C'mon Hollywood: Why videogame movies suck and how to fix 'em

SUPER MARIO BROS. STREET FIGHTER. MORTAL KOMBAT ANNIHILATION. HOUSE OF THE DEAD. Not only are these terrible videogame movies, there are some of the worst movies, period. And the list goes on! DOUBLE DRAGON, DEAD OR ALIVE, ALONE IN DAR – I mean, you get the idea. Hell, let’s add ASSASSIN’S CREED and (presumably) RESIDENT EVIL: FINAL CHAPTER to that list as well. So why is that? Why are videogame movies so terrible? And what is there to do? 

One major problem to overcome is that, a lot of times, games either have no story (like TETRIS), or conversely, the games have way too much story (like the aforementioned ASSASSIN’S CREED). In the latter case, filmmakers often create their own original story to condense everything, utilizing only a few assets and some iconography from the IP to satiate fanboys (what I like to call “the RESIDENT EVIL method”). Or they do what most adaptations do – like FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN and SUPER MARIO BROS. – and just completely ignore the games like assholes. 

Unfortunately, sticking too close to the games can be a detriment as well. Look at DOOM’s first-person scene, which was a highlight to many people, but in truth was just a f*cking low-rent Halloween haunted house attraction. Or the original STREET FIGHTER, where the director was forced to pack in every single character from the game, whether they fit in or not, making an already bad movie into a bloated slog as well. Hell, most of the worst parts of ASSASSIN’S CREED (the convoluted and nonsensical mythology, as well as the present-day storyline interrupting the awesome parkour-in-the-past stuff) were ripped straight out of the source material. 

Yet another problem, especially recently, is that a lot of games have been trying extra hard to be cinematic themselves. But unfortunately that usually just means genre pastiches trying to pass themselves off as plots, like MAX PAYNE (remember that Mark Wahlberg turd? Of course you don’t) whose game was every cop-thriller cliché rolled into one, so that’s what the movie became. Hell, even TOMB RAIDER was basically just “what if Indiana Jones had boobs”? And that kind of reflexivity is fine for a videogame. In those cases, it’s more about you, the player, living out the experience, so it’s easier to forgive. However, when trying to adapt these ostensibly “cinematic” games into movies, they inevitably feel derivative and cliché - a copy-of-a-copy. It’s the “snake-eating-its-own-tail” of bad writing – like that one SNAKE game that’d probably also make a terrible movie. 

But there is hope! For one, there have already been good videogame movies, like MORTAL KOMBAT (the first one, natch) and SILENT HILL (ditto). And what these movies get right is that the filmmakers adapted the feel of their respective games. MORTAL KOMBAT the game was a cheesy, supernatural riff on ENTER THE DRAGON…and thus the movie was a cheesy, supernatural riff on ENTER THE DRAGON.  Hell, I’d argue that SILENT HILL is a legit great horror movie¸ even divorced from its origin as a videogame. It had amazing atmosphere, awesome creature effects, and an interesting, emotional story that was easy to follow even without playing the games (because I saw the film before I’d played them). However, even after playing the games, I feel the film captured the feel, tone, and look perfectly, even if the narrative wasn’t one-to-one. 

But, most importantly, it’s about finding what makes these games worth adapting. With MORTAL KOMBAT it was all the fun characters and awesome fighting, which is practically tailor-made to become a badass fantasy/kung-fu movie. With SILENT HILL there was a psychologically and emotionally deep storyline, as well as a unique visual look and feel – things that can be relatively easy to adapt into an awesome horror film (and was). Even the ASSASSIN’S CREED games had badass time-travel parkour, which is honestly a decent enough hook for a film adaptation. Problem with the ASSASSIN’S CREED film was that the filmmakers decided to focus on the modern-day storyline instead, something gamers hated (or at least barely tolerated) in the games themselves. That’d be like trying to make MARIO into a f*cking dark cyberpunk thriller. Oh, wait… 

I mean, there’s nothing wrong with changing or adapting things when moving from one medium to the other. This happens all the times with novels or comics, where they’ll have subplots removed, characters condensed, stories changed, etc., so why not games? Hell, in MORTAL KOMBAT it’s Liu Kang - and not Johnny Cage - who defeats Goro. And in SILENT HILL the parent was a father, not a mother (among many other changes to the lore, like a more sympathetic Dahlia). However, these films still had the feel – the essence – of the games intact, so the changes were much more forgivable. Hell, even the fact that the ASSASSIN’S CREED film created a new character as a Desmond substitute would be fine – in theory – if everything else (like the fighting and stunts) had actually been good as well.    

And you know what? Maybe adapt better games. There are so many examples of great games with amazing, unique stories that would make awesome films with the right writers and directors behind them. I mean, could you imagine Gore Verbinski's cancelled, R-rated BIOSHOCK movie coming to fruition? Especially after that awesome CURE FOR WELLNESS trailer? Or a Phil Lord/Christopher Miller SPACE QUEST movie, where they'd be able to mix the goofy humor of the adventure game series with true pathos? Or an animated ODDWORLD film from LAIKA, recreating that series' visually unique - and well, odd - world, as well as its adorable main character Abe? Not to mention the presient theme of rampant industrialization and corporate greed? Or hell, why not a THE LAST GUARDIAN film directed by Alfonso Cuarón? 

So instead of making movies out of popular games without much plot, or are overly convoluted, maybe find games that are actually telling interesting and distinctive stories. Otherwise, what’s the point of making a movie out of them in the first place?

Oh. Right.

Look, videogame movies are in a similar place comic-book movies were around the same time (it took forty years after Superman’s introduction before he got a decent adaptation, and longer still before X-MEN kicked-off the current comic movie trend in 2000). And like games, for a long time comics were seen by studios as “kid’s stuff” or “novelties”. It wasn't until those who truly grew up with comics, and had been given positions of power, that great comic-book movies were made. I honestly feel it’s just a matter of time before someone finally cracks the videogame movie code.

Extra Tidbit: My pitch? A gritty, R-rated PONG movie.
Source: JoBlo.com



Latest Entertainment News Headlines