Split Decision: Unlikely Source Material
Welcome back to Split Decision! Each week, we pose a question to our staff of knowledgable and passionate film geeks and share the responses! We may never know if it is legal to park in the center of Broad Street, but we’ll answer movie questions all day long. Chime in on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments below!
This week’s question:
In honor of The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, what movie based on a pre-existing property surprised you with its quality?
I have wracked my brain for this one. I don't normally see films based on toys, board games, or video games, (Talk about not my wheelhouse!) but here's one film in this genre I can recommend:
I love documentaries about subcultures I know nothing about, which is why I admire A Brony Tale, Brent Hodge's 2014 documentary chronicling the fascinating subculture of adult men (aged 18-30) who have a fondness–it's not quite a fetish–for My Little Pony. The film unpacks how various men express their artistic sensibilities and even psychologically recalibrate themselves because of their affection for the toy. It's amusing, and intriguing, and just gonzo enough to laugh with or at. The film is deliberately indulgent in its presentation, which is the best approach.
Rampage the arcade game is a lot of fun for the five minutes your quarter will take you, but anybody who's played a home version will tell you it gets old pretty quickly after that. Last year's Rampage the movie, from Dwayne Johnson and the guy who directed him in San Andreas, was a blast, though. Outside of the basic "video game adaptations are bad" reasons for this thing to have turned out terrible, a couple notes on why this could have turned out terrible:
This is a game with no story or plot
As an early arcade game, it takes most of its aesthetic from other pop culture (in this case Godzilla and King Kong), so the lack of story means the filmmakers were, if the material was played totally straight, making a generic big monster movie at best
There hasn't been a new Rampage game since the late 90s, so there's zero momentum behind anything here
The most interesting twist in the game is that when you lose a life, you find out the monster you're controlling is a mutated human, and that tiny bit of original personality isn't even in the movie
None of this matters! Rampage the movie is just about three monsters with person names messing up a city's skyline! It is fun and the lack of any modern video game connection means the license holders didn't have to demand the inclusion of dense lore anal retentive fans would care about (hello, Warcraft!). I love Rampage and regret not seeing it on the big screen.
This is kind of a strange answer, because this movie has been with me most of my life, so you could argue I'm basing my argument on nostalgia and not current surprise at quality. I absolutely ADORE the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. I'm including it here because I revisited it in recent years expecting it to be trash, and found myself enjoying a tongue-in-cheek take on kung-fu and noir films. It's a really interesting blend of those genres (while certainly not the first to attempt something like that) and far more adult than you'd expect for a movie that was meant to appeal to the same audience that was watching the children's cartoon. The comic book it all stemmed from is pretty adult oriented, and the movie finds a surprisingly nice middle ground between those roots and the cartoon, creating an action packed comedy with real heart and pathos for its protagonists. I don't expect we'll ever get a TMNT movie again that has 20 minutes of down time at a farm house where the brothers learn to trust one another and band together more completely as they weigh their regrets against their goals. Plus, those practical FX will never be matched - the turtle performances are truly insane to ponder when you consider they are comprised of an actor inside of a heavy turtle suit doing martial arts, a variety of programmers and controllers creating the eye, mouth, and other facial moments, and yet another actor behind a microphone trying to match all that physicality they weren't a part of. It's truly a remarkable movie and with almost 30 years under its belt, it's lost none of its charm for me.\
The first time I saw Clue, I rented the VHS from Blockbuster on a whim while staying with my grandmother, and I felt like I had discovered a secret gem that no one else knew about (The 90s!). The movie came out a year before I was born and somehow fallen into a gap between Mel Brooks and new comedies coming out. No one in my life had thought to introduce this strange, gimmicky movie to a young kid who loved board games, witty/punny dialogue, and threats of the Cold War. But maybe it was even more thrilling to discover this madcap movie on my own. I recognized a large percentage of the cast, with Tim Curry from Muppet Treasure Island (and whose voice I knew from a ton of cartoons I watched), Madeline Kahn from Young Frankenstein, Christopher Lloyd from Back to the Future, and Martin Mull from Mrs. Doubtfire and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. All of these actors exasperatedly running around a mansion in service of a plot that really uses a lot of the simple board game’s mechanics in farcical fashion building to 3 different endings was exactly the sort of reason I loved discovering movies. And still do.
I think I will have to go with Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl here. While the series started to be bad almost immediately following this, the first is an undeniably fun piece of swashbuckling entertainment...and it's of course based on the Disney Theme Park Ride of the same name. The film itself feels so much like a theme ride, that I can't imagine a much more perfect adaptation of it.
Jumanji! The 1995 film, based on a children's picture book, that has since spawned board games, video games, and a pretty decent sequel. I loved this movie as a kid, and even today there is something creepy about a sentient board game influencing our reality (I mean there's a whole Ouija horror franchise for a reason, right?). Anyway, the film had some of the best special effects around at the time, but also leaned heavily on practical effects for closeups of the animals, for young Peter's transformation from boy to monkey, and other scenes, meaning it still holds up really well 25 years later. The cast is also amazing, including Robin Williams, Bonnie Hunt, David Alan Grier, Kirsten Dunst, and my queen Bebe Neuwirth. I really miss these kinds of family films.