It is universally acknowledged that all video game movies suck.
There has been a lot talk on the topic recently, though. Ubisoft has attached two Hollywood stars, Michael Fassbender and Tom Hardy to their adaptations of Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell; we learned that Fox is taking another shot at a Hitman movie, with Paul ‘Fast and Furious’ Walker shaving his head this time; and it was announced that the Prince of the Nerds, J.J. Abrams, will be collaborating with the almighty Valve to bring Half Life or Portal to the big screen. Depending on how you look at it, this is either exciting or excruciating news.
We can only hope that these game adaptations will be better than the Hollywood attempts of the past. When you’re coming up against Street Fighter, Super Mario Bros., and all of the Resident Evil movies, the bar could hardly be lower. The way I see it, all video game movies have three fundamental flaws:
1We’re no longer involved
The crucial ingredient that makes video games so popular and enjoyable is that we get to participate in them. We don’t just guide the hero through their journey; we are the hero, and their quest becomes ours. At best, a video game movie is one long, unskippable cut-scene. At worst, it’s like watching your little brother stumble through the game, missing all of the pick-ups and giving up before the final boss.
However you look at it, movies are a passive medium; the closest they will ever come to audience participation is empathy. And that’s nowhere near as cool as riding across Hyrule Field on your trusty steed.
2Games aren’t good source material
As much as we love video games, they often have rather boring stories full of clichés and stereotypes. Whilst there are exceptions, of course, the kinds of games that have been adapted into movies up to now have hardly had compelling narratives. Hollywood seems to be obsessed with adapting fighting games, like Dead or Alive, Tekken and Mortal Kombat – games that are more about participation than narrative.
By the time they consider the script, it is left to struggling Hollywood screenwriters to create enough padding material to fill out a mildly coherent, ninety-minute plot.
Even when they get the chance to adapt a video game that already has an interesting plot, somebody decides it would be a brilliant idea to add weird CGI demons.
3Producers are buying a brand
Studios execs don’t buy the rights to a video game because they want to delight loyal fans. They want to buy into a rich marketplace. If they wanted to make an awesome science fiction shoot-em-up, they’d make Aliens; but if they wanted to exploit the fastest growing entertainment industry on the planet for some quick cash, they’d buy the rights to Doom. All good movies start with a strong creative vision and a well-written script. All video game movies start with a bank transfer. If buying a name like Prince of Persia or Tomb Raider is an easy way to make a profit, what does it matter if the fans don’t like it? They’ll pay to see it first, and that’s all that matters.
So what can we expect from the next wave of video game movies? Well, for a start, Hollywood is finally adapting the right kind of games – the Assassin’s Creed series’ part-science-fiction-part-historical-action-drama is perhaps a narrative that could translate well to film. I’m still sceptical about the plans for a Splinter Cell movie, but, then again, I’m sceptical of anything carrying the Splinter Cell name after the release of Conviction. And following their previous attempt, don’t even get me started on the Hitman movie.
The most intriguing news undoubtedly comes from Valve. Star Trek proved that J.J. Abrams can handle existing material responsibly, appeasing both newcomers and loyal fans. It landed him the Star Wars job, and it’s probably the reason why fans haven’t flipped out at the idea of somebody taking on Half Life or Portal. That said, there aren’t many filmmakers out there with Abrams’s talents, and if the upcoming video games movies are financially successful, you can bet that other studios will look to games for a fast buck.
For now, we live in hope.
So do you think there will ever be a good video game movie? Comment down below and let us know!