Play a Bad Movie Game: Video Games as Movies
by Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)
Ever see Street Fighter: The Movie? A film with such a high pedigree that it featured the late Raul Julia as M. Bison covering one eye and shouting “I guess you didn’t SEE that did you?” when chiding Balrog for a misstep. Or Super Mario Bros., featuring a sinister (again, late) Dennis Hopper as Bowser, only not voicing something else but portraying a strange, human dinosaur hybrid? Both films were adapted from two of the most storied video game franchises in history. And both fell flat on their face as movies.
For some reason, movies based off of video games just don’t work. Maybe it’s because the video game already has a slavishly devoted following. Maybe it’s because the studio backing it didn’t really give it all the attention in the world. Or maybe the movie just didn’t work, transforming a property that worked as a game that just didn’t translate to the big screen. The biggest reason why they don’t work has to do with story.
When games are created, they’re done so around a very specific storyline, with stages catered to that storyline. For instance, the Tomb Raider series by and large has been about exploring tombs.Mortal Kombat has been about, well, mortal combat. That story leaves little room for straying and exploring, which means the character piece shines through the actions of the player. Lara Croft is a world-renowned treasure hunter, but gamers don’t know if she likes to collect stamps in her spare time, only because stamp collecting isn’t a side-mission in the game.
Movies, though, thrive on the supporting story. They’re fashioned in a way that the viewer gets to see a more complete picture of the characters, as opposed to video games where they’re really just seeing on scene in the characters lives. And that’s a big deal when it comes to adapting video games to movies. Gamers are perfectly intent to see a film of the game so to speak, where the movie more or less follows the plot of the game. That will please the gamers, but the film studios are a little more leery.
Their thinking is that a video game movie needs to be its own entity; sometimes at most sharing only a name with the video game it’s based on. Take the Resident Evil series for instance. There are six films and with each successive one, the plot has veered even further from the core concept of the video game series. Granted, the same could be said about the video games, but the point is that at this point, Resident Evil movies really only share the name with the games and little else. If you introduced someone who had never been exposed to the series before to the latest movie and game, they’d likely wonder why they share the same name.
There are other major properties though rumored to be getting the film treatment. Halo has been in sort of a film development hell for years now, with scripts and directors being attached and removed. A Halo movie could work really well, as long as it involves Master Chief, Covenant and a Halo. If the film does get made and they start exploring the canon of the books and graphic novels, many viewers will likely be confused and gamers will be upset. Another one is Assassin’s Creed. Early reports have Michael Fassbender attached as the lead, but who exactly is he playing? Altair? Ezio? Connor? An assassin yet to be named? With the Assassin’s Creed franchise, film studios have a little more leeway with the setting of the film. As long as it features a recognizable character in a historic setting assassinating Templars, most viewers will be content.
Many of the aforementioned games suffer greatest when it comes to rating the movie. Film studios are obviously cautious about their investments and typically, movies based on video games are very expensive. As such, they’re looking to recoup as much of their money as possible and, in order to maximize that chance, they rate the movie PG-13 instead of R. That works for some movies, but most of the movies that should be adapted are M to begin with. That means the studio strips away a core component of the game (typically violence) in order to get the film to a more general audience friendly rating.
For whatever reason, video games just don’t do well when hitting the big screen. Whether it’s because the film producers can’t stray too far from the property, the story involved or the film’s rating; those films just don’t seem to work. There is promise, as games are surging in popularity. There’s also the potential of some great movies that could be adapted from games, including the above games and others like Bioshock (despite being canceled), Uncharted and Splinter Cell. Video games can be adapted into movies, as long as the publisher and studio both support the projects creatively and financially.
Not everything can be as bad as Double Dragon was. And that was pretty bad.