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Thursday, 19 January 2017

The curse of video game movies

Back in 1976, writer and director Steven Lisberger was fascinated about a game called Pong, one of the first, if not the first arcade and home release games to ever hit the market. He then made Tron, making it the first video game inspired movie, technically. Tron was and still is a good movie, even by today's standards, even if the special effect aged dramatically. But when it came out in 1982, people were impressed by the visual artistry, the groundbreaking special effects, although the story left many bewildered. Over time, it became a classic. But why do people think there's a curse surrounding movie adaptations of video games? Why do we instictively dismiss the notion that a movie based on a video game can be good?
Let me tell you where this curse comes from: God damned Uwe Boll! It's that simple. He made so many movies based on popular video games it's surprising how he got the rights to do it all. From Alone in the Dark and Boodrayne, two of each, to Far Cry and House of the Dead, which didn't even feature a house. Then there was the awful Postal, the movie that probably inspired him to make his most proud work, Rampage, and In the Name of the King, based on the Dungeon Siege games, with Jason Statham. He did all this with clever marketing, decent budget and some very well known actors. The fact is, there are many enjoyable video game movies, regardless if you like them personally or not, but because of a series of terrible Uwe Boll renditions, we now think there's no way a movie based on video games can ever be good. Hitman, at least the first one with Timothy Olyphant, is pretty much what Hitman was all about, even if it has too many "uncharacteristic" action scenes. Max Payne is an okay retelling of the story from the first game, although not enough noir and bullet time scenes, it's still a guilty pleasure of mine. The Resident Evil movies prove to be highly enjoyed by many, and Paul W. S. Anderson does his homework well when it comes to source material. Now, I know what you might be saying: just because it's very successful doesn't mean it's good. Sure, but it doesn't mean it's bad either. People who don't play video games don't really understand most of the references movie makers are trying to shove in, while gamers feel like the movie either didn't respect the source material or it was misunderstood.
The most well regarded video game to movie adaptations that I can think of are Mortal Kombat and Silent Hill, with Warcraft probably a strong third. Mortal Kombat is a simple case. The first few Mortal Kombat video games are about a bunch of stereotypical kung-fu characters fighting eachother, less about a deep storyline. All Paul W. S. Anderson had to do is create a crazy but simple story around those characters and it worked miraculously, mostly because it didn't pretend to be some convoluted big budget epic, like Mario Bros. Alternatively, Van Damme feature Street Fighter based on basically the same premise, has had a tougher welcome, but it has since won a cult following and is a guilty pleasure of many, so it's still regarded as a fun and enjoyable video game movie. As for Silent Hill (and I'm talking about the first movie, because the sequel was admittedly stupid) horror-hungry people who haven't played the Japanese game series really enjoyed the movie because it was inspired by a very original story and it's a competent horror movie on its own. Yet some clever gamers who have played any Silent Hill game might notice the movie made little sense in the same context, since the horrors the protagonists face in the games are manifestations of their own pasts and feelings. So there's a psychological twist to the games too, while the movie pretty much just emulated iconic elements from them, especially Silent Hill 2Warcraft is a good high-fantasy movie made mostly in CGI. The Warcraft lore is incredibly dense and rich, and the movie did a good job in telling the origins story and that's the most redeeming factor, since if it took place in any other period of its lore, it would've been even tougher to get the average viewer immersed in that universe. In making it an origins tale, it introduces everyone to the World of Warcraft in equal measure, even if it had lots of nods and references only World of Warcraft players would fully understand.
Some other great video game movies are the Tomb Raider ones, with Angelina Jolie basically defining Lara Croft, Doom, with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Karl Urban battling a more scientific explanation of hell demons, but it's best known for the most freakin' amazing first person scene ever, and Need For Speed with Aaron Paul rehashed most of the plot from NFS The Run, but actually good and really entertaining car stunts that encapsulated everything that makes NFS great, while standing tall as a great car action movie on its own. I'll add Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time in the list of good adaptations, because it's a very good and thoroughly enjoyable movie on its own, even if it's too Hollywood-ish and cheesy at times, since it's a Disney production. To end this list, the downright best and most well regarded video game to movie adaptations are the animated ones, like Wreck It Ralph, Angry Birds, every Final Fantasy and Resident Evil animated movies, even if they're niche and not so popular (my favorite is Dead Space: Downfall)
In conclusion, since there are a lot more good video game movies than terrible ones, I declare this curse broken the day Uwe Boll stopped making them. The problem is with people's expectations. When you play a video game, you're engaged physically and mentally in the mechanics of the game, you control a character or a car or a space ship, you give commands to armies, it frustrate you on a personal level when you fail, you feel happy when you win or reach the end of the level, you get a sense of achievement and progression, whereas a movie detaches all that from you and you're just along for the ride, While people who don't care much for playing games will only rely on the quality of the movie on its own right. Obviously, I'm going to say it's a subjective thing, just like with any other movie. If you're wondering why no video game movie has never won an Oscar, it's for the same reason no Avengers movie has won an oscar: they're not biographies.
If you're wondering what I think about the new Assassin's Creed movie, it's happening soon. Stay tuned!