From Console To The Silver Screen
From The Console To The Silver Screen, A Look At Video Game Movies
There’s a long and chequered past in the history of video game reimaginings hitting the big screen. Although it’s something of a dream to see everyone’s favourite characters making the transition from being a playable character, being something that you can live and breathe personally, appearing in the cinemas, with your favourite actors taking the place of pixels and graphics, seeing their plight re-enacted in a live-action, big budget, impressively shot cinematic adventure, it’s bizarrely something that rarely hits the mark on what you actually imagine in your mind. Video game adaptations have slowly degenerated over the passage of time from something you look forward to, something that you think will be so impressive, so magical and dynamic into something you almost fear. The announcement of a game being developed into a film now comes with its own stigma, with fans all ready to criticise and tear down an adaptation before it even hits the silver screen, and as time progresses it makes it harder and harder to understand how these failings occur.
Gone are the days of 8-bit glory, with games possessing the power to enchant players while having little in the way of real story and ability to transition well. As games continue to establish themselves more not just as an art form, but also containing more and more story-centric and cinematic elements it seems more likely that they could easily become great works of cinema as well as games, more and more of what makes them great seems to be lost in translation.
Think, if you will, on the idea of a Mass Effect, or Metal Gear Solid film. Both are movielike, both contain strong factors that would make them cinematic dynamite. Mass Effect has already strongly established itself as this generations Star Wars, a series littered with character development, emotional connection, tension, science fiction gold and all the action you would ever need, but at the same time when the announcement came that studios were optioning a film based on it fans looked on in terror. Who would play the iconic Commander Shepard, who would be able to not only be a believable leader and carry emotional gravitas while at the same time being the most undeniable badass in the galaxy, diving head first into battle at the drop of a hat and coming out victorious, bloody and broken? You almost know in your mind that no one can conceivably fit that role, or if they could studios would automatically go for the most unfitting yet bankable lead just to bring in those big bucks, the budget would be unfeasible to create the huge world of Mass Effect, they could never afford the set design or CGI to create the tech-heavy and slumlike Omega, or the serene, expansive Citadel. It should never come to light.
So what made people think that this transition should be made, and when it was, how did it all go so wrong?
The biggest problem is where the genre began. Although long before, way back in 1987, Japanese animated stories based on well-known characters were going down a storm, to the general public the first introduction would most famously be the 1993 iteration of the Super Mario Bros. by Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel. Although the film boasted an impressive cast featuring the likes of Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo as the famous plumbing brothers Mario and Luigi and Dennis Hopper as the villainous King Koopa. On paper, there’s no real complaints, but down to poor scripting, production, and a ridiculous decision to almost change everything about the game and instead feature parallel dimensions and a darker, more dystopian setting as opposed to the lightly coloured, happier setting of the games, taking what can only be presumed as inspiration from unlikely titles such as Total Recall and Blade Runner, the film was nearly nothing like what had been come to be known about the series, coming out like a poor B movie loosely adapted from the series. This was a starting point to the genre of video game films, and with such a beginning it’s easy to understand how it failed so very hard. Being followed a year later by Street Fighter, the action movie vehicle for Jean Claude Van Damme as the intensely miscast Guile, and turning the main focus away from the iconic Ryu and Ken, instead making them comic effect more or less, the film stuck a little more closely to the source material, but not nearly close enough, still coming out as laughable at best, but at the same time growing a cult following entirely based around it’s hilarity.
The last video games of the 90’s were probably, in all honesty, the most successful of the genre if we break it down. Mortal Kombat, released in 1995 and directed by the soon to be infamous Paul W.S. Anderson (we’ll come back to him) and its sequel in 1997, Mortal Kombat Annihilation directed by John R. Leonetti stuck closely to the source material, focusing around the famed characters and the well-known Mortal Kombat tournament, with the film playing out as an action heavy martial arts movie with enough story to hold the thing together, and containing the same amount of overwhelming violence and gore from the games to be a fan-pleaser. It was cheesy, it was violent, the action scenes were impressive and it was a success in the genre, and that’s because it took all the right elements, the personality of the characters, and didn’t take itself seriously, exactly like the games. It wasn’t a blockbuster, and it wasn’t well-received by critics, but it was accurate enough to not anger people.
