In my most recent article for This Here Site Here, I made a reference to a movie deal between Hasbro and Universal Pictures that was supposed to have generated scads of big-budget movies but things didn’t go quite as planned. I believe I even made a joke in the article about the poorly received Dungeons & Dragons movie being the reason a possible Magic: The Gathering movie fell through.
I don’t necessarily have to eat my words, but they’re tasty when dipped in chocolate.
Hasbro is press releasing, Daily MTG is Magic Arcana-ing, and Wizards personalities from Mark Rosewater to Doug Beyer are "we can’t say anything else"-ing about a new deal for a Magic movie. (Personally I’m disappointed that we haven’t seen a follow-up question and one of Doug Beyer’s patented "no comment" landscapes on A Voice for Vorthos yet, but so it goes.)
The Magic movie isn’t the only Vorthos news to crop up in the last couple of weeks. Wizards is Hatching Plans with a firm in New Zealand to make Magic: The Gathering coins. That makes two announcements for non-game Magic stuff in as many weeks. Let’s take a look.
Magic: The Movie(s)
I’m fond of counterexamples. After a co-worker challenged me to name a cute Magic player, a quick Google search for Brian Kibler had her conceding defeat. (Bow to your dimpled Pro Tour-winning sensei.) When I hear people online say that a Magic: The Gathering movie couldn’t possibly be good, I just mutter, "Something something The Return of the King something something third in the series something something eleven Academy Awards something something."
That doesn’t mean a Magic movie has to be good either. The Return of the King came out in 2003. Just three years earlier there was another fantasy film released also based on a venerable fantasy property. Its name? Dungeons & Dragons.
I should have warned you before I let you click play . . . but I didn’t! I’m so evil! Mwahahaha!
Nope. Not evil. Just one-tenth as hammy as the film was. After Dungeons & Dragons became a critically panned box-office money-loser, its producer-director Courtney Solomon did almost everything but take his name off the project. In one of the most eyebrow-raising interviews I’ve ever read, he also trashed Gary Gygax, Lorraine Williams, and Peter Adkinson.
Said panning and money losing of the Dungeons & Dragons film didn’t stop it from getting two low-budget direct-to-video sequels, the first of which, Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God, Mr. Solomon also produced. Shrinking budgets and a quality death spiral is the worst-case scenario for the Magic movies if they ever get created.
I’m heavy on the "if."
Press releases by their nature are optimistic attention grabbers. The last time Magic players had reason to fret over a Magic movie was in February 2008, when Hasbro and Universal Pictures signed a "strategic partnership" to make movies and Magic: The Gathering was one of the brands specified.
Read the press release from back when. Note the bit about the first movie from the partnership coming in "2010 or 2011" with one a year thereafter.
What’s actually happened? Let’s take a look. Remember, the Transformers and GI Joe franchises weren’t part of the Universal Pictures deal.
So . . . that’s Battleship in 2012 and Ouija in 2014 with Universal Pictures. Candy Land, Monopoly, Hungry Hungry Hippos, and Tonka are with other distributors, the first and last associated with Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions. Magic: The Gathering is the most recent placement. It’s getting produced by Twentieth Century Fox instead of Universal Pictures.
There’s no such thing as a trouble-free film production. Delays happen. People quit. Test screenings end in disaster. There won’t be a Magic: The Gathering movie in theaters until summer 2017 at the earliest. I put the emphasis on "summer" because a Magic film would be a PG-13, school’s-out, get-your-popcorn-and-watch-stuff-blow-up experience. We’re not getting Akira Kurosawa here.
I like Rashomon. Popcorn flicks? Not so often.
Just because a movie’s a great big tentpole doesn’t mean that it has to be mindless or terrible. It does however have to reach an audience beyond just Magic players or else it’ll be a horrible box-office failure. Time for some math . . . help me out, Fraction Jackson?
The press release claims there are 12,000,000 Magic players and fans in the world. Suppose every one of them buys a ticket. (Unrealistic expectation #1.) Those tickets are all ten dollars, American multiplex price. (Unrealistic expectation #2.) That makes $120 million in box office gross. Twentieth Century Fox will get to keep about half, or $60 million.
If Twentieth Century Fox is going to do Magic: The Movie up right as a big loud summer flick, that firm will be spending way more than $60 million on personnel, production, and marketing. Just as the audience for the Transformers films isn’t restricted to those who’ve played with the toys, the first Magic film has to find a more universal audience.
That’s the first Magic movie; to quote from the press release, they’re looking to make "a series of films based on fantastic fan-favorite stories from the past as well as new stories in development." The word "franchise" also gets thrown around.
A true franchise—even if the films themselves were utter schlock—would be one of the best things that could happen to Magic. It would be advertising on thousands of theater marquees across the United States and around the world, a far cry from the occasional bumpers on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim.
