Hasbro board games are becoming movies

Prior to the 1985 release of Clue, it was probably difficult for anyone to imagine a hit movie based upon a board game. It was another ten years after that before Jumanji came out. But both had all of the makings of great films—action, intrigue, great characters—and both ended up as hits. Ten years after Jumanji (again! maybe ten is the magic number?), Zathura used a similar formula to achieve cinematic success.

So it’s not that movies based on what happens with a board game can’t be successful. It’s happened before. Obviously.

Still, when Rotten Tomatoes updated the world on Hasbro’s movie plans, the news was sort of difficult to wrap my head around:

Hasbro and Universal have released a joint statement announcing their new “six-year strategic partnership,” which should bring “at least four” movies based on Hasbro properties to the big screen. The short list, apparently, includes Monopoly, Ouija, Battleship, Magic: The Gathering, Stretch Armstrong, and a new Clue. From the statement:

“This deal gives Universal access to some of the greatest brands in the world. Hasbro’s portfolio of products has tremendous emotional resonance with children and adults. They offer an exciting opportunity for us to develop tentpole movies with built-in global brand awareness, which is a key component of our slate strategy. Universal’s creativity and worldwide marketing and distribution strength make them the perfect partner. Today’s Hasbro is so much more than a traditional toy and game company, and this partnership is a powerful example of how we are offering our consumers new ways to enjoy unique and immersive experiences with our brands.”

I salute Hasbro for its optimism, y’know? And I can sort of see it… for a couple of those… I mean, Magic: The Gathering is incredibly story-rich, for example. But a Monopoly movie? Battleship? I’m not quite ready to drink the Kool-Aid, I don’t think.

In the meantime, put a hotel on Park Place for me. And please don’t sink my battleship.

The writer’s strike now brings us… kiddie lit

Oh, I love this. I just love it. I’ve been waiting for something good to come out of the WGA strike for some time, now. I mean, sure, there’s that whole paying writers fairly for their work thing, obviously. But I’m talking about something that’s happening right now to appease the masses. And by “appease” I mean “entertain,” and by “the masses” I mean me. Hey, it’s been a long time since there was a new episode of The Office, people. Throw me a bone.

Anyway, it turns out that there’s a small group of screen writers we know and love who are waiting out the strike by turning their talents to writing children’s books. Really!

With the strike putting the brakes on film and TV writing, a group of Hollywood scribes has found an unusual mode of creative expression: children’s books.

Writers with credits ranging from “The Simpsons” to “Shrek 2″ to “That’s So Raven” are picking up their pens to write fictional stories — only instead of sitting in meetings coming up with punch lines, they’re at home dreaming up frogs with big appetites and boys who fight with their sisters.

“It’s kind of a nice way to do something creative at a time when we’re having a hard time doing our bread-and-butter work,” said David N. Weiss, a “Shrek 2″ and “Rugrats” writer and WGA vp who recently turned in a first draft of “Carl the Frog,” about a reptile who tries to eat other frogs.

How brilliant is that??

The titles are part of Worthwhile Books, a new imprint at the telco-cum-entertainment company IDT/IDW. Although the unit was conceived and a number of the deals were signed ahead of the strike, Worthwhile is benefiting from the added time writers suddenly find they have on their hands — when they’re not picketing, of course.

The way the strike has been going, I’m expecting an entire library of titles from Worthwhile when all is said and done….

“I don’t think anyone thinks they’re going to make a lot of money on it,” Weiss said. “But creatively and emotionally, the chance to work on something that’s personal without the presence of a massive corporation is special right now.” Worthwhile does says it hopes to develop the projects into potential film and television vehicles.

I don’t know about you, but this whole story just allows me to start my week off with a smile. I can’t wait to see what Worthwhile ends up publishing, and even if it is just a small side effect of this whole WGA mess, it sounds like they may really be on to something.

Everything’s comin’ up Blu-ray

I crack jokes all the time about what a Luddite I am, which is sort of humorous considering that I spend the better part of my life parked in front of my laptop. When I’m away from my computer for too long, I can be found hiding in a corner, furtively checking my email on my cell phone.

But I’m not a technophile; I’m a connectophile, perhaps, with my chosen technologies being those which are a means to an end—an end that involves staying connected with other people, not necessarily having the latest and the greatest whatever.

All of this preamble is to say: I don’t know from Blu-ray. I mean, I know it’s a DVD format. I know it’s new and exciting, and that there’s some war going on between Blu-ray and HD-DVD similar to the long ago Betamax vs. VHS thing. But I have no opinion, myself, as this is simply not my bag. I don’t even have one of those new-fangled flat televisions. (Though I’d love one. Can you imagine Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends on a great big screen like that? Awesome.)

What I do know is that this is a hot topic amongst people who care, and for people who care about that and animation, some recent news is worth noting.

First, Warner Brothers has decided to go exclusively Blu-ray:

This is a huge development in the Blu-ray versus HD-DVD format war currently raging on because Warner Bros was always considered the big fish to be landed by one side or the other, Now the studio, which had been producing its high-def DVD titles in both formats, will start releasing in Blu-ray exclusively later this year. The decision was made in response to strong consumer preference for the Blu-Ray format, according to WB’s announcement.

Second, Disney is hopping on the Blu-ray bandwagon as well:

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment (WDSHE) announces an exciting new line-up of Blu-ray initiatives in 2008, an ever-expanding Blu-ray slate and new technological- advancements in bonus feature materials, all which guarantee a superior high-definition home entertainment experience.

