Whenever something is popular, you can bet that marketers are running around trying to figure out how to cash in on the latest craze. This is how we get films about Facebook. This is also the reason I can’t look at Bob Hoskins without picturing the Super Mario Brothers. Recently I got excited when watching the latest trailer for an upcoming Red Faction movie, before I remembered,
Films based on video games are crap.
As consumers when we like something we devour and gorge on it, and then are still hungry for more. And yet, I haven’t heard unconditional praise about any movie that was first based on a video game (although maybe Tomb Raider, but they weren’t praising anything except the Boob and Bum physics).
There are a lot of films that were first based on video games’ intelectual properties. Looking through the list, I’ve sat through the majority. And yet none of them grabbed me. It’s worth noting that I’m focusing on live action, ‘let’s get the characters together and make a stand-alone story’ films, not cartoons.
So, are video game films destined to fail?
Video games are different from films and other media. Films require a plot to be classified anything other than experimental. When we play a game, the plot doesn’t need to make sense outside the game. Plumbers jumping on turtles or breaking open blocks with their heads as a pitch doesn’t sound great. While I’m running around with a chainsaw and shotgun killing hordes of creatures from hell I’m not thinking about how hard this would be to turn into a film with story. Even Ash in the Evil Dead series had help every now and then. But who helps you in Doom? The coloured key cards?
Hitman is a fine example to use. The story in the games is extremely simple. Each mission is a fresh instance of infiltrate, assassinate and escape. Translated into a film the writers need to fashion a back story out of thin air, maybe some sort of love interest, some comedic relief and of course motives for characters. Hitman didn’t need those things, you are a trained killer, go kill for money was all we were given. Audiences have a hard time liking a guy like that.
Films appeal to certain audiences. Just hearing that a film is about a video game or follows the same story may turn people off. Hollywood isn’t just making this gamer film for the gamers. The real target is the mainstream audience. Mainstream audiences haven’t played the game and find it difficult to connect with a character they haven’t travelled around with in all the story arcs of earlier titles. Players that enjoyed the games are still likely to go see the film regardless so why pander to them?
Hollywood doesn’t like it when the star protagonist of a series is a quiet Japanese martial artist loner figure. So they change it up and give us the American war hero with big blonde hair and American flag tattoo. The Japanese karate expert is still in the background somewhere, but now he’s comedic relief. To be fair, American audiences are slowly opening up to characters that are clearly Australians in disguise.
Characters in video games are also created differently, they have specific roles to play. Would you sit through a film where the protagonist never talks? At all? And you never see his/her face. Doesn’t translate well. In a game we are the protagonist. We generate a connection with the goals, alliances and ideals of the character we are playing. Watching films passively, it’s much harder to get the audience to understand the protagonist without seeing some sort of emotion and dialogue. So don’t be surprised if an actor/actress ruins Masterchief and Samus for you by opening their mouth to speak (See Metroid: Other M)
Remember when X-Men made that comment in their first film about the uniforms? Something like, “would you prefer yellow spandex?” Well it turns out yes, many of us who loved the original source material want to see it brought to life as close to as possible. Have you seen Thor? He looks ridiculous in his full armour and cape combo. But we love it because it makes sense in that universe. Film makers must keep the balance on what costumes will still work in the realistic world they are creating.
Gamers are becoming an audience in their own right. With gaming booming out of control the film industry has some competition. The upcoming Warcraft film could just be 2 and a half hours of people in Orc and Elf costumes jumping around in the major cities, millions of subscribers would still pack cinemas to yell, “Alliance fag” or, “Horde scum.” We gamers aren’t a small portion of filmgoers anymore. Hollywood is going to have to learn to bow down to our want of blue hedgehogs, pale tattooed men with swords and grizzled space marines.
Think back to old films based on comics. I couldn’t have imagined Sin City or Dark Knight turning out the way they did when we were stuck with George Clooney’s Bat nipples. It took Hollywood a long time to get their comic characters right. Horrible false starts and some slip ups along the way. I look to a trailer of Halo by Neil Blomkamp (District 9 fame) for hope.
As long as we don’t get stuck with games that were based on movies that were based on games, I don’t think we can put our world through Street Fighter The Movie: The Game, again.