Wednesday, December 16, 2009
I'm sure it's very, very hard to make a successful film from a critical or financial standpoint (to say nothing of both). One easy way to get people in the seats is to make a movie based on a known property. In the 1990s Hollywood dabbled in movies based on popular video games. The results were pretty abysmal; I'd argue that the only one of the bunch worth a damn is Mortal Kombat (1995) because it gets most of the characters right and they spend most of the film fighting each other. Then they tried to make a sequel and pissed away what little momentum the series had.
However, it takes time to get these things right. Movies and games are two very different mediums for storytelling, and the latter has only really begun to dabble in that department in the last twenty years or so. As games develop their narrative chops and, in this era of high-resolution graphics and performances from actual actors, crib more cinematic techniques as they go, movies and games should slowly converge, right?
Looking at the past ten years, the answer is a resounding "fuck no." Video game based movies seem to be the dumping ground for any and every cliched action script that only the hackiest of hacks can spit out. The process seems to be: [A] acquire rights to video game license [B] hire somebody to write a script based purely on the title of said game [C] release the resulting mess into theaters and watch it end up on DVD six weeks later. [D] Profit, I guess, because they keep doing this shit.
Look at Uwe Boll's first outing into game cinema, House of the Dead (2003). I'm hardly a fan of the original series of games, but I've played/seen them enough to know that they center around secret agents shooting zombies. Somehow the movie is about a group of teens who take a party boat to "Death Island" and wind up being attacked by the undead. Eventually there is one scene of shooting zombies and it's nothing but a long Matrix-inspired sequence of low-budget bullet time. Curiously, clips of the real game are actually edited into the movie, almost as a reminder as to what the story should be about, but isn't.
By all accounts, House of the Dead was a failure but Uwe Boll got to make another video game movie which managed to out-suck his first one. Alone in the Dark (2005) is the kind of film that routinely shows up on "worst movie ever made" lists and has been thoroughly mocked by the Agony Booth and The Nostalgia Critic, among others. Yet someone made their money back because Uwe Boll kept making movies, quickly cementing himself as a crap merchant dealing exclusively in video game properties. When video game companies license negotiate movie rights now, they demand a say in picking the director solely to avoid this guy (it's known as the "Uwe Boll Clause" and I'm sure they're only half-joking).
It wasn't just Uwe Boll though. Look at the Resident Evil trilogy of films which range from mediocre to OMG-awful yet a fourth film is on the way. Those games are extremely cinematic in their presentations, relying heavily on voice acting and camera angles from the beginning. It should have been an easy adaptation to make, but someone decided to gut the story and just turn it into another zombie movie and not a particularly good one. There's also a litany of forgettable movies based on fighting games like Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, D.O.A. with more on the way. No, I won't mention them by name because they make my brain hurt.
The future of video game movies is bright, at least in comparison to what we've got now. The Prince of Persia movie seems to have a lot of money behind it and a decent leading man, but I'm not holding my breath. It's not like Jerry Bruckheimer hasn't disappointed in the past. Even if that movie fails, I hope someone eventually figures out that games have stories worth telling because a good video game movie would be spectacular. If a fan-made zero-budget short like Turbo can at least approximate the excitement of a fake video game, why can't a multi-million dollar production even come close to a real one?
This represents Part 5 in a series of 25 posts about my favorite as well as the most disappointing entertainment properties/trends of the last ten years. To Be Continued!
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