About a month ago, I read a post by a fellow blogger (Jack: BattleofJackku) about the rise of video game movies. The post gave a lot of insight about why video game films were about to change. After reading it, I turned off my desktop with a hopeful future for video game films (Specially Assassin’s Creed, which I hope doesn’t go the way the games have been going.)
However, I also turned off my computer with a question… Why have video game films up until now been so horribly bad, specially to the fans? I have played video games and watched films based on them ever since I could remember. However, I don’t remember ever NOT being disappointed at what producers and writers do to these films. Even the films I liked or thought where decent end up making me feel like they were not nearly as good as the game, regardless of the fact that I like films better then games. Why do all these video game films fail to please fans and most times regular movie goers as well? I’ll tell you why… Producers and writers change the material, misshape it, and distort it, sometimes with no good reason at all..
This is a list of the top 3 reasons video game movies have failed thus far.
1. The most popular choice is not always the best:
I’ll start with an easy fix. Tomb Raider is perhaps one of the “Ok” video game films out there, and it and it’s sequel are not great films. In fact, I’ll go to the extent that they’re both easily forgettable once you leave the theater. why? because… it’s a rip-off, and one that takes itself too seriously at that.
Something that producers need to keep in mind is that a lot of video game creators are inspired by films, and the most popular video games almost make you feel like you’re playing part of your favorite films. Tomb Raider is basically a female mix of Indiana Jones and James Bond in a way. Therefore, when watching the film, you as a movie goes, obviously don’t feel like you’re watching something new or original, even if it’s portraying the source material up to your standards.
Another problem with picking based on how popular a game is is that there’s obviously games you shouldn’t touch due to their simplicity or a story line which doesn’t fit a live-action film… like MARIO BROS.!? whoever thought that the Mario Bros. could be made into a coherent, logical, live-action film had to be crazy, and so where the producers who threw their money on it based on the franchises popularity. If you go on Google and search “Worst video game films ever,” in each list, I guarantee that you’ll find at least 3 titles that when thinking about the games plot and logic, should not have been made in the first place.
2. If the material ain’t broke, don’t fix it:
I remember back in the day, when playing Prince of Persia:The Sands of Time, I thought about how good of a film it would make. I always imagined a modestly budgeted film that followed the story of the tragic prince, adding small details to the world of the game… I also always imagined Alfonso Cuaron’s direction in Harry Potter: The Prisoner of Azkaban and his treatment of time travel in that film being applied to the prince’s journey. It all sounded great in my head, but then Hollywood came in and destroyed it. 😦
Why change the prince to an adopted child, add brothers, add material from the other games to make a completely different plotted film? Just to have Jake Gyllenhaal leading the film? I never understood why you would choose to change a film that was fine, and make it bad just to add a star in it. It’s a constant problem that producers need to deal with, specially as more political correctness is demanded by them in films. Changing the plot of The Sands of Time made the plot lose it’s poetry and simple complexity, and at the same time lose the fans and moviegoers alike, as you now changed the material to something uninteresting.
Another video game film that could end up with the classics of action films had it not been changed twice is the Hitman franchise. The main character is a lone wolf who sneaks around, kicks ass, takes names, and then changes his clothes to repeat the process. If this film would just be done right without touching the material so much, I firmly believe it’s quality would be up there with The Raid, John Wick or at the worst at least the Equalizer. The film has now been made twice and each time a part of the character is taken away (whether it’s his connection to his company, or his religious phase, or simply the fact that he doesn’t talk so much.) Also, they add something that is not needed for the sake of political correctness. in this case, a female character. The last film based on the game almost felt as if Agent 47 was the supporting character rather then the protagonist of the story.
I believe this is the biggest problem with video game based films right now. When you think about it, half of the films which are horrible or not as good as they could be, are that way mostly due to plot changes and character changes. Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, Tomb Raider, and Silent Hill are just some examples of plot and characters being changed for the worst.
So why change the characters and plot so much from the material source to that extent? I myself believe that producers, directors, and writers themselves make these major changes out of desperation, with one thought in their head. And that’s really where the problem lies. The thought, you ask?
3.Films and video games are too different:
The shot above is a great nod to a film noir, specifically one of the great classics, Double Indemnity. The blinds shadow and the character’s predicament make you feel like he’s trapped. Strictly a video game fan or a person that’s not a major film buff however, probably wouldn’t catch this reference.
I’m not saying that Max Payne was a great film, or even a good one. All I’m saying is that the producers and writers of the film didn’t bother making a video game movie. They changed it into a film noir, and instead added video game references to it, exaggerating hallucinations and trying for Sin City type lighting. Then you end up with a film that is at it’s heart a detective movie, but is trying desperately to also be an action movie to please the fans, and a film noir to please critics (Not to mention they went for a PG-13 rating for a movie based on a mature rated game that has massive amounts of blood and violence in it.)
But why change the story so much? the reason is plain. When you’re going through hallways, diving and shooting bad guys in slow motion over and over again, immersing yourself in the experience of being Max Payne while holding a controller feels completely different then watching a film. The producers are desperate to get high critical reviews, praise from fans of the game, and praise from people that just wanted to watch a movie. As such, they end up with these over complicated, crazy, overstuffed films.
The strength of video games is how immersive they are. However much 3D , first person view, or reference shots you cram in, a film will never feel or look like a video game, but people should know that going in because they’re going to watch a movie. You can’t capture the huge open worlds that you explore for hours in games, or give the viewer a choice of what characters can do, and most of all, you can’t make the viewer feel like they’re the main character. This is something producers as well as writers need to understand. No amount of changes will re-create that experience so rather then focusing on what they can take or keep to make it better, focus on making a good film, while preserving the material they’re taking it from as much as they can. This means, 1: Making a R-rated film if you’re making a movie based on an M-rated game. 2: Not changing the plot events, unless it doesn’t work for the movie at all. And 3: Not bothering with small political correctness problems, specially if you have to change the entire plot to deal with them. Fans will not like something if it’s completely different then what they know, unless it’s a spin-off of some kind.
To a hopeful future:
I really hope that producers, writers, and even directors can start doing a better job at capturing the better plots that video games have to offer. With Assassin’s Creed coming out from an actual video game production company (Ubisoft Motion Pictures), I’m hopeful that they will give the audiences something a little more like the original material, or at least closer. I also have hope that the story of World of Warcraft will make for a decent film, coming later this year. It seems to (at least in the trailers) capture the scale of the world filled with creatures and adventures. I’m looking forward to all these films, and regardless of a shady past, will always be on the lookout for better renditions of video game films, wherever they may be.
With that being said, what’s your favorite video game movie, if any? Can you think of other video game movies that did a horrible job, or made horrible changes to the plot of the original? sound off in the comments!
Special thanks to Battleofjackku for giving me the inspiration for this post.
And as always, Thanks for reading!!