Magic: The Gathering The Movie?

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Exciting right? I mean, at first glance this seems like the most awesome thing that could happen to a game you love. Hollywood comes along, showers money on the game's makers, makes Magic even more insanely popular and that somehow makes everything cool. Everyone will associate "that cool movie" with the game you're playing. And better yet, they'll be psyched to play the game as well!

But as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for, card junkie.

Remember Dungeons & Dragons the movie? If you don't, then you're probably one of the lucky ones. The 2000, Jeremy Irons vehicle proved about as good for D&D as Bill Hickok getting shot in the head was for 5-card draw.

According to the International Movie Data Base, Magic: The Gathering as a movie is "in development" as they say in Hollywood. In Hollywoodspeak, that means they're trying to put together a deal that the studios will "greenlight" i.e. finance and actually produce.

Brian Goldner, producer of the Transformers and G.I. Joe movies, is listed as a producer. Simon Kinberg is also listed as a producer. He producer, amongst other things, Xmen: First Class and the upcoming X-men: Days of Future Past. He also produced such cinematic turds at This Means War and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. He also produced Elysium and is listed as one of the writers of the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes movie.

So both these guys have a lot of good creds, more good than bad in my opinion. Unfortunately, in Hollywood that only means they've worked on a lot of good movies. It's difficult to parse who was actually in charge creatively on a team as big as one that produces a major motion picture. For a movie like Lord of the Rings or the Avengers, it's kind of easy, as it's Peter Jackson and Joss Whedon. They're not just directors, they are creative visionaries with the creative "cajones" to back it up.

But in other movies, it's not so clear cut. Different directors have different styles. Some are devoted slavishly to the script, concentrating mostly on the visuals. Some are micromanagers who rewrite every scene and are essentially the writer too. Others prefer that the actors "discover" their characters while shooting and change the plot on set and very loosely "direct" something that ties together brilliantly or falls apart. The Lone Ranger or Cowboys and Aliens anyone?

There are pros and cons to a Magic: The Gathering movie from Hollywood's perspective:

The Pros: 1. There's no existing story to ruin. Since there's no "main story" in Magic, the screenwriter can just forge ahead with a cool fantasy movie based on some of the cards.

I have personal experience with trying to develop some of my comics into movies. Producers sometimes feel like they have to "make their mark" on a project, so the urge is to change everything so they can point to it later and say, "See! I put nipples on the Batman costume!"

Unfortunately, I think this leads to the producers making changes for the sake of change, not for actually improving anything. Magic doesn't have that problem. It's just a pile of names, places and monster for the most part. (Although it would be very Hollywood and not at all surprising for someone to say, "Can we lose some of the fantasy stuff in this?" It's unlikely considering it's all fantasy. Still, I wouldn't put it past them!)

2. There's an existing audience for the movie. What this means is that there won't be a lot of pressure to jam the movie full of typical Hollywood stuff, like big name actors, "shocking" reveals and insanely expensive set pieces for no reason. Also, there's a good chance, if the producers hire a good creative team, that they'll be left alone to do something cool. Unlike, say, a big name franchise like Star Wars or Star Trek, the studio won't be breathing down everyone's necks demanding constant updates and changes.

That's the good news. Now brace yourself.

The Cons: 1. Hollywood has very little understanding of Magic: The Gathering. I know, you're probably saying to yourself, "How can this be?!" Well, no one in Hollywood reads and I mean, no one.

Example: A producer I know was constantly yelling at his staff to write synopses of things he had to read, usually scripts. They have things in Hollywood called treatments, which are detailed synopses of a script. So say a script is about a minute a page, so a movie script is 90 pages and a treatment might be 10. This producer would have his staff whittle it down to one. Then, that became too long. He demanded everything get shrunk down to a paragraph for his convenience.

So the idea of a movie producer picking up a deck of Magic cards and reading the instructions and flipping through the entire deck even once? No. Forget it. His assistant will do it and tell him about it in about five sentences. That's how much they'll know about the game going into this process.

That's probably something you already know, but it is very true. The movie business is a business and if they can double their money making a Magic: The Gathering movie featuring 90 minutes of girls in bikinis kicking over decks of cards they'll do it and they won't think twice about it.

That isn't to say, the creative people won't care and won't try. They sometimes have their hands tied by forces beyond their control. (Did I mention the Dungeons & Dragons movie?)

3. If the movie is bad, they'll still promote the Hell out of it. That's the thing about movies, they are always a risk. You can bring together many talented people and it just doesn't happen for one reason or another. It's also a timing thing. Some movies just get rushed because the crew runs out of time and time is money.

So even if they produce the world's worst movie, the studio will try and recoup it's money back. (One of the bad signs is that when the movie is released, critics aren't allowed to screen it ahead of time. If that happens, you may not want to camp out for the premiere.)

4. There's an existing audience for the movie. This is also a drawback because some movie people will overestimate the fans' dedication. Since they think people will see the movie almost no matter what happens, they'll send in their C-Team to slap together 90 minutes. Instead of big name actors hogging the limelight, it will have the opposite problem, no one really all that famous will appear in the movie.

Conclusion: Most of the Magic movie is going to hinge who the producers hire for the creative team. Since all the Transformers movies after the first and the G.I. movies were about as entertaining to me as watching my house burn down, I'm banking on Kinberg to pick up a screenwriter and director team that can put together a kickass fantasy script.

However, don't expect the movie going public to suddenly start playing Magic: The Gathering because a movie came out. The audience for comic books hasn't significantly increased because of the popularity of the Marvel movies. (Comic book sales are still in the low hundred thousands, while the movie fans are in the millions.)

Even if it did, do you want every place you visit to buy Magic cards sold out? The likely outcome would be a surge of players for a short time and then a plummeting of game play after the movie's popularity waned. Millions of more people playing would be like having ten times the amount of noobs show up for your local card tournament. A line outside your local card shop, no available seats for the draft and sky-high single card prices for a while---

Like I said, card junkie, be careful what you wish for.



Comments on "Magic: The Gathering The Movie?"

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Author: James Sullivan

Date: June 16, 2014


Interesting thoughts - I agree with a lot of these but I think the conflict between Mishra and Urza would have to be center focus no matter what, and the movies would deal with the history of Dominia. A lot of MTG's artists have gone on to do pretty big things, and I wonder if they'd benefit from their involvement, either in development of story or art direction.

Author: Hibernia86

Date: October 06, 2014


While I like the Urza and Mishra conflict (I'm reading "The Brother's War" now) I don't think it will be the focus of a movie. The central characters will have to be characters from modern day magic. That means Jace, Garruk, Lilianna ect. Maro has even commented that movie execs came to them back in the early 2000s looking to make a movie but they decided there wasn't enough main characters to do anything. That is partially why the planeswalker cards were created.