Once upon a time (circa 1986), Transformers were those robots in disguise that your dorky brother constantly brought to the dinner table. Then Michael Bay got ahold of them and turned them into an eardrum-splitting, live-action summer movie franchise, the third of which (“Transformers: Dark of the Moon”) opens Wednesday.
Now, Hollywood studios frequently look to retro toys as inspiration for film ideas. It has happened so often recently that one wonders whether the average person could tell the difference between an actual toy- or game-inspired movie and one dreamed up for a cheap laugh.
Let’s find out.
The toy/game — Battleship: That’s the guessing/strategy game in which opponents attempt to sink one another’s naval ships, as represented by plastic pegs. Gen Xers will most fondly remember the “high-tech” version, Electronic Battleship, released in 1977.
The movie pitch — “Battleship”: Peter Berg (“Hancock”) directs this action flick about an armada of ships firing away at a fleet that might be commandeered by aliens.
Wait, is this real?: So real it has wrapped production, has a May 2012 release date and will star Liam Neeson, Taylor Kitsch and Rihanna, among others.
The toy/game — Pogs: Surely you remember the game that became a major kid craze in the early ’90s and involved the collection of tiny discs, also known as pogs? Milhouse and Bart Simpson do.
The movie pitch — “The Great Pog of Mystery”: A young boy’s prized pog contains high-level government secrets written on it in invisible ink. Naturally, these are secrets that only Nicolas Cage — who will star — is equipped to investigate.
Wait, is this real?: No. But I fear that someone might read this and turn the idea into a treatment any minute now.
The toy/game — View-Master: I speak of the old-school, binocular-style object that allowed kids to click through photo slides on a wheel.
The movie pitch — “Untitled View-Master Project”: Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, the guys who co-wrote the “Star Trek” remake and the first two “Transformers” movies, are producing this “Goonies”-style adventure . . . which in some way involves View-Masters.
Wait, is this real?: Yes, although the project appears to have stalled. Brad Caleb Kane of “Fringe” fame wrote a script last year, but IMDB.com categorizes the project as “in development” at DreamWorks. So it may never see the light of day . . . or the internal glow of a View-Master.
The toy/game — Easy-Bake Oven: The borderline dangerous invention that created tasty treats courtesy of the heat from a light bulb.
The movie pitch — “Easy Bake”: The team behind “Julie & Julia” — writer-director Nora Ephron, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams — reunite for this comedy about a mother and daughter attempting to win a cook-off in which every item must be made in an Easy-Bake Oven. Along the way, they learn about the power of family bonds and powdered frosting.
Wait, is this real?: No. But doesn’t part of you want to pay $10 to watch Meryl Streep yank pastries out of a light bulb-powered oven? No? Not so much?
The toy/game — “Asteroids”: The Atari arcade and, later, home video game in which the tiny outline of a white spaceship shoots at the tiny outlines of asteroids, flying saucers and other space matter. Highlight: the unpredictable moment that occurred when a player hit the hyperspace button.
The movie pitch — “Asteroids”: Roland Emmerich may direct this post-apocalyptic action flick in which seemingly benevolent aliens have taken over the Earth but turn out to be not so benevolent, forcing humans (presumably using more advanced-looking spaceships than we saw in the original video game) to fight back.
Wait, is this real?: Absolutely. Here’s hoping they devise some super-cool technology that allows audience members to hyperspace themselves to another point in the film if the narrative starts to drag.
The toy/game — “Q*Bert”: Another video game from the ’80s, this one featuring an orange creature with a prominent proboscis who has to change the colors of the cubes in a surreal-looking pyramid.
The movie pitch — “Q-Bert the Ugg Escaper”: To be filmed in 3D by “Tron: Legacy” director Joseph Kosinski, this thrilling tale will follow our bouncy hero through a series of alt-reality labyrinths, labyrinths that lead Q*Bert to realize that, no matter how many boards he completes, he still cannot reunite with his estranged father. Will be rated R because of Q*Bert’s potty mouth every time he gets smashed by the monster Ugg or the snake, Coily.
Wait, is this real?: No. But you figured that out right around “estranged father,” right?
The toy/game — “Risk”: The board game in which players seek nothing less than world domination.
The movie pitch — “Risk”: Sony plans to make the movie version, one of several Hasbro games that are inspiring films — including McG’s “Ouija” as well as still-developing Monopoly and Candyland pictures. The concept, according to the Playlist: “a contemporary global action thriller.”
Wait, is this real?: Yes, that link above sort of gave it away. Here’s hoping they cast “Seinfeld’s” supreme Risk players, Michael Richards and Wayne Knight.
The toy/game — Garbage Pail Kids: The trading cards featuring mutant versions of those adorable Cabbage Patch Kids.
The movie pitch — “The Garbage Pail Kids Movie”: A live-action film about a normal kid who befriends seven Garbage Pail Kids, as played by people wearing incredibly creepy masks.
Wait, is this real?: Yes. It actually happened in 1987, making “The Garbage Pail Kids Movie” the first flick ever based on a trading card/sticker series, according to IMDB. Every old Hollywood movie-marketing tie-in is, as always, new again.