So there’s news floating around about a few movies based on video games in various stages of production, and I don’t know whether or not to be excited. I mean, on one hand these cinematic representations of our favorite game stories could be fresh, live-action companions to their interactive source material that satisfy our desire to actually BE a character by watching another live person deliver a correct personification. On the other hand, it could be Jean Claude Van Damme with a flat-top haircut or John Leguizamo doing anything and everything to start his acting career.
I feel like the natural starting point for this piece is to ask an important question regarding these movies: Why? Other than the almighty dollar, of course. In the case of titles such as Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed, the story is so well developed already using the interactive medium; is there really that much to gain by making a movie about it? The answer is complicated, because there are things you could put into a movie that would be entertaining to watch but would not convert well to video game format. I’ll put it to you this way: The Hangover series is entertaining, but I wouldn’t like to see a video game made from it. The point is that there are things like advanced character development, vivid imagery and a defined/decisive (read: linear) path taken that would look great in movie format but would be boring to play. The other way around is true as well, because it is mighty fun to go around collecting trophies and achievements in games but I see very few effective ways to incorporate that into movie form. There would, and has always been, compromises.
While considering how much is actually gained by telling the story in a different medium, also consider the deep, dark truth about converting ANY beloved franchise from its original format into a movie: The Fans will be extremely critical of the end product. Some of them will say that they hate it just to be cantankerous know-it-all cynics, because for some reason that’s the way to be these days for gamers and comic geeks. Just take a look at the internet forums flaming The Avengers, while I actually cried during the climax battle because of how awesome it was to see my dream of what a comic book movie could be finally realized.
Look at the response the Ninja Turtle movie was getting when Micheal Bay announced he was going to change their origin story away from what had been previously established. People wanted to burn Bay at the stake for his crime, and they hadn’t even gotten anything more than a vague statement! Getting back on topic, what if the actor they choose to play Nathan Drake is a dud? What if they get someone like Adrien Brody to play him? There seems to be a lot of applause and approval towards Michael Fassbender as the lead in the Assassin’s Creed movie, but the masses could get pretty hostile if the movie itself betrays the source material in a big way. It’s a tricky situation, because most fans have selective loyalty to their favorite franchise. Spider-Man fans were upset at the look for the costume worn by Spider-Man and the design for the Lizard in The Amazing Spider-Man, but I haven’t heard too much griping about the fact that Bane doesn’t use an advanced form of steroids in The Dark Knight Rises. Pumping himself full of that venom stuff and getting huge was a major premise with the Bane character, and Christopher Nolan has completely bypassed that. Nolan has even stated that he used Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities as his source material for the final movie in the Batman Trilogy, and everyone thinks he’s a genius. An unproven adapted franchise doesn’t have the same liberties because the fans still have their arms crossed about it, so any significant change made to the Uncharted or Assassin’s Creed stories by the folks in Hollywood is at their own risk. Just look at how divisive people are about the Resident Evil movies…some people love them, while others hiss and boo because it isn’t the same thing as the video games. I think the formula goes something like this: The better your movie is, the more liberties you can take in discerning it from the source material. If your movie sucks but you made it exactly like the fans wanted, then at least some fans will remain loyal to their brand and say it was good. Look at BloodRayne. If you make it awesome, you can get away with all sorts of stuff and the fans will call it dynamic and genius.
What about a game that doesn’t have such a cinematic premise behind it? Well, there’s a history of movie adaptations about games like that. The Need For Speed series has never been about plot, so by making a movie about it you give the creative team behind that movie a lot of wiggle room to create their own plot. In my opinion, this clearly did not work with The Super Mario Bros movie. The plot behind the Super Mario Bros game always seemed like an excuse to create the sidescrolly, platformy goodness. The first and third game had the extremely thin premise of “Save the Princess”, which was pretty commonplace considering other games like Donkey Kong. Hell, Mrs. Pac-Man had a fuller plot than Mario and Donkey Kong. When a movie was being made about the Mario games, it should have been easy:
(1) Insert Mario Brothers, employ liberal amounts of character development while still moving the plot.
(2) Create a reason for the badguy more than “He stole the Princess” without attempting to create a sociopolitical masterpiece.
(3) Insert glorious amounts of fanfare, and stay true to what few plot elements there are.
What we ended up getting was crap on a stick. John Leguizamo was the best thing to come out of that movie, and I consider it him “taking his licks” on the way to better things. Same thing with The Pest, for that matter. Come to think of it, he’s only got like 2 good movies…yeah…
The Street Fighter series, at the time the movie came out, had such a thin and transparent plot outside of “There’s this tournament, see…” that you had to read the instruction manual just to know it. The movie adaptation frustratingly didn’t even feature a tournament for fighters, thus ignoring the ONE thing that was actually apparent about the plot of the games. The script, it turns out, was written overnight. I’m not joking.
Street Fighter’s more mature brother was none other than Mortal Kombat, a game notorious for its graphic violence displayed in the Fatality moves performed at the end of each fight. The plot, however, wasn’t much more than what Street Fighter boasted and thus left a lot of creative wiggle room. The movie version of Mortal Kombat was PACKED with fanfare, from Scorpion and Sub-Zero’s fatality moves to Johnny Cage’s splits-nutpunch move. The actors, other than Christopher Lambert, were capable but otherwise unknown. No one cared that in a country full of Asian people a white guy was their God of Lightning because Christopher Lambert is awesome. It’s kind of like when Sean Connery played a Russian in Hunt For Red October and kept his Scottish accent; he’s such a badass that no one cares. No one cared that reptile was an actual reptile in the movie because it was cool-looking and served a purpose. I thought it was a smart move, so as to not fall into the plight of the video game and have a bunch of characters who look the same but wear different colored vests. The characters and story clicked in a way that few movies can achieve, and I count it as a success. Remember the theme song? Of course you do, in your head right now there’s a guy screaming “Mortal Kombaaaaat” to techno music if you aren’t actually screaming it yourself. Try it out, scream it loud during inappropriate times like punishing your kids or right as you lay down with a woman. The reactions are usually fun, and if the woman starts beat-boxing the theme song afterwards you know you found a keeper.
But what happens when you apply the theory of adding legitimate creative awesomesauce to a thin source plot in the case of, say, the Need For Speed franchise? You Get Fast & Furious 8 or a Gone in 60 Seconds remake. There really isn’t too many ways to do the premise of “People who drive cars” well. I wish them the best, but really it sounds like they just want to use the title “Need For Speed” more than they want to use any concept of the game. The director they have produced Act of Valor, so I have SOME faith, but only so much considering their writer is responsible for Real Steel. Personally, if you want to make a movie based on a driving game you can’t get more awesome than Spy Hunter. But that’s just me. The difficulty, as stated, lies in the fact that so many ideas are already taken up by existing movie franchises. There is apparently a Deus Ex movie in the works, and I can’t help but wonder what similarities it will have to the upcoming RoboCop reboot.
There is another type of video game we should talk about as far as movie adaptations, and that is when you have a silent protagonist. The point is, in the movie, you should create a character that doesn’t suck. Yes, Doom, we mean you. That movie sucked.
What do you think about the upcoming movie adaptations of some of our favorite video game franchises?