Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday Favorites: Do Video Game-based Movies have to be Terrible?

Since I've been disclosing my little problem when it comes to being a gaming shopoholic, I thought I would finish up the week with another gaming-related article from August of 2006. The title says it all really.

But because this was written in 2006, there are aspects which now contain factual errors, but I thought in general it was a solid entry all around.

With so much bad press coming gaming's way due to congressional attention, Jack Thompson and parent's groups, I began thinking about other problems facing the public perception of video games, and one factor that came to mind was how bad video game-based movies are and why they are as a subgenre lacking, and I came to a few conclusions. See, I think that these kinds of movies encounter a few basic problems:

1) The people who make decisions on what properties to develop make choices based on popularity and not screen potential.. Just because a game is popular doesn't mean it is going to make for a compelling film, as the makers of Super Mario Brothers and Double Dragon can attest to. Of course, many early game-based films can be forgiven for some of their faults because the source material was rather lacking.

2) The producers don't spend the money or the time on the story. In the cases where the story of the game really had potential to dazzle and entertain an audience like Wing Commander, the people responsible for the project tend to really put the story elements on the back burner, and that again leads to a bad movie.

3) The Final Fantasy effect. If the game movie being developed is from source material that is really intricate or complex, well, naturally the filmmakers won't be able to include 1/10th of the storyline and what you end up with is something that is a little superficial and shallow or in short, a pale imitation of the original.

4) Making the assumption that your core audience is gamers. From what I've read, the people who love the games behind these movies are generally hostile to the end product of the Hollywood system. There are movies that did become somewhat successful based on the general movie-going public like Tomb Raider and Resident Evil which both actually reached profitability. Success should be planned on by making a movie that people who have never played the game would want to see. Simple as that.

Now of course, if I ran Hollywood, I would probably give producers and other people developing these movies these simple rules.

1) Choose games that are plot-driven, but not extremely long.
2) Ban Uwe Boll from getting near another game-based movie.
3) Cast your movies well.
4) Spend the money on getting a good script before going further.
5) Make sure people outside of the gaming demographic would want to see it too.

I mean, those do sound like some simple rules to follow, do they not.

Of course, I have a few ideas for what would probably be good movies in the right hands.

Red Dead Revolver: You knew I had to have something from Rockstar on my list, but this probably wasn't the title you were thinking I would pick, but it does have a lot of things going for it. The basis of the game is a story of revenge in the Old West, and because each level was almost like a set piece, with a little clean-up, you'd have the a solid narrative arc. And since there are so many interesting side characters in the game, like Annie Stokes and Jack Swift, it also has some interesting character dynamics. And if the filmmakers also secured the rights to the excellent Ennio Morricone soundtrack, I think this could turn a few heads.

God of War
: This is the game-based movie Vin Diesel should be doing rather than Hitman, because there are very few other actors I could see taking on the role of Kratos. You have a story based around an anti-hero who wants to forget and be forgiven for all the lives he has taken, so he takes on one last quest at the behest of the Gods. It is a bloody, brutal quest, but one which has some meat to it.

And digging way way back into the archives:

I remember playing this game back in the early 1990's called The President in Missing where you are an analyst for the CIA investigating the disappearance of the President of the United States along other European heads of state by digging through source materials and recordings to try to solve the mystery... and as you dug deeper there were some really fascinating twists and turns that would be pure cinema gold.

Now you will notice that while I have professed a deep love for the Grand Theft Auto series, I have not chosen it as an ideal candidate for adaptation, despite its star power and great narrative. And that is because of problem three I mentioned above. As with adapting a Final Fantasy or other long role-playing game, Grand Theft Auto would lose a lot of its loveable character if shoehorned into a two hour movie. However, if say HBO or Showtime decided to make a gritty animated series out of the games, that would probably work out quite well.

So in conclusion, I think the day will come when a video game-based movie will be critically acclaimed and reflect well on the source material. In the meantime however, I am sort of afraid to see what movies like Pacman, Crazy Taxi and Postal are going to do to viewing audiences all over the world when they escape... err, are released.

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