Friday, December 14, 2012

A movie's Hippo-cratic oath

Someone is making a Hungry Hungry Hippos movie. For real.

If you went to see the blockbuster* movie Battleship this year, please tell me if any character suddenly whines, shouts or emotes: "You sank my battleship!" For when anyone argued that you cannot make a major motion picture out of a two-person board game, I spent this whole year saying wait – they made a classic TV advert and that's got to be a start. Actually, more than one advert.

Unfortunately, that Battleship movie truly was a start. And despite blockbuster* status, it's not the end either.

*I keep saying blockbuster. Apparently Battleship earned $300m, which is somewhat more than I did this year but then I didn't spend $200m making it. 

Someone thinks that's a good deal and – do you know this already? I only learnt it yesterday and it took me 24 hours to believe it –  the big joke when Battleship came out has become real. There truly, genuinely, is going to be a Hungry Hungry Hippos movie.

Prejudice is bad, of course, but just sometimes it's quicker: Hungry Hungry Hippos will not be a good movie. There will be no Oscar buzz. ("For Your Consideration: Jeremy Renner as Yellow Hippo.") If you are over eight years old when you see it, you will have been dragged there by your eight-year-old. (I don't have children: I'm a civilian.)

Everybody whose name will be written on the end credits will at some point or another convince themselves that they are doing a good job and that it's worthwhile. Only the credited accountants will be correct.

But a film is an accomplishment whether it's good or bad, it's a true achievement whether or not you're subsequently willing to leave it on your CV or not. It is a physically hard thing to do to get a movie made and so the core force in a film, the very DNA of getting that project done, the oath that a filmmaker swears, is not to do with quality and it is not to do with artistic endeavour, it is to do with getting the bloody thing made.

To make Hungry Hungry Hippos, you have to fool yourself into thinking that it is at least worthwhile enough that you can look anyone in the face during a production meeting. 

And the first person who has to find a way for all the other people bar the accountants to have anything to do whatsoever, is the writer.

IMDb says Hungry Hungry Hippos is in development and that if I pay to join the IMDb Pro service I can find out who the writer and producer are. I'm not going to do that. I don't want to know the names of people suffering.

But you'd tell me if it were Aaron Sorkin, wouldn't you?

Somewhere out there, most likely in California, most probably within a ZIP code or two of Hollywood, there is a writer who has just opened up a new blank document in Final Draft.

He or she is a pro and, unlike most Final Draft writers, has remembered how to find the title page. Wherein this has been written:



based on
the Hasbro game

Let's just call the writer Al. So far, so good. Got the title. That's important. What comes next on the page has a little air of doom, though:


But that's nothing compared to page 1, scene 1. 


This is where Al goes to make some fresh coffee.

He stands there as beans percolate and ideas don't.

Eventually, he starts speaking out loud to his kitchen.

"Well, look, start with the givens. You've got to have hippos. People are gonna want hippos."

He rushes back to the keys and writes:

ENTER a load of HIPPOS.

All imagination now spent, he goes back to the kitchen. One more pot of coffee later and suddenly:

ENTER a load of HIPPOS 
And they're HUNGRY.
Back to the kitchen.

This is Al's life for the next 120 pages.

Of the first draft.

If he's lucky, he'll be bumped from the project by no later than the fourth rewrite and go into a credit arbitration that he's secretly hoping he might lose so that he keeps the cash but sheds the "written by".

I told you it took me 24 hours to believe it but I think now that it might take 25. A film with no possibility of a story and no possibility of any characters. A film with a certainty that it will have every possible fantastic visual effect.

All visual and no substance.

I've just heard that as well as Hungry Hungry Hippos there will be a Monopoly movie.

Directed by Ridley Scott.

Suddenly, you believe everything.

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