AFF 2010 Review: Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story

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Under The Boardwalk: The MONOPOLY story outdoor game play

After feeling extremely disappointed in a documentary that I highly anticipated due to its subject, I was hesitant to see another documentary on a topic I thought I had less interest in -- the game of Monopoly. Sure, I played the game as a kid, but I'd expect a feature-length film about a board game would be dry and boring. I'm not too proud to admit that the filmmakers behind Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story proved me wrong. Kevin Tostado directed and co-wrote along with Craig Bentley a delightfully engaging piece on a classic game that is firmly rooted in households across the world. The game is now sold in over 110 countries around the world in 40 languages, although as stated in the film, Monopoly "doesn't get translated, it gets located."

Narrated by Chuck star Zachary Levi, Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story presents a cohesive story with several storylines, one of which is the history of the game and other notable facts. Most notably, I was surprised to learn that although Charles Darrow has historically been known as the founder of Monopoly, it was actually Elizabeth Magie who'd originated the concept in 1903 as an anti-capitalist game known as "The Landlord's Game." Thirty years later the game had evolved and Darrow was the final developer who was successful at selling the game to Parker Brothers. The game's initial success is credited with the same reason that Darrow created the game-- he needed a way to earn money during the Depression. Monopoly was well-received as unemployed and poor folks could play a game that allowed them to buy property and houses. 

Another storyline in Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story focuses on the impact of Monopoly and board games on our culture. Many of the interviewees talk about playing the game with friends and family, and one player in particular became teary-eyed as he talked about playing with his dad and grandmother at their family's lake cabin. For many, Monopoly is the first time many people handle money, and the game allows kids to step into the a2009 United States Monopoly Championship Winnerdult world.

Speaking of children, my favorite vignette from Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story is about Tim Vandenberg, a sixth-grade math teacher who uses Monopoly to teach his students math including statistics and probability. He offers "Monopoly Mornings" to students who score well on benchmark tests, and his students have set records in their district's benchmark tests. His innovative approach to teaching math is inspirational. Defending U.S. champion Matt McNally also visits the school to talk to the kids about his experiences, and show that "normal" people enjoy playing Monopoly. The kids also learn presentation and negotiation skills as part of the bigger lesson of the game.

Vandenberg is not considered a hero by everyone in Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story. Former U.S. finalist Ken Koury accuses Vandenberg of cheating his way through an online qualifying competition that gains Vandenberg a seat in the National Championship in Washington, D.C.. Koury and McNally both bankrupted out of the semi-finals and lost any chance of taking on the World Championship in Las Vegas, while Vandenberg advanced to the finals where he was beat by Richard Marinaccio, a lawyer from upstate New York. Did the U.S. dominate the Monopoly world championship? You'll have to watch the documentary to find out.

Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story is an exemplary film that demonstrates that the best documentaries are those that can be thorough, well-balanced, and passionate. The filmmakers have quick but effective explanations of how the game is played, what the different pieces are, as well as how the tournament competitions work. This feat is accomplished through the use of visually aesthetic graphics and animation. I have high praise for the cinematography and editing, considering how many shooting locations appeared in this film. The interview subjects include game exports, tournament judges, players, and descendants of game innovators Darrow and Parker. The art design was complementary to the game itself, and really connects the audience to both the subject and the people who are passionate enough about the game to compete.

Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story is highly recommended for both documentary film fans and board game geeks alike. It brings back memories for me -- my sister always played as the Scottie dog, Dad picked the race car, and I think that I chose the iron most of the time. Tell us in the comments what your favorite Monopoly memory is, or what your favorite game piece is, and why.

Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story plays again Tuesday, October 26 at 6 pm at the Texas Spirit Theater.

Amazing!

I'm exactly the same - hesitant to watch another boring doc, but this particular documentary was extremely well done. Uplifting, exciting and actually made me want to play the game.

What a treat to be able to see it at AFF. C'mon distributors - pick up this lil' gem!

Agreed!

At first I was screening it in my office alone, but after 5 minutes I stopped the film. I made my fiance get off his computer game and watch it with me in on our large HD TV -- we both loved it!