The UnPopular Opinion: Silent Hill
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
**** SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
There is a debate between video game fans and filmmakers that will probably rage until judgement day - namely, how to adapt our beloved gaming properties into proper films. The majority have failed miserably, a few have only mostly failed, and a few have gone so far beyond their source material (Uwe Boll anything) as to be nearly unrecognizable. And then there are of course those that sounded good - a Halo as guided by Peter Jackson, Gore Verbinski being behind BIOSHOCK - that never even came to pass. But the debate, in my experience, basically seems to boil down to whether filmmakers actually understand the source material they are drawing from.
And the general consensus is that they don't. But the problem, I think, is that you simply cannot adapt a video game's entire tone or experience into a film. It just doesn't work. The capabilities of the mediums are drastically different. So where does that leave us? It leaves us with the idea that an adaptation of a video game would best succeed if the filmmakers behind it took the elements at the heart of a game's experience (whether those be emotional moments or twisted world-building or absurd action or fascinating characters in extraordinary situations) and transplanted those elements rather than trying to bring along the whole damn thing the same way you would a book or a TV show or a comic. It seems obvious, but a fair amount of people have missed the boat thus far, and so here we are.
"When you're hurt and scared for so long, the fear and pain turn to hate and the hate starts to change the world."
Which in turn brings us to SILENT HILL. Is SILENT HILL a great video game adaptation? Not really. Is it a great movie? Maybe it's not that either, but what it is is pretty damn entertaining and creepy as hell. And therein lies the rub: watching this all-in-all slick horror flick only reaffirmed in my mind the belief that when you adapt something, that adaptation can no longer be compared to the source that inspired it. In the same way as Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings or countless other examples, once the commitment is made to transfer a particular piece of storytelling to celluloid, it becomes its own entity and should, in all fairness, be judged only on its own terms.
So as a "Silent Hill story", Christophe Gans and company lose a lot in the translation of the deep power borne by the video game series. But as a plain old horror movie that happens to have seeds of visual, aural, and thematic inspiration taken from a preexisting series of stories: I think it succeeds pretty damn well. Now, you may ask what the point is of even doing an adaptation at all if you're not going to really well and truly honor the source material. Yet I think, that in this case anyway, Gans and company did very much try to and it was just our tough luck that they didn't quite get what "Silent Hill" was as a video game. You can see that they tried - it's right there on the screen. And thankfully, even if it wasn't a true "Silent Hill story" in execution, we still got a fun little horror flick well worth watching.
"You've darkened the heart of an innocent and now you cower in the face of Alessa's revenge."
The reason I say that SILENT HILL isn't the best "Silent Hill story" is that Gans and screenwriter Roger Avary (PULP FICTION, BEOWULF) treat SILENT HILL more as a parade of horrors that all stem from the truly tortured soul of one very sad and angry little girl rather than a disturbingly twisted deconstruction of the protagonist's own demons. Rose has no need to be in SILENT HILL other than to save her daughter, her presence and efforts in time causing her to become another victim to the darkness in Alessa's heart. And while choosing that former route takes SILENT HILL away from the meaning behind the games, committing so strongly to the latter is what gives us the good movie that SILENT HILL ends up being.
The transformation effects on the environment are top notch both in technical execution and in general creepiness, the situations in which Rose finds herself are often downright scary, and the perfomers/tech chosen to realize the twisted creatures that call Silent Hill home succeed impressively in creating some truly memorable encounters. And really, isn't that all any good horror movie can ever ask for? Coupled with a score (culled from the games) that is solidly put together and a cache of actor performances that bring life, humanity, and energy to an exposition-laden script, SILENT HILL all of a sudden ascends the ranks of both video game adaptation and popular horror movie to provide something that succeeds at being equal parts scary and entertaining. Which is, again, a standard that I know most horror movies always try their best to shoot for.
"You burned in the fire that you started and nothing can save you because you're already damned!"
The main sticking point I have with SILENT HILL, and perhaps this is where the majority of naysayers also fall, is not with the movie it is but the movie it could have been. But instead of being well and truly a product of the "Silent Hill" sensibility the games have always adhered to, Gans and Avery went for something different. Not something worse, just something different. Something bigger than the internal demons of any one character, and in doing so made a horror movie that is about a whole lot more than the fears of a single soul and how they confront those fears.
Because sometimes the darkest evil and the most vicious villainy stems from nothing more than the very human sort of fear that arises from the unknown. Sometimes the nastiest of pain is caused because a community of people are afraid and alone and they don't know how to deal with their feelings. That's what Gans and Avary seemingly chose to explore, and while in most ways it very much works as a movie in and of itself, I'd argue it even works in some ways as a "Silent Hill" movie. Just not as the SILENT HILL movie that we all wanted. And do you know what? I'm a-okay with that.
Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!
|Extra Tidbit:||It took Christophe Gans five years to secure the rights to "Silent Hill". He finally achieved his aim after sending Konami a video of an interview where he spoke about how important "Silent Hill" was to him. Besides the interview he also sent scenes that he filmed with his own money synched to various pieces of music from the games.|