Video Game movies. The sentence alone brings shivers to even the most die-hard gamer. A pairing of the two seems like a match made in heaven, taking your favourite action filled video game and bringing it to the big screen. So why do they constantly suck? I used to get excited when they’d announced a film based on a video game – to be revisit franchises I’d fallen in love with , but time and time again fans have been disappointed with poor representations of the worlds they fell in love with playing.
So with such a history of average-ness, why does Hollywood bother?
Video game movies stumbled right out of the gate with 1993’s Super Mario Bros. Having little experience in the film industry, video game heavyweights Nintendo sold the cinematic rights to their beloved mascot, believing that no matter how bad a film could be, nothing could knock Mario off his totem pole. Whilst that was partially true, and Mario still dominates to this day, the film’s bizarre setting couldn’t attract cinema-goers and clear lack of anything resembling the video game irked fans. Super Mario Bros bombed horribly and was relegated to a dumpster behind your local Blockbuster once Jurassic Park hit theatres a week later.
The mid 90’s featured four films based on fighting games, including Double Dragon, Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. Each of the films had varying levels of success, but were all critically panned. Some may say that these films were made ‘for the fans’, but I think you’ll find fan approval for any of these distinctly lacking. The early 2000’s had some minor successes with Tomb Raider and Resident Evil, but sequels to these films disappointed, with the Resident Evil franchise becoming almost a parody of itself . Speaking of self parody, once director Uwe Boll started getting his hands on every gaming property he could, it was all a very sleep downhill slope.
In the last 7 years or so we’ve seen a few higher budgeted takes on video games with Prince of Persia and Warcraft. Whilst both were praised for their production quality, neither of them hit big at the box office. If a game like Warcraft, which has had millions of players, can’t ignite the box office – then I’m not sure what can.
Its hard to pinpoint exactly where the fault of any video games film lies. In the early 90’s, video games were still fairly abstract, with somewhat weak story underlining actual gameplay. The dystopic bizarre setting for Super Mario Bros seems a little out of touch with the video games, but can you imagine anybody even trying to attempt to adapt the video game? They’d have give acid at the door for any of it to make sense.
Writers have a choice – adapt a game literally, and try to make some sense out of its setting, characters and style. Alternatively, they can take elements from the game and adapt them into something different – loosing the core gamer audience at which they were attempting to market to in the first place.
Can any video game movie break the curse? To be honest, I’m not sure. Modern video games have evolved from abstract platforms to vast, expansive worlds for which we explore and share in our characters tale. As gamer’s, we feel connected to the games we play and the unique moments we experience. Films aren’t able to capture that feeling of ‘choose your own adventure’, and therefore writers take the core story and try and adapt it to something for all audiences. How can you capture the essence of a game that you drop 100 hours into within a 2 hour film? You can’t – its not an experience you can replicate. With games becoming more and more engrossing I’d struggle to imagine a world where there can be a video game movie that captures the essence of an epic spanning game.
I think of two upcoming video game movies, and I’m disappointed in both of them before they even hit theatres. With the upcoming Tomb Raider reboot – it looks like they are adapting the game very literally, so much so that I’m not really all that excited to experience a story that I spend hours and hour in. Then on the flip side is the upcoming Uncharted film, which is not adapting the game but is instead telling a prequel story – a disappointment to me because I love the characters so much as they are in the game. Video game movies are a really hard genre to win at, and seem to be loose, loose no matter how you tackle the project.
I understand the appeal to Hollywood. Built in franchises that they don’t have to market as heavy as they already have a build in fan base from game sales, its a marketing dream. But with games becoming so engrossing and captivating, they now seem to be more suitable for long form television. We’ve seen games slowly move away from adapting movies directly, and I think its time for Hollywood to do the same. Let both mediums live in their own spaces and tell their own stories – if history tells us anything, its that mixing the two just leads to disappointment.
So, do you think Hollywood should slow down on the video game movies, or have video games become so engrossing and dramatic that they have become their own type of long form storytelling. Let us know on