Photo: wikipedia

And now, a Rubik’s Cube film

Twist and shout

News that a feature film about the Rubik’s Cube is in the works means that the iconic Hungarian invention will receive “leading man” star treatment but it will hardly be the first time the iconic brand has appeared on screens big or small.

Hyde Park Entertainment Group and Endeavor Content are teaming for the movie on the famed toy that has sold some 450 million worldwide since it was invented by sculptor and professor of architecture Ernő Rubik in 1974 and licensed to sell in 1980.

Actual details of the cinematic offering are under wraps, such as the plot, the actors and the planned release date. But the concept of how one man went from being the son of a poet mother and a glider-manufacturer father in communist Hungary to inventing one of the biggest selling toys the world has seen surely has strong story potential.

Rubik, born in Budapest on July 13, 1944, studied sculpture at the Technical University in the Hungarian capital and architecture at the Academy of Applied Arts and Design, also in Budapest. While a professor of design at the academy, he pursued his hobby of building geometric models.

One of these was a prototype of his cube, made of 27 wooden blocks; it took Rubik a month to solve the problem of the cube. It proved a useful tool for teaching algebraic group theory, and in late 1977 Konsumex, Hungary’s state trading company, began marketing it.

Rubik’s Cube consists of 26 small cubes that rotate on a central axis; nine coloured cube faces, in three rows of three each, form each side of the cube. When the cube is twisted out of its original arrangement, the player must then return it to the original configuration, one among 43 quintillion possible ones. (In the American system of numeration a quintillion is 1 followed by 18 zeroes.)

Moviegoers may have seen Rubik’s Cube pop up a number of times. In “Despicable Me 3”, for instance, in 2017, one appears in the third episode of the successful series, in which the Minions and Gru battle the 1980s-obsessed villain Balthazar Bratt (voiced by South Park co-creator Trey Parker). Balthazar used the cube as a smoke bomb in the opening scene of the film.

In “The Big Bang Theory” TV series the genius theoretical physicist Sheldon Cooper has a Rubik’s Cube tissue box and he’s often wearing a T-shirt depicting a melting cube.

Then there’s the scrambled cube that can be seen on the shelf in the animated science-fiction series “Rick and Morty”. The cube is just a background object but it is there every time when Morty’s bedroom is shown.

In the TV series “Lucifer” Ella is finishing a Rubik’s Cube as she complains to detective Dan Espinoza about how hard it was to clean a boiled corpse before autopsy.

It was in “South Park” season 21 episode 2 titled “Put It Down” where a cube can be seen in Craig’s room when Tweek wakes him up in the middle of the night because he’s afraid of a North Korean attack on his house. The cube is tossed in a laundry basket and is just a background object.

In “Mary and Max” (2009) Max liked to solve problems. In one scene he’s solving a Rubik’s Cube at a bus stop. He kept his cube in his nightstand’s drawer, next to the booklet that helped him to understand expressions on people’s faces.

Then there’s “Snowden” (2016) where we can spot the cube many times in this biography drama that tells the story of a CIA agent who leaked to the public the illegal surveillance techniques used by the government. He smuggled files from the CIA on a Secure Digital memory card hidden below the centre cap of his favourite puzzle. The opening scene of the film shows the protagonist twisting a Rubik’s Cube in one hand. Later it is seen that the character played by Nicolas Cage has a nice twisty puzzle collection.

Danish film “Hævnen” (“In a Better World”, 2010) won the best foreign-film Oscar, telling the story of two troubled boys. A cube can be seen when the two boys meet each other the first time in the classroom.

Will Smith starred in the box-office hit “The Pursuit of Happyness” (2006) and the cube is shown in several scenes, the most prevalent of which is when Smith explains to Mr. Twistle how he thinks one works. The film is set in 1981, a possible explanation for the cameo of the cube.

Chris Gardner (Smith) learns of the cube’s existence when he finds one in his kitchen. In a later scene he is shown solving the first two layers of the puzzle. Finally, while in a taxi with Twistle, who believes the Rubik’s Cube is “impossible”, Twistle is surprised at Gardner’s ability to solve the puzzle.

After the film, Smith learnt how to solve the cube properly (he did not have to learn the solution for the film), and has even solved it live during a chat show.

In the popular sci-fi animation “WALL-E” (2008), a Rubik’s Cube is used as an interaction piece between the two main characters, WALL-E and EVE. Due to WALL-E’s role as a cleaning robot on Earth after its abandonment, he collects objects from his cleaning that seem interesting.

He is shown placing a cube he has found into a locker after briefly inspecting it. Later within the film, once WALL-E has met EVE, he shows her the cube that he has found, and within a few seconds (not shown), she has solved it and returned it to him.

This scene was most likely used to portray the intelligence of EVE compared to the outdated technology used to create WALL-E. In a later scene, WALL-E is unable to recognise EVE, and in an attempt to jog his memory she shows him the cube that she solved for him.

(A fun fact here is that there are real Rubik’s Cube-solving robots, the fastest being able to do it under one second.)

The cube makes another cameo in the first “Hellboy” film (2004), where Abe Sapien, a psychic amphibious humanoid, is talking to Liz Sherman from behind the glass of his aquarium with a Rubik’s Cube in his hand.

As part of their conversation, he says, “Listen, I’m not much a problem solver. Three decades, and I’ve only completed two sides”. This is the only appearance of the cube in the film. Despite being an intelligent psychic creature, it is interesting that he is unable to complete the puzzle.

In the popular 2012 superhero movie “The Amazing Spider-Man”, Peter Parker and Uncle Ben are conversing in Parker’s room. When Ben enters, he picks up the cube resting on Parker’s desk (note that the puzzle is solved).

Ben twists one side and continues to talk with Parker. Once the conversation is over, Ben returns the cube to the desk with one layer misaligned. The theatrical use of the Rubik’s Cube could have been used here to foreshadow the way Parker’s life would go from an organised, normal life to something completely different with one small turn.

Also spot cube screen appearances in “Thor: The Dark World” (2013), the opening scene of “Hacker” (2016), Charlie Sheen throw one in the air and catch it in “Being John Malkovich” (1999), Steve Buscemi as Rockhound solves a cube in “Armageddon” (1998), Jesse (Seann William Scott) holds one in the comedy “Dude, Where’s My Car?” (2000), a blind man solving the puzzle in the comedy “UHT” (1989), Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) holding one in horror drama “Let Me In” (2010) and in Sam Flynn’s (Owen Best) bedroom in “TRON: Legacy” (2010).

The puzzle was licensed by Rubik to be sold by Ideal Toy Corp. in 1980. The World Cube Association has organised the Rubik’s Cube World Championship as the main international competition once every two years since 2003. The latest was held in MelbourneAustralia, in July 2019. An earlier world championship was held in Budapest in 1982. People solve the puzzle one-handed, with their feet, etc.

The Rubik’s feature film will be produced by Ashok Amritraj and Executive Produced by Priya Amritraj and Addison Mehr for Hyde Park. Hyde Park is also partnering with Glassman Media, an Endeavor Content Company, to create a game show based on the global brand.

Amritraj said: “I’ve had a personal and nostalgic connection to the Rubik’s Cube from my early days in India. I am thrilled to partner with Endeavor Content and Rubik’s/Smiley and look forward to creating a wonderful and complex Rubik’s universe.”

Graham Taylor and Chris Rice, co-presidents of Endeavor Content, said: “The Rubik’s Cube is an iconic and family-friendly brand. In partnership with Hyde Park we look forward to creating film, television and game show content for global audiences.”

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