too far into spoilers, I will just say that I had to work to identify aspects of the board game within the movie. The alien lifeform, Calvin, obviously represents the ever-present Life spinner, determining the fate and moves made by the crew as they collect what they need to live the titular…Life. As Calvin moves through the station and eliminates players (removing them from the game in the process) we see the original message of the board game play out on the big screen: Life is unfair, and none of us get out alive.
Directed by: Jan de Bont
Starring: Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Jami Gertz
Twister is a game that consistently sees play, and it’s no wonder why: people like the tension of facing a growing catastrophe and planning ahead for when the world crashes down around their ears. The spinner, which informs players of the position they must twist themselves into, presents an ever-increasing source of tension for all involved, until the mass of humanity collapses in upon itself.
The movie adaptation of this board game classic decides to embody the circular motion of the board’s spinner as a massive tornado, which Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton chase around in a car, risking life and limb to collect info and perhaps, just perhaps, anticipate the game’s next move.
Second only to Jenga in terms of mounting tension, Twister was perfect for a film adaptation, and what a surprise to have had this movie in the American film canon for more than 20 years.
The supporting cast of characters is quite colorful, a subtle reference to the collection of various colors on the Twister game mat. Cary Elwes is quite worth the experience as Dr. Jonas Miller, a storm-chaser who is only in it for the money; indeed a biting retort against the type of player who only opens a game to win.
The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice (1952)
Directed by: Orson Welles
Starring: Osron Welles, Michael MacLiammoir
It is a little-known fact that William Shakespeare and Orson Welles both shared a love of board games. Separated by more than four centuries, these two titans of their craft were linked across time and space by a single game: Othello.
It is another little-known fact that Shakespeare’s contemplative exploration of race and romance was an adaptation of a simple game focusing on flipping little circular markers on a green board.
I will try my best not to spoil this story, but one only has to watch the Orson Welles adaptation from the 50s to see the trademark themes present in the game: of course the chaos presented between Iago and Othello represent the eternal, silent struggle of white and black pieces on the board, but the green hills of Venice serve as a backdrop for the enduring inspection of love, betrayal, and revenge. Shakespeare (and Welles) highlighted the subterfuge and skullduggery inherent in the game by ending the film with a scenario with which most gamers are familiar: one party strangling the other to death in their bed.
Directed by: Gore Verbinski (wait, what?)
Starring: Nathan Lane, Lee Evans, Christopher Walken
I’m not entirely convinced this movie exists outside my immediate family. I know there’s information about it online, so obviously other people have seen it, but I’ve never actually met anybody in person who’s even heard of this movie.
Which isn’t that unusual, for an adaptation of the hit game Mouse Trap.
Hasbro’s Mouse Trap is one of those games everybody thinks they’ve played, but haven’t really. The rules are one of the least-read pamphlets ever published, because all we ever did was set it up and watch it fall down.
This is pretty much all that happens in the movie. The core story of Mouse Hunt remains nearly untouched: a pair of men inherit a mansion and plan to renovate and flip it to collectors who seek out antique homes. Their efforts are stymied, however, by a single persistent mouse who evades their traps, brutalizes a pet cat, and eventually is indirectly responsible for demolishing the entire home around the pair’s ears.
The original themes of the game are embodied throughout, from the idea of a simple plan unraveled by chaos, the persistence of life in the face of adversity, and destruction of the old as the new is ushered in. Unfortunately, the socialist and anti-capitalist ideals in which the original Mouse Trap was steeped have been toned down to a single auction scene near the end, where the fat cats and industrialists are swept from the home by the rising tide of a populist uprising (represented in standard Verbinski fashion by a wave of sewage overflowing the walls).
And there we have it: five examples of Hollywood’s ability to adapt even something as abstract as a board game into a functional film while keeping the core messages and themes in-tact. I think this should put to rest any concerns people may have about the upcoming Catan, Tetris¸ or Emoji films, which should all be released within the next year or two.
What a world!
Dylan Terry is a board game and movie enthusiast with too much time and not enough productive ideas to fill his days. He is also an April Fools apologist.