Video Game Films: Do They Have To Suck?

22 11 2008
This is why we cant have nice things.

This is why we can't have nice things.

There is most definitely a symbiotic relationship between video games and the film industry.  Which makes sense, given that both are utilizing a visual medium, and that both (typically) involve main characters, a plot about conflict, and often resort to violence as a means of solving said conflict. 

And the relationship extends beyond the normal as well, when there are crossover experiences.  Video games based upon movie franchises are often terrible, and usually never get much beyond “okay”.  Even with recent titles from normally good developers, these licensed properties are mediocre, at best.

Worse than the game-from-a-movie, however, are movies based on games.  They typically open well, due to large throngs of gamers hoping desparately for a quality film that will rival their love for the game itself.  In later weeks, however, the viewership declines quickly, as people recognize the film for the terrible translation that it is, and general audiences aren’t lured by the subject matter.  

Recently, Max Payne, starring Mark Wahlberg, defined this phenomenon by opening as the #1 film for the week, then quickly dropped off the charts due to bad reviews and lackluster plotlines.  Previously, however, there have been many game-to-film instances to back up this do-well-then-fail-quickly-thereafter routine: Street Fighter, Wing Commander, Mortal Kombat, Alone In The Dark, Bloodrayne, Hitman, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Silent Hill, Doom, and many more.

Mind you, it depends on the director as well, and anything by Uwe Boll should instantly trigger nausea and disgust, regardless of video game content or otherwise.  But beyond the director, more often than not, it’s the lack of a proper script that makes these films so unwatchable.  

Which makes me wonder why, with all the money in Hollywood, and with the budgets that some of these films get (I’m thinking about Silent Hill, Doom, and Alone in the Dark, specifically here), why can’t they get a decent script?  I mean, certainly there are more decent (if not great) screenwriters than there are great films being produced each year.  So I don’t think it’s a matter of talent.  

More and more, I am starting to realize that games simply don’t translate well to the big-screen experience well.  Why?  Because there is one simple element of gaming that simply cannot be translated to the movie theatre: Interaction.  

Why is the Resident Evil game so much fun, and legitimately scary, while the films are (fun, but) campy?  Because YOU are the one experiencing the threat of death by zombies and zombie dogs, not Mila Jovovich.  Why is Street Fighter such a great game, and such a sad final film for Raul Julia?  Because you have a vested interest in the characters in the game.  (Also, plot doesn’t really matter, or have to exist in a fighting game.)  Why was Double Dragon a good game, while the film was crap?  Well, okay, that one was just a terrible movie, regardless, but you get my point.

Lee doesnt have to be asian, right?  right?

Lee doesn't have to be asian, right? right?

Interaction, and, by extension, immersion, are key elements to a video game.  You can’t have a good game without interaction.  The Wii’s entire existence and domination of the current-gen landscape is entirely based upon interaction with the game, in a physical sense.  Guitar Hero and Rock Band capitalize on the interaction of you (yeah, you, with the gut and the acne and the fivehead) actually thinking you’re capable of playing rock at an expert level.  Interaction is the key.  Whereas movies, by definition, are a non-interactive medium. 


Since interaction cannot exist in a film, the only way to make the game movies a reality is to try to substitute that interactive experience with fan-service.  And anyone who has heard about (or much worse, read) fanfic, knows how quality that typically turns out…

So, should we ever expect a great game movie?  The Dark Knight and Iron Man definitely legitimized comic-book films, bringing them into the realm of well-reviewed and quality films in terms of action sequences and spectacle, yes, but also for plot, characters, and believability.  But of course, comic books are narrative-based mediums as well.  

I gotta watch this again soon...

I gotta watch this again soon...


Personally, I’m coming to believe that it simply won’t happen.  I think the best video game films are the ones that weren’t actually video games, like: The Last Starfighter, Tron, or Cloak & Dagger  (ya gotta love Dabney Coleman, dudes).  And really, with video games approaching cinematic experiences?  You don’t need it.  

But it’s hard to invite your girlfriend/wife to see you play Bioshock.  So until then, I guess we’ll keep pining.




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