They've already made Clue (Cluedo). They've filmed Battleship and they're going to release that too. There's going to be a Monopoly movie. Somebody, somewhere, has the rights to Candyland. And, arguably, there are also Twister and Downfall. Okay, not really. But we were sitting around a hypothetical table in an internet chat room figuring out what other board games you could turn into profitable film franchises.
Bruce Willis is played out; but ten years ago, he could easily have carried "Jenga" - obviously a disaster movie set in a high-rise building. "Hippos: The Hunger", a variation on "Anaconda". "Mousetrap", a remake of Mousehunt with more elaborate Rube Goldberg machines? Experimental science fiction slasher/horror "Rubik's Cube"? "Connect Four", followed by its sequel, "Connect Four II: Connect Five"?
And then somebody threw this down on the table. I was blown away by the elegance of this concept. It's the E=mc2 of board game flicks. You don't even have to buy the rights. It's chess! It doesn't even have a capital letter!
Stay with me here.
Number one. Setting. High fantasy. Tall castles, near-magical, near-mythological architecture. Two mighty, warring kingdoms, both alike in dignity (is it dignity?). Make it medieval and magical. Dragons no problem. We have The Lord Of The Rings. We have Harry Potter. We have Hellboy and Robin Hood. This works fine too.
What's the difference between the kingdoms, other than - obviously - the type of rock upon which each is built (chalk and granite respectively)? Don't know, but there must be something. The White Kingdom are the heroes. The Black Kingdom are evil. This much is cliched and obvious. The castles consist of tall stone towers thronged with suspicious black corvids. The armour is shiny and edged with gold and copper so it doesn't look boring. And they're going to war, because a Black Pawn has tried to assassinate the White King!
Two. Characters. The King is fat, lazy, slow-moving and dull - but lovable and strategically smart. The Queen is the real power behind the throne. She's a Cleopatra/Lady Macbeth type, the most formidable warrior in the kingdom and she straight-up executed the assassin on sight to protect her King. This is one hundred percent consistent with the modern Hollywood kickass female. The Bishops are scheming, devious and wise-cracking - and never where you expect them to be. There are Knights: gallant, expansive, heroic and properly competent. They have horses. The horses leap a great deal. And our protagonist, the viewer surrogate, is obviously an everyman Queen's Pawn who secretly has the hots for the Queen. I've never written the phrase "has the hots for" before but this is evidently that kind of movie pitch.
Three: plot. You have royal courtly drama. You have diplomacy, murder, backstabbing and intrigue. Make it light-hearted but intricate. Funny, but smart. Poison, ambushes, but no mysterious traitors or backstabbery because that's not in the rules. Pieces are put into place. "It's just like a well-played game of... of... backgammon...?" Finally the war begins and it is obviously the Pawns who are sent first! Some of the action takes place on the battlefield, but it gets a lot more interesting when the Queen and her crack team of Pawns infiltrate the Black castle. If they can abduct or assassinate the Black King, it's all over. All the Pawns, being small and not powerful, are killed except our hero - who receives a battlefield promotion to Knight when he and the Queen reach the deepest part of the enemy castle. But then it turns out that it was all a ruse, and the Black court is not the evil aggressor in this war! Why no, it was in fact the White Queen who masterminded this entire war and all of this bloodshed, because, of course White always moves first. Turns out the Black court isn't so bad after all (make up some characters for the Black court as well). White Queen dies, neither side has an obvious advantage... mutual friendship, stalemate. Throw in loads of hilarious chess puns and references to famous openings and endgames and stuff, just to irritate anybody who actually knows anything about chess. (Maybe all that's left is a King and a Knight or whatever it is that makes chess endgames juicy and unpredictable. I honestly don't play the game.) It practically writes itself. The art design is trivially simple. The sequel is set in China, and it's better because it has cannons.