Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Reel Geek: Why Video Game Movies Suck

Every Tuesday, Geekanerd Correspondent Bishop rocks it movie geek style...
This movie murdered Raul Julia.

Sometimes, when you put two things you really like together, you get something brilliant. Chocolate and peanut butter, apple pie and ice cream, emo kids and rabid unfed raccoons. Sometimes when you combine two things, you get something terrible: the Joker and infants, Mark Miller and crossovers, or, as I’m talking about today, movies and videogames. For years people have been trying to make a singular perfect unit from the two, continually resulting in some sort of awkward one night stand of a film in which both parties are thoroughly embarrassed and anyone watching is just downright disappointed, if not a little ill. (Yes I did just liken watching the film adaptation of a game to peeping in on two people having bad sex; enjoy that analogy when you’re in the theater next time.)

So I’ve just thrown down the gauntlet to videogame-based films. “But Bishop,” you’re saying to the computer screen, “I’ve seen good videogame-based movies, there was...well there was definitely one when I was younger, I’m pretty positive.” Well you’re wrong, and please stop speaking to your monitor, I can’t hear you and people are going to start thinking you’re weird. See the problem with videogame movies is that they’re all fairly terrible. Generally you might come up with one or two that you remember being good, but that’s because you were 12 and two dudes punching each other for 5 minutes was pretty fucking rad back then and made up for all the crap that filled the other 90 minutes of the film. Let’s run through a quick list of some videogames turned major motion pictures and see what we’re dealing with:

Super Mario Bros. (1993)
Double Dragon (1994)
Street Fighter (1994)
Mortal Kombat (1995)
Pokémon films (2001-God Knows When This Will Ever End)
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003)
Resident Evil (2002), etc
House of the Dead (2003)
Alone in the Dark (2005)
Doom (2005)
BloodRayne (2006)
Silent Hill (2006)

Obviously I haven’t included them all for time and space, but you get the idea. Now out of all of those movies, can you really tell me that any of them were really top notch? And when I say good, I don’t mean: “well I mean Mortal Kombat was pretty faithful to the storyline and had some cool characters.” I mean: “Was this a good movie, does it rank up with Spiderman 2 or X2 in terms of quality of a nerd-based product?” Heck if any of these movies even ranked with X3 or Superman 3 it would be impressive. Now you may really like some of these movies, that’s fine, I really like John Hughes movies, we all have our thing. You’re allowed to enjoy movies that aren’t quality pictures. What I’m trying to get at is that there really hasn’t been a high quality film adaptation of a videogame, and why that is.

Shang Tsung is upset that he was in a terrible movie.

First things first, these movies are made to make money. They’re made to capitalize on something that has been making money and has name recognition. Now I won’t say that 90% of films aren’t made like this, but with say, a comic book adaptation you’re much more likely to get a production team that has a couple people that are really all about bringing those characters and that story to life. Videogame films more often than not are really just cranked out to earn a studio some money. You’re going to be much harder pressed to find someone really interested in bringing the world of Super Mario Brothers to life than with Superman.

Even though Robert Patrick scared the shit out of you as the T1000,
he still managed to look like the love child of
Vanilla Ice and Thomas Lennon in "Double Dragon"

The next problem is just an overall lack of depth in the source material. Not only are many videogames lacking in a rich story, but they often they lack in depth characterization and strong back-story. Most videogames shouldn’t even be considered for adaptation. Mario Brothers? Street Fighter? Terrible ideas for movies. The games’ storylines were as lacking or simplistic as you can get, trying to translate them into a live action film was never going to turn out well. Now we’re seeing videogames that are more in depth with greater attention given to the writing and character, but it’s still leaps and bounds behind what we would see in any other written medium; comics, novels, short stories, or even television, which has visual elements that fill in the gaps that written description would cover. We get a very small look at a videogame character’s world, and it’s hard to empathize with most of them. We don’t get an insight into how they feel as we would in a book or comic. There’s no narrator or much inner monologue, and we’re mainly left with a few intermittent observations by the character you’re controlling, or some cut-scenes that attempt to fill everything in. There just isn’t much to build off of in a videogame, and so someone adapting for the screen really has to make some very large adjustments to the overall story to get something remotely watchable. And this brings us the third problem.

