It is generally agreed among lovers of film that videogame adaptations are terrible. Just terrible. Aside from a guilty pleasure, or something to laugh at, there’s really no place for the videogame movie, and the reason for this is staggeringly simple. Unfortunately the trend continues, as most people are of the opinion that an adaptation just hasn’t been done right yet, give it a few years and filmmakers will finally work out how to bring your favourite Japanese RPG to the cinema screen. The problem with this assumption, apart from the fact that it’s wrong, is that it encourages studios to keep pumping out bland titles and expecting the already assembled fanbase to buy the ticket.
Take the mind-bogglingly popular Uncharted title for example, a movie is in the works, with Neil Burger (Limitless) set to direct and Columbia Pictures throwing it’s money at it, based on the highly successful series of videogames. Uncharted already has a massive following, so whether or not the movie will be a piece of shit is kind of a moot point. The franchise as it stands is based on 1930′s serials and pulp magazines, with characters like Dirk Pitt and Doc Savage inspiring the protagonist Nathan Drake, who explores the same fantastical environments you would find in books by Arthur Conan Doyle and H. Rider Haggard. As a game it works well, as a film it will feel like a cheap rip-off of Indiana Jones.
The aforementioned staggeringly simple reason that videogames do not make good films is this; they are both visual art forms with similar narrative structures, and they’re just too similar to bother adapting. At this moment in time videogames still seem to be copying the storytelling method of film, in that you play through a level and are rewarded with a cutscene of characters interacting. In most cases there is a three-act structure, so the narrative of a game is actually closer to film than television is.
Personally I think games can be so much more than that, if they just embrace the one thing that makes them interesting: the fact that they are interactive. There’s certainly better ways for videogames to tell stories, rather than grinding everything to a halt for a poorly acted cutscene, but there is encouraging evidence to suggest that games are evolving. For now, games are still taking all their storytelling cues from films, which makes it slightly worrying when films try to do the same with games.
It you take a look at the Resident Evil film franchise, the love child of Paul W.S. Anderson and Milla Jovovich, the series attempts to emulate the games as closely as possible. Sadly, the films pay tribute to the very worst parts of the game series, such as the pathetic Matrix-lite Wesker, and the pointless ruby mind-control plot device. Regardless of the dull plot and bad acting, W.S. Anderson‘s Resident Evil feels like an extended music video constructed of clips from the fifth game, where every villain is introduced in super slow motion, and the camera is more concerned with making them look cool rather than scary, totally destroying any possibility of tension.
There’s no real violence either, especially in Resident Evil: Afterlife, so you’re not even rewarded with a sick satisfaction whenever an annoying character dies, because they just get dragged away to die off screen. To be fair, the latest Resident Evil game did much the same thing, presumably because action titles sell better than horror, but at least it was fun to play. With the film all you can do is watch, or bury your face in your hands.
While able to pass itself off as a silly horror movie, the 2006 Silent Hill has nothing on the wonderful game series
There is so much the medium of film can offer to justify a book adaptation, particularly if the filmmaker is confident enough to offer the audience something different. The Shining is a good example of a film offering a unique experience that couldn’t be achieved by simply reading the book. The Lord of the Rings films really brought to life Tolkien’s mythology, and introduced a new generation to a world they may not have previously invested in.
With videogames it’s already there, the story is on the screen, and people can actually interact with it. There’s simply no reason to turn a game into a film, especially when so many games are heavily inspired by movies anyway.
Fans will always buy a ticket to see their favourite game on the big screen, because they will always misunderstand why they love the game in the first place, and movie studios will continue to exploit this. Fans are so blinded with love that they don’t know what they want, and this is presumably why the superhero movies are so successful, because movie studios simply take a character that is already popular and throw loads of money at them. But comic book adaptations still have more to offer because fans can see their heroes in ways they had never done so before, whereas with games you’re seeing characters in exactly the same way as you’ve already seen them.
The only way a videogame adaptation would work is if the filmmakers didn’t try to please the fans by adding in nods and winks that are totally pointless, and mimicking the game as much as possible, such as Resident Evil did (incidentally the comic book equivalent would be The Watchman film, visually spot on, but with no soul, and ultimately misses the point completely). The Prince of Persia film attempted to do something differently, by using the game as a template to make another Pirates of the Caribbean style franchise. It was, of course, rubbish, but for completely different reasons, such as the dreadful ending, which undermined the entire experience.
While it may be possible to make a good videogame movie the question is why? Why bother? The video game industry is already a visual medium that is making a ton of money by ripping off blockbuster films, with the added bonus of being interactive. The only reason movie adaptations are being made is that they have pre-packaged fans and are likely to make money. And any filmmakers who genuinely love the game will do a Zack Snyder and totally miss what made the game enjoyable in the first place. Here’s a hint, Paul W.S. Anderson, it wasn’t the fucking kung fu.