The James Clayton column: why Monopoly will be a movie masterpiece

Why Ridley Scott's Monopoly movie is a great idea after all. And why James is looking forward to the Director's Cut...

Life is a game and we are but merely players, and that’s something that filmmakers are very much aware of. Take Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal as a vivid cinematic illustration of this with its chess match between Death and Max von Sydow’s knight. Rumours and speculation about several projects being prepped up in the boardrooms, production vaults and typewriter-monkey farms beneath Hollywood suggest that the central theme of “life is a game” is on movie-producers’ minds. Bleak, black-and-white Swedish arthouse flicks apparently won’t do in reaching today’s mass marketplace though, and it seems that the powers that be have their sites on modernisation…

There is, allegedly, a motion picture based on the war-strategy board game Battleship in development (I’m visualising The Battleship Potemkin in plastic) and, though not strictly a board game, Michael Bay’s intentions to craft a Ouija board film have also been made public (though this may end up being a hack-job remake of The Exorcist with hyperactive editing and lots of big explosions). Out of ideas, the high-rollers of Hollywood have gone, not so much back to the drawing board, but rather back to the board games. The most striking and strange of these prospective projects has Ridley Scott attached to direct and has been green-lit by Universal Studios. Ladies, gentleman and children ages eight and over, brace yourselves for the Monopoly Movie

Yes, you read correctly: every venture capitalist’s favourite Christmas family pastime is to be made into a feature-length motion picture. It’s worth wondering how the Right Honourable Ridley Scott went from creating sci-fi classics such as Alien and Blade Runner and historical epics like Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven to directing films based on dinner table diversions. My main thought, though – and one that the sensible cinemagoing masses probably also share with me – is: “a board game movie! What the hell are they thinking?! It’ll never work!”

At first, the idea of pulling together a blockbuster movie from a board game is bemusing and barmy. This is uninspired regression, rampant commercialism and a sad case of movie moguls raiding the aisles of Toys “R” Us in order to attract audiences. However, once we get beyond the instant, negative knee-jerk, it’s possible to perceive that a board game movie may not be so bad after all. A case in point: the classic adventure flick that is Jumanji. The 1995 film that cast Robin Williams into supernatural jungle fantasy that subsequently explodes into American suburbia shows that films based around a board game need not be an abomination. What’s more, when you consider the objectives and well-known nature of Monopoly, it’s got a reasonably credible basis for a creative feature length spin-off.

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If you look at the Monopoly narrative, it has everything you need for a classic motion picture. There’s intense cut-throat rivalry, triumph over adversity trajectories, explorations of the individualist capitalist dream and the potential for a prison break subplot in the “do not pass go, go straight to jail” card. If playing the original, proper version of the game then we can look forward to a spectacular cinematic tour of the sights of London and the appearance of a Scottie dog (in fact, how would the game pieces be represented on screen? And is it better to be the boot or the top hat?). With a racing plot playing out across the capital’s high-end areas and tourist hotspots, the fact that a Monopoly board has four train stations is the icing on the cake; railway stations are the ultimate place for classic cinema drama if you look to Brief Encounter, Carlito’s Way and The Untouchables as a few choice examples. A film spun-off from the successful game would captivate in this era of financial crises and credit crunches and no doubt draw from the notion that London is now a haven of international oligarchs hellbent on getting their hands on whatever is buyable.

What better way to get grim-faced Cockneys captivated by the ongoing developments in the city’s East End ahead of the 2012 Olympics? There’s not much reason for mirth amongst city slickers and property developers at the moment so an escapist film distraction could prove to be a pacifying pick-me-up for those despairing entrepreneurs who, right now, are watching their businesses dwindle. To return to those oligarchs that are taking over every financial institution, corporate conglomerate or football club they lay eyes on, a Monopoly movie would pander to their egos and thus perhaps encourage them to invest in the UK’s ailing film industry whilst simultaneously representing the state of modern British economics and politics. Do we see a daft, empty “comedy-thriller” adaptation of a high-street product here? No: I see a compelling drama laying bear contextual concerns that could stand on ceremony as an early 21st century kindred spirit to Citizen Kane, Once Upon a Time in the West or The Godfather.

I have faith in Ridley Scott and if things go as they usually do for the director, the studio will hack it to pieces before pushing it out into cinemas, necessitating an epic Director’s Cut release containing Scott’s original unexpurgated ambition. If we are totally suspending cynicism at what may simultaneously be seen as the most pathetic movie pitch in recent memory and imaginatively envisioning how awesome Monopoly: The Movie could be, I nominate Daniel Day-Lewis for the role of the Monopoly Man. Look at the twinkle in his eyes, that sure smile and the way he pulled off that 19th century moustache in Gangs of New York. Bring back the facial adornment and he’s a dead ringer for the dandy gent of the game logo. There’s also opportunity for Day-Lewis to do his usual extreme method-actor role preparation by spending sixteen months shut in a game box. He emerges to another Oscar, Hasbro sell a stackload of board games and families around the globe will be able to get the Monopoly experience without the inevitable outbreak of accusations that the banker is cheating and slipping themselves extra notes. Here’s hoping that theatres get into the spirit of things and offer free parking…

James’ previous column can be found here.