Fans. Fans are a big problem for videogame-based films. People are constantly bitching and moaning about how things in movies aren’t true to the story and characters in the game. Well, that’s because videogames just don’t translate well to film, genius. If the objective of the game is to run around solving puzzles and occasionally shooting guys all in an effort to find some artifact or solve some mystery or rescue their little girl, the writer has to both expand and condense that story into two hours. They have to cut out all the bullshit running around that you’re going to be doing in 25 hours of gameplay, grab all the story that remains, and attempt to expand that into 2 hours in a way that doesn’t make your brain hurt. Look at the Pokemon films, probably the highest grossing and most successful of any videogame adaptations. Of course these rode off of the television series which came out close to the game, so there was less work to be done, but what kind of characterization and story did that game have? There were basically about 4 things to that game: Pokemon, gyms, walking, and fighting bad guys. Writers managed to turn it into an entire series that’s still currently airing, but they had to just create a bunch of story and character to do so. Fans of a game have difficulty accepting huge changes that get made to story and character in adaptations. Though to be honest, this is a little understandable, as they were playing as that character for however many hours it took them to play this game. We’ve all put our personal experience into this somewhat blank protagonist and explored their world ourselves; of course fans are going to be picky about how the story and character follows their expectations. But you have to learn to deal, especially when it comes to story and character that are acceptable only in the realm of games. Videogames aren’t going to translate well into films, and you have to accept that and allow for changes, sometimes large ones, to be made.

Uwe Boll brings us another shitty game adaptation with "BloodRayne"

So what are we left with? We have people with either the lack of talent or the lack of passion creating the film, we have a lack of material to really draw believable and empathetic story and character from, and we have an audience that wants something that’s not really a realistic product. It seems like a good game flick is shit outta’ luck. Honestly, I think a good game adaptation can be made, but these three things have to change. Plenty of games out there do lend themselves to seeding a good film, the Resident Evil series wasn’t really very well done, but I could see it being done better. Halo’s storyline could make for an interesting film, (the human race fighting off religious aliens dealing with dissent within their race? Sounds like you could go somewhere with that.) The Metal Gear series might make for a good film too, provided that the three issues were resolved. Can they be done well? Give me a talented and ambitious production team, a good writer and a game with a solidly interesting story (at least the outline of one) and an audience that’s willing to let writer and director retool the story and the world to make it work for a two hour film, and I think you could start getting some quality films.

Speaking of Halo, there is a movie slated for 2009 written by Alex Garland (28 Days Later), directed by Neill Blomkamp (animator for “Smallville,” “SG-1” et al.), and produced by Peter Jackson (if you don’t know what he’s done you get an F in Nerd 101). The writer is good, the producer is good, and the story could lend itself to a good film, provided the director can do his job well and the cast is strong. They even have WETA doing the visual effects for the film. If the director and cast can pull it off, and the fans can allow for a little re-imagining, we might have something worth seeing. The real question is: how much corpse-humping warrants an "R" rating?


Emily said...

LIES! What about THE WIZARD! I love that movie

Bishop said...

The Wizard is a movie about video games, and therefore doesn't suck total dongs.

AHR said...

King of Kong: Fistful Of Dollars was adored by all who see it, but I would guess that had if it been a 2 hour look into the life of Donkey Kong himself, it would not have achieved the same artistic heights.

Considering the amazing brilliance of both The Wizard and King of Kong, I wonder if there is an inverse rule that all movies about playing video games are by default awesome. Can anyone think of another example?

Bishop said...


Bishop said...

Also War Games starring Matthew Broderick.

Anonymous said...

"I wonder if there is an inverse rule that all movies about playing video games are by default awesome."

Stay Alive, anyone?

Not all movies about playing games are awesome.

Anonymous said...



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