Saturday 24 February 2018

The Angry Birds have landed... in Hollywood

Ed Power

Ed Power

It is the biggest thing to hit video games since Lara Croft squeezed into her iconic vest top for the original Tomb Raider. Now Angry Birds, the quirky smartphone puzzler that has hooked tens of millions of fans globally, is to be adapted into a Hollywood movie.

What's more, should the film prove as successful as anticipated, Rovio, the until recently obscure Finnish company behind the franchise, has ambitions to transform itself into an entertainment titan to rival Disney. Download by download, it is rolling out its plans for world conquest.

If you are one of the 250 million people who have installed Angry Birds on your phone in the past 18 months, you will know all about its almost supernaturally addictive qualities. But you may also be asking yourself how a simplistic video game involving catapulted birds, wooden platforms and green pigs could possibly provide the basis for a feature-length film?

The answer, according to studio executive David Maisel, is that Rovio intends to channel the 'emotional connection' fans have with Angry Birds. Above all else, he hinted, the movie will stay true to the game's dark humour and slightly manic sensibility.

"There has been so much chatter about an Angry Birds movie, but it's now real," said Maisel, the former chairman of Marvel Studios recruited by Rovio as a special adviser. "The process is starting."

There is nothing particularly novel about re-imagining a hit game as a movie. As far back as the mid-1990s, studios were applying the big-screen treatment to franchises such as Nintendo's Super Mario Bros series.

Most of these adaptations made for car-crash viewing. But a few -- the ongoing Resident Evil saga for instance -- stand up as popcorn entertainment in their own right.

Indeed, it's a sign of the games industry's growing clout that auteur David O Russell was hired last year to bring Playstation's Indiana Jones-tinged Uncharted series to cinemas (he has since left the production).

Angry Birds, though, is different. To begin with, it has little in common with the long-established video-game properties mentioned above. Designed to be enjoyed in bite-sized nuggets, this (outwardly) straightforward puzzle game doesn't ask a lot from the player in terms of time invested. Which means that, whilst tremendous fun, there isn't a lot of back-story on which to draw.

Adapting Angry Birds into a movie is a bit like turning chess or tiddlywinks into an afternoon sitcom. Huge quantities of outside-the-box thinking will surely be needed.

Whatever happens, Angry Birds the video game is set to continue selling in incredible quantities. Such is its extraordinary popularity, commentators have started to compare it not with other video games but to crazes from the annals such as the Hula Hoop and Rubik's Cube.

For the past year, it has been by some distance the bestselling download on Apple's online 'App Store', quite an achievement considering it is competing with 300,000 other software applications.

And with such unlikely celebrities as US vice-president Dick Cheney and Mad Men star John Hamm apparently hooked, it appears nobody is immune from its irreverent, off-beat charms.

Certainly Rovio, previously a tiny developer with a dozen employees, hasn't been slow to cash in. Starting life on the iPhone, Angry Birds has been converted to the Apple iPad and Google's Android smartphone platform, and will shortly be available on consoles such as the Xbox and Nintendo Wii.

Meanwhile, a line of Angry Birds soft toys has been produced and plans are under way for an board game. No doubt Angry Birds-themed tea cosies, bath mats and birth control are in the pipeline. Even if you've never sat in front of a video game in your life, the phenomenon is becoming difficult to avoid.

Is there a lesson for Ireland's small but vibrant app sector? Perhaps it is that, in the flat earth world of smartphone applications, all you really need is a good idea.

When Rovio's developers created Angry Birds, they were clear about what they wanted: a video game superficially simple to play but with enough nuance to draw you back again and again.

If some random Finns can do it, why can't we?

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