You know me. Mr Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life, never look back in nostalgia, the present is as good as better than the past (we're talking Cinema here, not the world in general). But eve my radiantly sunny and optimistic enthusiasm is occasionally challenged by Hollywood's tendency to behave in ways that defy the laws of sanity. This is one those moments.
As you will see from the picture on the right, there's a Great Big Monster movie heading your way (Wednesday to be precise), and its name is Battleship. Flash back several decades and we find innocent boys like me playing a game called Battleships. Using paper with grids, or drawing them ourselves, we would add destroyers, cruisers and battleships by drawing oblong squares on the paper, then giving each other grid references to see if had hit one of their ships. Cheap, enjoyable and endless fun. Jump another few years and in 1967, some bright spark turns this activity into a board game. No you don't need to draw grids, you just use bits of plastic, and pay £19.99 – or whatever – for the privilege. Such is progress, or Capitalism, at least.
But that is not enough. In 21st Century Hollywood, the new players are not directors, stars or even producers, but CEOs with products which have brand recognition. One of these is Hasbro, the biggest games manufacturer in the world. They have generated $2.6 billion from the 3 Transformer movies that have clanked their way to a cinema near you in recent years. They had no movie stars, but simply relied on the fact that they were big, noisy and expensive and appealed to boys. And of course, everyone had heard of the name, because in the early 80s, there was a toy which changed from a truck into a robot and back again. Cool for 6 year olds.
This infantilisation began with the success of Pirates of the Caribbean, which was of course originally a Disney theme park ride. Four films later, it's a milk cow for Johnny Depp and the money men. Marvel Comics have got in on the act by inflicting an endless number of superheroes on us – Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, and finally The Avengers, in which they all gather in the same place at the same time. And the latest addition to this hall of Shame is Battleship, which kills two birds with one stone. It has the name recognition of the board game AND it can be marketed as Transformers at Sea.
Like I say, nostalgia is an ugly word, and to be resisted at all costs. We have a wider range of films available to us at the flick of a switch than at any time in human history. We can watch almost any film in high quality for very little money. We are lucky and should remember that. BUT, Hollywood has embarked on a road that is worrying. That path involves spending vast sums of money on product that has no content other than the process of selling itself. There are no characters, no narrative, no meaning or purpose, just big bangs, cliched storylines and oceans of promotion. $200 million can be spent on the making of a film, and another $100 million on promoting it. It sucks up all available oxygen, fills all the multiplexes, hogs the news, and sits on the cinema world like Jabba The Hutt, fat, greedy and insatiable.
Of course we get the films we deserve, just as we get the politicians we vote for and the newspaper we buy. No one makes people go and see films like Battleship. And of course Hollywood is a Business. But there they are, and boys will be boys. Battleship is big, it's new, therefore it must be cool. Then there'll be the sequels, the computer games, and whatever other tie ins someone has thought of. Possibly (though it's hardly important) more people will buy the game. My plea is that even if you want to see the film (and I'm guessing you won't), that you find a fellow games player, draw lines on 2 pieces of paper, and play Battleships at no cost whatsoever. That might even be fun.
By Phil Raby
Front Row Films
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