Tuned In

They Are Making Battleship Into a Movie. No Seriously, They Are Making Battleship Into a Movie.

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Battleship, circa the 1950s.

It says so right here in Variety. What’s more, the movie based on the naval-combat board game has an honest-to-God good director attached, Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights). (Taylor Kitsch is in it! Riggins!)

OK, I had a snarky post all ready to go. (Imagining the tearful romantic scene before the climactic battle: “You sank… my heart.”) And, you know I kid Battleship, but after all Shakespeare made a classic tragedy out of Othello! [Rimshot.] I can’t wait to see Michael Moore’s Monopoly! [Less enthusiastic rimshot. Awkward silence, and the clinking of waitresses collecting empty glasses.]

But it turns out that making movies of board games is already an honest-to-God thing. And has been for some time. Not just the ’80s adaptation of Clue. There is (or was) a Monopoly movie: Ridley Scott’s attached. There is a Candy Land movie project that does not involve Katy Perry and Snoop. You want more? Here’s more.

So OK, I’ll accept that this is a thing we do now, making movies from rides / toys / board games / things-you-remember-fondly-from-childhood. (I’m seeing Sir Ian McKellen as Cookie Jarvis in Cookie Crisp: Bowl of Destiny.) But it must be asked: Is Battleship the board game to make a movie of?

Easy as the idea is to make fun of, a boardgame is potentially as good a source material for a story as, say, an amusement-park ride. (Or, of course, a videogame.) Games, of course, inherently have conflict, but more than that, good absorbing boardgames have themes and even implied narratives. Monopoly, as I wrote a few years ago, is on one level a sly and even dark critique of capitalism (and was actually intended as such, at least in its ancestral versions). One of the first games kids encounter, Chutes and Ladders, depicts morals and consequences, describing a pattern of overcoming one’s weaknesses to prosper, or—if the numbers don’t go your way—returning to repeat your mistakes over and over again. Pay Day (a game the Tuned In Jrs. and I have rediscovered in its vintage edition) is a little snapshot of business and American mores among the high interest rates of the 1970s. Flesh that baby out and you’ve got an Ang Lee movie!

But Battleship. Freaking Battleship. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve played and enjoyed it plenty of times. But Battleship is almost anti-narrative. There’s strategy involved (in placing your ships and firing once you’ve scored a hit), but it is literally, at base, about random guessing. It’s this thing and this thing and this thing until there’s nothing left to torpedo.

Now obviously it’s got the setting of a movie, what with the big hardware, guns and conflict. (Battleship the movie, unsurprisingly, is planned as a tentpole summer action flick, about an alien invasion, for 2012.) With a good script I’m sure you can make a good movie “based on Battleship” in the sense that any WWII movie set in the Pacific could be “based on Battleship.”

Maybe this is simply the Project Runway principle of creation in action. That is: creativity just needs a starting point—any starting point, however arbitrary—and being constrained by silly-seeming source material is actually a spur to invention. Make an red-carpet dress using only materials from Aisle 37 at Home Depot—and, go! Why Battleship? Why not? It gives you a setting and a reason to start writing. And there’s already merchandise.

Anyway, this is a TV blog, so I’ll bring it back on-topic. What board games would be better adapted for the serial format of a TV series, as opposed to a two-hour movie? I’m thinking Life has Zwick-Herskovits written all over it.