“This is an exciting time for Disney as we not only announce the release of our first Platinum Disney animated classic on Blu-ray with Sleeping Beauty, but also allow consumers to create an entirely new home entertainment experience with stunning new bonus features and amazing interactive capabilities like never before seen,” stated Bob Chapek, President of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment.

What does this mean? Well, it means that just getting rid of my VHS tapes this year was not enough to make me look like I’m actually current on technology. You darn kids today, with your Blu-ray! When I was young, we had VHS, and we liked it!

Now, get out of my yard! Hmph.

Netflix 2.0?

I am old. Because I am old, I can remember all sorts of things which my children find utterly improbable, like when dinosaurs roamed the earth, the discovery of fire, and when owning a VCR in your home was a status symbol.

My children cannot picture a time when you couldn’t pause or rewind live television, record anything you might want to watch later (without having to find a blank tape, even), or pop a DVD into the player and later toss it into the mailbox so that you can get another one. Everyone has that, Mom, they tell me (usually while rolling their eyes).

Well, the common household entertainment staple, Netflix, is looking to revamp how they do business. Sure, they were the first on the scene, and later other services followed their model, but they were unique and the leader in the field. Now, according to yesterday’s report, they’re looking to become an even easier on-demand service:

DVD-by-mail service Netflix Inc. will begin delivering movies and other programming directly to televisions later this year through a set-top box that will pipe entertainment over a high-speed Internet connection.

The set-top box, to be made by LG Electronics Inc. as part of a partnership announced late Wednesday, is designed to broaden the appeal of a year-old streaming service that Netflix provides to its 7 million subscribers at no additional charge.

LG Electronics didn’t reveal how much the set-top box will cost when it hits the market in the summer or early autumn. Similar devices made by Apple Inc. and Vudu Inc. cost $299 to $399.

I’m no technology expert, and it’s entirely possible that I’ve missed something here, but… isn’t there already a service out there that does this…? And isn’t it called… On Demand? I mean, I have that available through my cable box, already. I’m just not sure why I’d want to buy another box for my television so that I could then pay for the privilege of each movie on top of that.

The set-top box is supposed to serve as a bridge that will enable just about anyone with a high-speed Internet connection to plug in a few wires so they will be able to access Netflix’s Watch Instantly feature on their TVs.

Subscribers will still need to use a computer to pick out which programs they’re interested in streaming. The selections, culled from more than 6,000 titles available in streaming library, will then show up on the TV screen.

“It’s going to be very slick and easy,” said Reed Hastings, Netflix’s chief executive officer. “We want the TV experience to be very relaxing and not like visiting a Web site.”

(Are you not relaxed when you come here? Would being presented with thousands of video titles somehow be more relaxing?)

I think I’m still not quite getting it. But Netflix’s attempt to move into this delivery method will be an interesting case study. If you’re a fellow Netflix customer, keep an eye out for them to start promoting the LG box. I’ll be very curious to see how they try to make it sound better/faster/easier than the current format.

Then again, I thought Betamax was pretty cool. So you can’t really go by me.

Imax and DreamWorks teaming up

I was well into my 20s before I saw my first Imax film, because I led a deprived childhood. Also, possibly, because Imax didn’t exist when I was a young thing, and then there was no Imax theater where I was living, so it wasn’t until I was on a business trip to Vancouver that I first got to experience the joy and wonder of a really big screen, surround sound that just about blew me out of my seat, and—of course—those cool plastic glasses that made everything 3-dimensional.

I fell immediately and deeply in love with the entire experience, even though one of the movies I saw was about Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition. I’m not sure that it’s less horrifying to watch freezing men slaughter and eat their dogs when everything is super-huge. (To its credit, that one didn’t have any 3D effects, at least.)

Anyway.

What was my point here? Oh! Yes! I remember now. My point is that Imax is cool, and there’s about to be a whole lot more Imax coolness, because last week DreamWorks signed a 4-movie deal with Imax:

Imax and DreamWorks have agreed to release the studio’s first three 3D motion pictures worldwide in Imax 3D: “Monsters vs. Aliens” in March 2009, “How to Train Your Dragon” in November 2009 and “Shrek Goes Forth” in May 2010. A fourth DreamWorks title, “Kung Fu Panda,” will be released in Imax’s 2D format in June 2008. The films will be distributed by Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom Inc. (VIA).

Earlier this year, DreamWorks announced plans to release all its computer- animated films in 3D starting in 2009. It was welcome news for all that had a stake in the emerging 3D film industry, such as privately held Real D, the leading provider of digital 3D projection technology. At the time, DreamWorks made no specific mention of Imax and its giant-screen format.

“Obviously, DreamWorks is placing a large amount of strategic focus on 3-D and we’re gratified to be part of their launch platform,” Richard Gelfond, co-chief executive of Imax, told Dow Jones.

The piece goes on to discuss how Imax “is now on the threshold of a transition to digital” and looking to secure as many studio deals as possible, which, obviously.

As a parent who still lives in a town without an Imax theater (clearly I just keep setting up camp in the wrong sorts of towns), I wonder what this will mean for “regular” theaters. Will this deal (and similar ones) have any effect on the play time these animated movies—the ones my kids want to see—get at conventional theaters? Will these Imax deals herald the increase in Imax theaters? Because I have to tell you, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings one bit if there was an Imax theater ’round here. It already costs an arm and a leg to go out to the movies—it might as well be a total sensory experience as long as we’re dishing out the bucks.

But I’m going to go on record right now with this: Monsters vs. Aliens in 3D? I will drive to my nearest major city for that one, because that sounds like all kinds of awesome. Erm, I mean, according to my kids. Yeah.