By David Raether, veteran TV writer and essayist
Summer brings vacation down-time, family reunions, and relaxing (or competitive) board game showdowns. As much as we love unfolding those colorful boards and picking out the perfect game token, we really love our movies. Let’s look at some of the best movies inspired by classic games.
JUMANJI (1995) is a scary movie. I’ll just say that right up front. I fall for its frights every time, which is pretty silly but I keep thinking that a movie about an imaginary board game starring Robin Williams as a guy who owns a shoe company in small town New Hampshire couldn’t possibly be scary… and then suddenly there’s a rhinoceros running through the house! Egad! A sequel starring The Rock (a.k.a. Dwayne Johnson) is due out at Christmas. I can’t speak for the sequel, but the original—while not great—has its moments and certainly is worth another view. Excellent performances throughout, and the special effects from F/X house Amalgamated Dynamics still are powerful and effective. I mean, I’m sure those stampeding elephants just destroyed downtown Keene, NH! Didn’t they?
CLUE. The film is as enjoyable to watch as the game is to play. Clue (1985) is a delightful and charming movie, which unfortunately inspired a string of movies based on board games and toys (including the questionable Transformers series).
Clue gives us an all-star cast of sterling comic actors: Martin Mull, Eileen Brennan, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Tim Curry, and Leslie Ann Warren. The script was co-written by the film’s director, Jonathan Lynn, and John Landis (who also directed and co-wrote such classics as Animal House, The Blues Brothers, and An American Werewolf in London).
Wordplay (2006). Okay, I was a complete sucker for this movie. I do two or three crossword puzzles a day, typically the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times. In fact, I have a digital subscription to The New York Times not for the news but for online access to their crossword puzzles. Wordplay documents the 28th Annual American Crossword Puzzle Championship, and if this sounds duller than watching someone doing a crossword puzzle, you couldn’t be more wrong. The contestants are a collection of eccentrics battling each other to finish first without mistakes, leading to a thrilling finale. You get to meet New York Times crossword puzzles fanatics such as Bob Dole, Bill Clinton, and Jon Stewart. Another bonus: you’ll meet Will Shortz, the Times’ crossword puzzle editor, demigod to crossword aficionados, and the only holder of a BA in enigmatology ever awarded (that’s the science of puzzles). This is one of the most delightful and amusing documentaries you will ever see.
How to Win at Checkers (Every Time), set in Bangkok, is a gentle and moving coming-of-age story about two orphaned brothers. Directed by Paul Kim, the film is based on two lovely short stories by Rattawut Lapcharoensap, a Chicago-born American writer that grew up in Bangkok and went on to study at the University of Michigan. The film has a beautiful gay love story and the acting is pure and open-hearted. Yes, it’s a Thai movie. How many Thai movies have you seen? Well, I’ve seen exactly one. This one. It’s absolutely wonderful.
The final movie is from Korea. How many Korean movies have you seen? Well, I’m slightly better here. I’ve seen two: Divine Move (2014) and The Good, the Bad, the Weird. I saw the latter first, and it’s a completely crazy homage to the Spaghetti Western, set in the Old West of… Korea? It is an outrageous movie, but it inspired me to give The Divine Move a try. The film is about Baduk (or Go, as it is called in the West), a deceptively complex game of placing stones on a grid. It’s also a Hong Kong-style action movie with lots of spectacular fight scenes. It brings together competition, action, and lots of fun.
Whether our list inspires you to try a new board game or try a new movie, we hope you enjoy these intersections of the two entertainment realms. Game on!
David Raether is a veteran TV writer and essayist. He worked for 12 years as a television sitcom writer/producer, including a 111-episode run on the ground-breaking ABC comedy “Roseanne.” His essays have been published by Salon.com, The Times of London, and Longforms.org, and have been lauded by The Atlantic Magazine and the BBC World Service. His memoir, Homeless: A Picaresque Memoir from Our Times is awaiting publication.