One would think video games, with their epic story lines and often cinematic quality, would be the perfect fit for film adaptations. If directors have been turning to novels for years for content, and most recently board games and toys (Battleship and Transformers, anyone?), why couldn’t the plots of some of the biggest video game titles be transformed into the next Hollywood blockbuster?
Let’s take a step back and look at the real “gems” that have come out of the interweaving of film and video game.
Super Mario Bros. (1993) is perhaps one of the most infamous results of such a hybrid. While it was a well-intentioned attempt at modernizing the Super Mario universe and creating a believable world that exists parallel to our own, the beauty of Mario is that it’s so… unbelievable. Short, squat, mustached Italian plumbers that can travel via pipes, fight big turtles and man-eating/fire-breathing plants, and have a giant, angry humanoid reptile as an adversary that they have to eliminate, all in order to save a princess? With the aid of mushrooms that make them grow in stature while receiving cryptic messages from small, shirtless, walking, talking mushroom men in parachute pants and vests?
You can’t recreate that nonsense with Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, and Dennis Hopper no matter how hard you try.
And that point was proven when the movie turned out to be a box office bomb, netting just $21 million despite having taken $48 million to produce. Other video games have been butchered by the Hollywood axe, but quite frankly they were based off of franchises that shouldn’t have been considered for films in the first place: Street Fighter? Mortal Kombat? Dead or Alive? Let’s face it, these are fighting games that have the most basic background “stories”– you’re just playing them because they’re fun, not because you’re being immersed in a rich, in-depth plot.
The other problem is that some of the games chosen for film adaptations have stories that simply prove to be difficult to translate to the big screen, so movies based loosely on the characters and environments are produced. The Resident Evil series is a perfect example of such a treatment, with films featuring some of the key components of the games (zombies, the Umbrella Corporation, more zombies, lots of shooting) but not much else.
This isn’t to say that using creative license to make original stories inspired by games is totally unacceptable – if it’s done right. But frankly so many video game movies turn out so bad and cringe-worthy that gamers have become accustomed to expecting the worst when a film based on a game is announced. Angelina Jolie may look just like Lara Croft from Tomb Raider, and Jake Gyllenhaal may resemble the Prince, but that’s not enough to categorize the Tomb Raider or Prince of Persia movies as A-Listers.
Granted, many of these films are enjoyable for their campiness and corniness alone – Jean Claude Van Damme as Guile in Street Fighter is pretty memorable in video game circles, and despite its poor reviews, the Super Mario Bros. movie was a part of the childhood of kids born in the late 80s and early 90s, regardly fondly like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies. Even Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, with its somewhat nonsensical storyline, J-Pop infused character design, and uber-drama, was cool to watch for the impressive CG alone, let alone the fact that it was a sequal to one of the most popular video games of all time.
The LA Times reported on July 10th, 2012 that a movie based on Square Enix’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution is in the works. On July 9th, publisher Ubisoft announced they’ve chosen Michael Fassbender to star in an adaptation of their Assassin’s Creed franchise, and Mark Wahlberg has announced he will take on the role of Nathan Drake in the upcoming film based on publisher Naughty Dog’s extremely successful Uncharted series.
Could these upcoming films prove to change the face of video games in Hollywood? Considering the popularity of these franchises and the fierce opinions gamers have regarding the treatment of these games and characters, one can only hope directors will come along that not only do justice to these games, but who actually take the time to play them, research the story lines, and understand what gamers want to see from these films – because we most certainly will be part of the paying crowd, eager to see how it all turned out in the end.