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C'mon Hollywood: Should videogames be adapted?

10.02.2012

Living in today’s world, it’s almost impossible to not play video games to some degree.  Some are obsessed to an unhealthy level of gameplay, while others keep it casual enough to be a fun escape.  With the videogame industry generating billions of dollars per year and people gaming on one platform or another now more than any other time in history, it’s perfectly understandable that those same fans would want to see their favorite game(s) brought to life on the big screen.

But, is it really necessary?

Hollywood hasn’t really had much success in the videogame genre, with 2001’s LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER being the top grosser at just $131 million.  The next two highest-grossing videogame adaptations are PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME and POKEMON: THE FIRST MOVIE.  Not exactly the hottest properties on the block and sadly the top earners.  The most successful series is RESIDENT EVIL, but even that has been a temperamental success.  The hardcore gamers are mostly up in arms about the adaptation, even though it manages to consistently rake in cash.  MORTAL KOMBAT, arguably the best of all videogame adaptations, is still easily forgettable. 

The rest are mostly a smorgasbord of crappy adaptations, from DOOM to MAX PAYNE to HITMAN to SUPER MARIO BROS. to STREET FIGHTER; it’s been a real shitty ride.  So, what’s the deal?  Is Hollywood going after all the wrong franchises or is it more of a question in regards to performance?  After all, even with TOMB RAIDER’s decent numbers, it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence by jumping into a genre that’s never cracked $150 million at the box office.  The majority of videogame adaptations have either bombed completely or just barely made their budget back.  That’s not the best incentive to flood theaters with more of them.

When talking about which games to adapt you run into even more problems.  The most popular games making the most cash are your first-person shooters like Call of Duty, old school games like Super Mario Bros., “role play” games like Grand Theft Auto, or the new hotness of Wii games.  The one thing missing from all of these games is a true narrative structure to build a film.  There are some amazingly immersive visuals and story elements put into these games, but they’re all created to drive gameplay, not narrative.  Skyrim is chock full of creatures, wildlife, people, and tasks, all of which are driven by the player, operating within the shell of a “story.”  It’s an amazing experience to play, but I’d never want to sit back and watch it.

Even with the impressive cinematics that feel like you’re watching a movie, they’re still fleeting, as each one leads directly into gameplay and the gameplay IS the action.  In movies, the action IS the film, so the task for anyone adapting a videogame is how to employ the gameplay into a narrative structure, which is a messy, messy business.  I’ve played a shitload of videogames and spent HOURS on various stages trying to beat a key villain with every weapon, power, spell, whatever at my disposal and it can be a maddening, adrenaline-fueled rush.  But, how do you translate that feeling to a movie?  Better yet; is it even possible?

The problem is you, the gamer.  You ARE these characters, regardless of what the cinematic says.  You are making the decisions, you are in control, and you are playing the way you want, for the most part.  Thereby, your expectations for how these characters are adapted become deeply personal and any deviation from your expectations becomes blasphemy.  And how do you gauge expectations?  Are people pining for a properly executed boat chase in a Modern Warfare movie?  A dragon fight in a Skyrim film?  A race battle in a Mario Kart feature?  I guarantee every fan of those games has their own version of what would have to be included and how.  And I think if they really put it in perspective, there’s just not much reason to care.  Why?  Because the 2-hour experience of the film can never amount to the weeks, months, and years spent on any one game.  The investment becomes personal (and sometimes a little sad) with gamers not willing to let anything go in bringing this epic experience down a few notches to meet a limited timeframe and a wider audience.  And in the end, it kind of defeats the purpose of playing the game in the first place. 

Personally, I don’t ever want to see a Call of Duty or Elder Scrolls movie.  The experience is too big and too personal to try and adapt and I’m certain to be disappointed.  The higher concept franchises like Halo, The Legend of Zelda, Mass Effect, Metal Gear, or Gears of War have a much better chance at being a worthwhile movie experience, because they’re rooted in compelling characters and stories that can stand on their own outside of being our avatar.  And those rare few are still a major challenge to adapt.  Mostly, I think, videogames should be left to the consoles and the gamers.  The experience of playing a game vs. watching a movie is completely independent of one another and that’s just the way I like it. If Hollywood is somehow able to "crack the code" at some point, I'll welcome a solid adaptation. But, I'm not holding my breath. 

Extra Tidbit: I suppose the same argument could be made about books being adapted into films, but that would be a weak argument, seeing as they A) have narrative structure, B) have won Oscars and, C) make lots and lots of money. Books-adapted-to-film: Lord of the Rings, The Shawshank Redemption, The Silence of the Lambs, The Godfather, L.A. Confidential, etc., etc….
Source: JoBlo.com

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