How ‘Clue’ Cracked The Secret Formula For Toy-Based Movies
There’s been a lot of talk lately about Hollywood making movies based on popular toys. For example, Greta Gerwig, the Academy Award-nominated director of Little Women, is making a film about a much more literal little woman: Barbie. Not only that, but Mattel is actively developing movies based on Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, the Magic 8 Ball, and Betsy Wetsy – which is literally just a doll that pees itself. How do you turn that into the stuff of cinematic drama without simply remaking A Star is Born?
In addition to the Mattel-verse, we’re even getting a Rubik’s Cube movie apparently. But while some may see this trend as yet more evidence of the infantilization and artistic bankruptcy of Hollywood, we’d like to point out that it is possible to make a great movie based on a toy. Barring the revelation that The Godfather was loosely based on a line of hobby horses, the best toy-based movie of all time is Clue.
One potential reason why so many toy movies are abjectly terrible is that they never attempt to follow the structure of the original product itself; like Battleship, a movie that was ostensibly based on the popular game, but never bothered to replicate the flow of the game – not to mention that it shoehorned aliens into the story, because it was clearly made by lunatics.
Clue, on the other hand, goes to great lengths to engage with the game’s often-illogical mechanics. The story of the game Clue basically makes no sense; you’re a “detective” tasked with solving the murder of a “Mr. Boddy” by discerning the identity of the killer, what room the murder occurred in, and which weapon was used.
Okay, first of all, if you apprehend the murderer, why would you need to know what room it happened in? And how do you not immediately know what murder weapon was responsible? What kind of crappy detective can’t differentiate a gunshot wound from evidence of candlestick trauma? Seeing as the game was only invented to kill time between Nazi attacks during World War II, we’ll cut it some slack.
Rather than just skip over these wacky plot points that are so central to the game, and slap the Clue name on some run-of-the-mill mystery, the script contrives a scenario in which Mr. Boddy is seemingly shot – but later turns up in an entirely different room, apparently bludgeoned. Suddenly the characters are forced to ask the questions that we all do when we’re playing Clue. This is, again, impressive because they make no goddamn sense.
And this was no easy feat, according to producer John Landis, acclaimed playwright Tom Stoppard literally quit the film after a year of puzzling through these details – although Stoppard, weirdly, claims to have never worked on the film at all. Writer and director Jonathan Lynn eventually made sense of the story which also had to include secret passages and multiple endings with entirely different outcomes to reflect the randomness of the game. Even the checked pattern of the hallway floor in the movie referenced the gameplay elements of its source.
Perhaps most importantly, Clue wasn’t cobbled together by toy executives desperate for sales. It only exists since legendary producer Debra Hill, of Halloween fame, convinced Parker Brothers to sell her the film rights purely because it was her “favorite childhood game.” Their only stipulation was that the game’s “trademark symbol be included in the film’s title” and that the final product would be “devoid of profanities.” Apparently, they were cool with multiple bloody murders and non-stop, cranked-to-11 sexual innuendo as long as no one dropped any F-bombs.
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Top Image: Paramount Pictures