I’m pretty mercenary in my approach to Magic. If something grows the game and contributes to its long-term stability without rendering it unrecognizable, I’m for it. Here’s my ranking of possible outcomes for a Magic movie.
Best: Critically acclaimed box-office smash.
Second-best: Meh-reviewed box-office smash.
Third-best: Critically panned box-office smash. (This’ll still bring lots more players into the game!)
Middle: Critically praised box-office failure.
Third-worst: Meh-reviewed box-office failure. (It’s still free advertising for Magic.)
Second-worst: No Magic movie at all (cancellation).
Worst: Magic: The Adventures of Pluto Nash and three direct-to-video sequels.
After all that, do I have high hopes for Magic: The Feature Film as something I would enjoy? No. The popcorn-flick genre is too far from my face. Do I hope a Magic movie is a smash success? You bet.
Magic: The Coin
This one went up on a Friday, stagnated over a weekend, and then disappeared from the Daily MTG main page pretty quickly. Wizards of the Coast has teamed up with a firm to create Magic: The Gathering-branded coins. First in what looks to be a series will be Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
I tweeted a bit about the coins earlier, and Chas Andres touched on them briefly in his "Counterfeit Cards" article (required reading if you haven’t seen it yet). But I want to elaborate on what these coins are and why it would take an extremely low price for me to pick one up or recommend that you buy one. There’s some misinformation going around, and I want to clear it up.
First off, "The New Zealand Mint" is a private firm and doesn’t make coins for New Zealand. New Zealand’s commemorative coin programs go through the New Zealand Post, the nation’s postal service. If the names weren’t confusing enough, the New Zealand Post is issuing commemorative coins based on the film series The Hobbit.
That said, The New Zealand Mint does have contracts to make coins for certain nations. Their FAQ page lists current and past government clients: Fiji, Nepal, Pitcairn, Cook Islands, and Niue. It’s actually pretty common for countries not to strike their own money because large-scale operations can make coins more efficiently than a small facility in a low-population country.
One of the most prominent manufacturers of coins for various countries is the Royal Canadian Mint, which makes all of Canada’s money and has an extensive client roster, including a series of coins in 2006 for New Zealand. A privately owned company that fills a similar role for governments worldwide is the Pobjoy Mint in the UK.
The Jace coin really is a coin, but it’s a coin with conditions. Non-circulating legal tender, or NCLT for short, is money that technically could be spent but one would have to be irrational to do so. For instance, the U.S. Mint is selling a coin containing a half-ounce of pure gold at a price of $815. The coin’s face value is $10. Someone theoretically could walk into the Star City Game Center and spend it on a couple of Magic booster packs, but financially it’d be a terrible move.
There’s a logic behind non-circulating legal tender. Someone who makes a fake piece of NCLT is on the hook for counterfeiting a country’s currency if caught. That said, even if one were to be irrational and decide to spend a Jace coin as currency, one would have to travel to Niue, a small South Pacific island with a tiny population (fewer than 2,000 souls) and a single airport that gets one flight in and out every Friday. There’s just not much to Niue.
The Jace coin’s actual value lies in its metal content: one ounce of 999/1000 pure silver. As I type, the current value of that ounce of silver is just north of US$20. Anything more is what you pay for the picture of Jace. I wouldn’t mind spending an extra ten or even twenty bucks to pick up a Jace coin. I just wish they were round so I could flip one to determine play or draw in a Magic match.
Price is still to be determined, but my guess is it’ll be way more than my $30–$40 price range. The New Zealand Mint has made silver coins for other Hasbro products. A four-coin set representing the corners of the gameboard and totaling an ounce of pure silver costs $140 on The New Zealand Mint’s site. Two silver one-ounce Transformers coins sell as a set for slightly under $125, which shows how disconnected the coins’ prices are from their worth as silver.
Even at the Transformers level, I’m in "heck no" territory, and you should be too. If you really want a Jace, the Mind Sculptor coin, wait a few years and let the price drop toward the value of an ounce of silver because that’s where it’s going to go and stay. Don’t be fooled by the limited mintage of 5,000 pieces; demand for Jace coins above and beyond their silver content won’t go that high in the future.
I’ve seen this movie, and I know how it ends. If you want to spend an extra $100 on a one-ounce bar of silver just because it has Jace’s picture on it, that’s your prerogative, but it’s just money down the drain. I’d rather buy a paper copy of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. It’s more likely to hold its value.
Join me in two weeks when I discuss the cultural appropriation involved in calling Magic’s mana system "mana," why Doug Beyer apologized for the planeswalker Kiora’s now-disowned surname "Atua," or the flavor of Born of the Gods. Probably the flavor of Born of the Gods.
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