As the 2000’s hit and games became more and more popular, and the tone of both video games and films changed with the times, more cinematic games in the genre began being released. With the likes of the Angelina Jolie Tomb Raider films in 2001 and 2003 being well enough received and featuring a believable Lara Croft and a decent enough story, video game movies began to mature and become more well accepted. Likewise with 2006’s Silent Hill and 2007’s Hitman, both featuring credible actors, and hung, at least moderately, to the source material to be acceptable. Although I have an issue with 2008’s Max Payne, feeling that Mark Wahlberg was possibly the worse choice for the titular, aggressive, broodingly angry Payne, and the story was a poor man’s equivalent of the first game, there’s one large example that can be given for the bastardisation of the video game move transition. And that example goes by the name of Uwe Boll.
A man completely devoid of credibility or creative ability, he seemed to be on a one man mission to destroy the integrity of a genre that in this age so badly needed all the help it can get. With such appalling adaptations of the likes of Alone in The Dark, Bloodrayne, Postal and Far Cry, Boll seemed intent on not even making movies with kitchy, B movie-esque charm, but just terrible movies. Steering as far as humanly possible from the source material of his movies, Boll had seemingly angered everyone in the industry of games, films, and the fans alike, with petitions even sprouting up for his retirement from cinema, this human virus is reportedly now working on a forth entry in the Bloodrayne films and a Postal sequel. May God have mercy.
While in no way the genre cancer that Uwe Boll is, Paul W.S. Anderson, director of Mortal Kombat and such winners as Alien VS Predator and Death Race (a film which, for the record, never should have been remade), and famous for without a doubt the most undeservedly well-received video game movie franchise, the decade long Resident Evil.
Starting in 2002, the first title took almost no influence from the games, apart from the inclusion of Umbrella, zombies, lickers and a brief nod to the mansion and a few other elements from the series. Featuring none of the characters from the series, instead casting MillaJovovich as a new and mysterious character by the name of Alice, the film itself was actually pretty good. If it had a different name. It had a nice combination of action, drama, and a ridiculous amount of zombies it was an enjoyable horror movie, however for the legions of fans of the series, all they wanted was a spooky mansion, treachery, and their favourite characters immortalised on the silver screen. Way back in 1999 zombie master himself George A. Romero worked on a script for the series, a near shot for shot remake of the original game brought to the big screen, with all of everyone’s favourite characters, but alas the script was rejected and Paul W.S. Anderson won the job.
Although as the series progressed more and more characters have appeared in the sequels, with the likes of Jill Valentine, Chris Redfield, Claire Redfield and Albert Wesker all appearing and being marvellously miscast (apart from Sienna Guillory, to be fair), with the films continuing to flirt with the plots of the games, but instead of focusing on horror and tension, devolving into its own action series with increasingly ridiculous stories.
What it seems to come down to is, films and computer games are just vastly different mediums. Yes, as time progresses computer games seem to be moving more and more into the realm of cinematography and movie-like elements, but at the same time they’re their own unique beings. With cinema, you have a more passive medium, you can sit back and have the story relayed to you, but equally video games are just a more active medium, you have cinematics that reveal plot to you, but more and more these are integrated with elements and pushed forward by the players own thoughts, actions and decisions. Video games contain more that can be transitioned into the realm of cinema, and the main failing with these adaptations is that part of the fundamental parts of the games, the soul if you will, is lost in translation, and as close as these adaptations can get to being accurate, it’s simply becoming more and more unnecessary to even make. Take one look at upcoming titles the likes of Watch Dogs or Beyond: Two Souls, games have their own stories, their own way of doing things and engrossing the player, and have no real need for reworking.
Writer, gamer, and general all-around awesomeness compressed into human form. Co-founder of Reset Gaming.
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