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Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story (DVD Review)

13 Feb, 2012 By: Mike Clark



Street 2/14/12
Docurama
Documentary
Box Office $0.013 million
$29.95 DVD
Rated ‘G.’
Narrated by Zachary Levi.

2011. Competitive Monopoly gets its day in a portrait that’s more interesting around the edges (the game’s history and the collector mania it has launched) than it is down the middle (the final game of the 2009 World Championship and events leading up to it). 

After excellent documentaries in recent years about spelling bees (Spellbound), the New York Times crossword puzzle (Wordplay), Donkey Kong (The King of Kong) and others I’m no doubt forgetting, competitive Monopoly gets its day in a portrait that’s more interesting around the edges (the game’s history and the collector mania it has launched) than it is down the middle (the final game of the 2009 World Championship and events leading up to it). Though Monopoly boards undeniably lend themselves to overhead camera placement, the game sequences here are about as exciting as the TV-syndicated Put-Put Golf championships that used to air on weekend mid-afternoon TV during my adolescence — shows my crowd would only watch if we’d gotten warning that some 1-year-old had had one of Nature’s Accidents in the local swimming pool, forcing its closure. Nothing in these Baltic vs. Boardwalk contests, for instance, matches the golden moment from a televised poker game I once saw where Fred Willard was trying to rattle opponent Heather Graham by repeatedly saying, “I really liked you in Boogie Nights.”

But. I certainly enjoyed learning here that the primitive early edition of the game (when it was known as The Landlord’s Game, before a couple guys named Charles — Todd and Darrow — refined it) was actually anti-capitalism, or at least anti-capitalism-abuse, in ways that would probably find Mitt Romney grousing about it were Monopoly to launch today. There’s also an animated map that shows how development of the game hip-hopped in a crazy quilt trajectory among close-proximity Eastern cities and burgs for many, many years until it landed pretty well at the point from which it had originated to become the game we basically know today. As expected, the collectors’ portion of the story showcases the countless specialized versions of the game — the Yankees and Rex Sox, for example, have had their own editions — but the coolest interviewee has to be the woman whose bathroom is completely designed in a Monopoly motif. She says she has to knock on the bathroom door to get awestruck guests to exit so that others can use the place.

Part of the problem with the game sequences is the players, who never come to life the way they do in the aforementioned earlier documentaries. Though this said, one of the competitive players (and this in a predominantly and sometimes even self-admitted dweeb culture) manages to have a super-cute girlfriend who’s a Las Vegas dancer to boot. But as it turns out, this is one of those occasional DVDs for which the chief selling point is the bonus section, which includes about 40 minutes of a fascinating course lecture from super expert Tim Vandenberg on the “methods, math and myths” of the game. There’s a statistical analysis of which properties get landed on the most; why Park Place and Boardwalk are somewhat overrated as desired buys; when it’s smart and not to use “jail” as a tool; and why you have to follow the rules to the letter if you want to wrap a game in a civilized amount of time. (Playing the contest variation where players put all fees in the middle of the board and collect this major booty by landing on Free Parking will only allow a near-whipped opponent to get back on his feet.)

I don’t know where Vandenberg was teaching this class, but his students are shown more or less sitting on their hands. C’mon, kids, this is fairly fascinating numbers-crunching stuff and may even land you a showgirl squeeze.


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