Video games have really come a long way since their inception in the 1950s going from simple games and simulations to the arcade games that we can compete against our friends with, and finally into a form of media that many have come to regard as works of art. With the advent of technology, the medium known as video games has become more robust and alive, changing from a pixelated visual format into life like 3D characters, coupled with their own voice actors and realistic sounds. With realism, comes a form of attachment. Storytelling in video games has never been better, with characters able to show humanistic emotions through the power of technology, sometimes better than even real actors. We’ve definitely fallen in love with a few characters from video games ourselves.
So of course Hollywood had to adapt them into films.
Video game movies have never had the best reputations amongst actual movies. In fact, it’s not wrong to actually state that many of them end up being the bottom of the barrel movies that you would maybe watch if it appeared on TV. Everyone is dismissive of video game movies, even gamers, and with good reason. It is not as if they were misunderstood creative masterpieces that the world just wasn’t ready for. They were literally horrible, from the writing, directing to the acting. Granted, the situation is much better these days, but there still isn’t anything stellar. Therefore, there is little wonder as to why video game movies are such a controversial topic amongst gamers, and we are here to add just our own little contribution to that discussion!
1. Missing the Point
Have you tried watching a movie that was adapted from a novel with your friend? You know? That one friend who has totes read all the books of the series and totally knows everything about everyone in that series, including the fact that the main character has a scar on his left butt cheek. Nobody really likes watching that kind of movie with that kind of friend, because they will always point out their knowledge of the source material and complain that the movie isn’t trying hard enough to adapt the novel. While this is usually just the everyday outrage of a fan base, when it comes to video game movies, it is actually true 90% of the time.
Video game movies aren’t very good at understanding their source material. Rarely do they understand what acceptable changes are and what are not. It is usually the case that characters end up being completely misrepresented, act out of character, or concepts of the game are used in a context that completely doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. Take the Super Mario Bros (1993) movie as an example. Nothing in that movie makes sense! Why is it taking place in a modern city? Is Bowser a dinosaur? Are the Mario Brothers really actual plumbers in this? They are missing the point!
2. Reliance on Existing Fan Base
Green lighting a project is always a difficult and complicated process. There are many things to consider when you do so. Expenses, budgeting, marketing, labour, but most importantly of all, a target audience. If you do not have anyone that wants to buy your product, at the end of the day it doesn’t matter how good the product is, you will have made a loss solely on the fact that no one has picked it up. That is why it is not uncommon for movies to pick books or video games to be adapted into film. These mediums that are being used for source material guarantees that that their fans will watch the movie based on it as well, more or less.
In order to please the fans of the series, they have to do all that they can. This includes being as accurate as possible, giving little nods to the series that any fan would know, and jumping to the good bits right away. For the fans of the series, this is all well and good. However, what happens when a regular movie goer watches that very film? They get confused and are unable to comprehend what is going on the screen. Everything just seems to be an unfocused mess to them. Take a real life example, to further illustrate the point. Recently the folks at Screen Junkies released an Honest Trailer of Warcraft the movie. In this video, they invited a fan of the series to commentate alongside the usual movie guy. One expressed confusion regarding the whole movie, while the fan was able to name every character, their motivations, and what was going on the film. See what we mean?
3. Translation of Mediums
Video games are a very unique medium when it comes to bringing across a story to the viewers. Unlike books which have only words or pictures, or a film that has visuals and sound, video games have the added element of interactivity and agency. When a player starts up a game, he is the one in control of the main character. He is also the one who decides where that character goes, how he fights, whether he is a good or bad guy, etc. While not all games allow players to directly affect the story, ergo cut scenes and consequences don’t change a whole lot whichever actions you take, the importance here is player input in the scenario. With that in mind, developers have started to create stories with player agency in mind, better melding story and gameplay. Now what happens when you try to adapt this into a medium without interactivity?
A book being adapted has a good chance of working. That is because when a book is adapted into a film, there is something added into the mix. Instead of simply reading what is happening, you can see it with your eyes what the characters get up to. You can hear the sounds of the bird chirping as someone takes a stroll into the forest. When it comes to video game movies, you are actually taking away something from the mix: that element of agency. Turning a video game into a movie is actively detracting from the package that it was sourced from. Besides, stories made for one medium don’t necessarily work for another, no matter how good they are. This is true regardless of which form of medium is being translated.
4. Uwe Boll
It would be remiss of us to talk about video game movies without bringing up the number one culprit of bad video game adaptations: Uwe Boll. He has garnered a practically godlike reputation for making horrible video game movies from Blood Rayne all the way to House of the Dead. It is not an overestimation to say that basically every single one of his films are crap and the internet just hates him more for it. Much of the bad reputation that video game movies have collected over the years can be attributed to this one man. So why does he keep going? What could motivate and finance a man that has continuously made box office bombs?
We won’t go into the specifics of it, but basically Germany provides tax breaks to filmmakers in order to help their film industry grow. This is generally a good law, one that is geared towards the economic and cultural growth of their country. But Uwe Boll found a loophole in this particular law. Any expenses that occur in the making of a film can be written off as tax deductibles. The kicker here, is that only profits from a film are taxable. If a film doesn’t make any money…it isn’t just tax free, it allows any financers of the film to get tax breaks. By this logic, it would be advantageous for Uwe Boll to make bad films, ones guaranteed to flop. That is precisely why there are a continuous stream of bad video game movies from this man, because they are easy to find and easy to fail in. This guy is basically 50% of the problem. Now video game movies are poison to good directors, making them reluctant to pick up any project related to video games in general. Thanks Boll!
5. The Future of Video Game Movies
As it stands, video game movies are in a very bad spot. They are either completely unwatchable, remarkably average, or so bad it’s good. Will we ever get a good film adapted from video games? The answer is quite simple; no one really knows. There are thousands of video games out there, ones with stories good enough to be adapted. However, are they suitable to be adapted? We’ve already discussed that adapting a video game is effectively detracting from the story due to the missing element. With that in mind, is there a way for directors to compensate for that loss in a way that only films can?
We don’t know the answer to that, because we aren’t filmmakers. On the other hand, we at least know what problems exist and what needs to be fixed before we can get a good film. So we, and many other critics over the Internet can only provide one thing; an olive branch to directors to try again. At this point, everyone already understands the many difficulties that come with doing such films, so if someone tries their best and flops, we understand. We just need someone to try again. In fact, Blizzard has already tried with their Warcraft movie. While it isn’t the best movie ever, it wasn’t garbage. So clearly, some progress has been made already! The future is uncertain, but maybe it isn’t as dark as we make it out to be.
It is highly possible that video game movies will remain objectively bad for a long time. It isn’t just due to scummy directors or a lack of competence, but the many difficulties that come with taking such a task on as well. It is easy to fail and extremely difficult to succeed in adapting a Video Game into film. Thus, it is hardly surprising that even good directors will fail in such a prospect. At the end of the day, all we can do is hope, and perhaps that hope will ring true one day.
Have any thoughts on video game movies that we didn’t express? Share with us in the comments below!