How to make a video game movie that doesn’t suck

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In terms of cinematic adaptations of beloved source material, no one has a tougher time than gamers. Between all the Super Mario Bros movies and Max Paynes of the world (let’s not even mention Uwe Boll’s ‘Filmography’), you’d think Hollywood would just throw in the towel already. But as long as films like Resident Evil keep raking in money, then they aren’t going to stop. Which is actually not entirely awful. Yes; we’re going to have to endure a lot more unsatisfactory adaptions. But maybe, if they keep trying, eventually they’ll crack it. After all, it can’t be as hard as Paul W.S Anderson seems intent on making it. Hopefully “the night is darkest just before the dawn” applies here. With Duncan Jones’ World of Warcraft movie coming up and The Last of Us making its way to the big screen, it may be that that dawn is approaching.

So what is it that keeps going wrong? Part of the problem seems to be that the studios are hesitant in their commitment to video game movies. Not only does this lead to many of the resultant films being rushed and cheap, but also they can’t bag a decent director (until Jones, that is). If the studios really cared about the properties, they wouldn’t let legendary defiler of cinema, Uwe Boll, within a mile of them. Making the transition from a video game to a film isn’t easy: you have to account for the loss of freedom, the fairly difficult task of condensing plots and the fact that if you do it wrong it feels like overlooking someone playing a game instead of taking the reigns yourself. So to take all of this on, you need a competent person behind the helm and – let’s be honest – we haven’t really had one of those yet and we won’t until Hollywood starts to show that they’re serious about this.

Then there’s the issue of audience. Most of the time, there isn’t a definite direction with where the filmmakers want to take the film: did they want to aim the film at die-hard fans, or at a new market? Most of the time, neither. So you end up with something too inaccessible for newbies but too diluted for the established followings. Consequently, if you can understand the Silent Hill film without playing through the games then you might want to get in touch with the Mensa as soon as possible. Equally, if you’ve ever played the early Resident Evil games and then watched the last couple of films, then I’m sure you just don’t want to talk about that experience.

Pinpointing the most significant problem isn’t that hard: it’s the choice in adaptations themselves. Just like with books, certain video games cannot translate well to the big screen. Unfortunately, many of those games have already been turned into films and the results speak for themselves. As well as this, why turn video games into cinema because they feel cinematic? If Mass Effect becomes a film, then the fact that it feels like a film is pointless. It too will just become a generic Star Wars clone. But as a game, it’s something more unique because it’s the gaming equivalent of Star WarsUncharted or Tomb Raider work as gaming’s answers to Indiana Jones, but if they’re films, then they just become another Indiana Jones. What separates Need for Speed from every other car chase movie? What makes House of the Dead, House of the Dead and not just any other zombie movie?

Thus, it all comes down to tackling the right game, with the right director, a wider appeal and a proper commitment from a studio. Without those things nothing is really going to change. But with those things, we could get something really special one day. All they have to do is make the right film and prove it can be done and then they will attract the right directors, and attract the financing. Fingers crossed that Duncan won’t mess Warcraft up, because once those floodgates are open the future could become very exciting.

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I have the enviable skill of making TV watching, Video-game playing and ranting about films appear to be a legitimate form of work. It's exhausting. Oh and I am the Culture Editor now... that too!

2 Comments

  1. avatar

    The problem is that a lot of games are made to be interactive, which films are not. Games with a large focus on story-telling like Tomb Raider do well as they are already kind of set up for an easy transfer. However, transferring something like Crash Bandicoot would be destined to fail.

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