With so many cross-overs between film and gaming, Adam Donnelly looks at the clash of entertainment when games become films.
Film and gaming reign supreme as absolute titans of pop culture. Each helps define how we perceive and interact with our senses in their own specific ways. One achieves something the other can’t and because of this, both are complimentary to one another. Like all great things in life, wouldn’t it be terrific if they came together like chocolate and peanut butter? Well in this particular instance the chocolate and peanut butter is mouldy, smashed between the cushions of the couch, and is on fire. For one reason or another, game to film adaptations rarely pan out successfully, being bludgeoned by critics, tanking at the box office and being wrung out to dry in development hell. In fact, a lot of video game adaptions fester in complete infamy as being some of the worst movies to ever come out of the woodwork, with such gems as Super Mario Bros, Resident Evil and Alone in the Dark glistening with notoriety as the jewels in the “how to not make a movie” crown.
Anybody familiar with either industry is well aware of this troubled cycle. Whenever a game property is to be given the big screen treatment, more eyebrows are furrowed in disdain than raised in curiosity. Even movies that just so happen to be affiliated with gaming and its many classic characters seem destined to be stinkers, with theatres still writhing from the launch of Adam Sandler’s ‘Pixels’. Yet video-game to movie adaptations are on the brain again, with the recent and predictably awful arrival of ‘Hitman: Agent 47’, the news of a silver screen debut for Capcom’s classic ‘Megaman’ and the recent rumblings that Nintendo has opened its doors to Hollywood once more. Could it be that the masses are in for game to film renaissance? Or is this vicious cycle doomed to repeat itself? The outcome could swing drastically either way, but perhaps it’s time we arm ourselves with an understanding of both mediums and see why video game movies are so consistently bad.
The first element to consider is the most obvious one: the clash of components between what makes a great game and a great movie. Games thrive on interactivity, going a step further than film when it comes to illusion and immersion. One may prefer a horror game to a horror film, because in the film, they are merely expected to sit and spectate as the hapless person goes into the basement where the monster lurks. In the game however, they ultimately make the choice to go down into the basement whereby the consequences of doing so are expended upon them entirely. The tension and the terror is uniquely theirs, and when studios remove that from the experience to turn something like ‘Resident Evil’ or ‘Silent Hill’ into a box-office popcorn fest, they are directly diluting much of what makes those titles so iconic in their own field.
The second big problem stems from directors not understanding the source material in the slightest, or not having the original creators involved somehow. How else would ‘Super Mario Bros’, a game with a minimalist plot featuring a stereotypical interpretation of what the Japanese think Italian people are like, suddenly morph into an Orwellian dystopia flick? Even some of the more genuinely decent films out there, like Prince of Persia are serviceable as a motion picture but absolutely fail at capturing the spirit of the games. It could be called by any other name and the world would be none the wiser, which is almost even more tragic. The best films based on games are those where it is completely evident that the original masterminds have made a clear stamp on the creation process. The Animal Crossing anime movie (released only in Japan) is a scattered stream of references to the game but these references are smartly applied to their new form and woven together to create a shallow but enjoyable plot that will entertain the casual spectator and enthral enthusiasts of the game. It looks like Animal Crossing, it sounds like Animal Crossing, it feels like Animal Crossing. It is as perfect as Animal Crossing can be as a film. Similarly, the ‘Professor Layton’ movie combines the right elements from the game with the new medium in order to create something unique, yet distinctly Layton-esque that fans will appreciate. It respects its limitations as a game when entering the new form, and plays to the strengths of what a film can do, to convey the spirit of the original to an audience that may not necessarily be familiar with it.
The last problem seems kind of anticlimactic, but it is perhaps the most damning of all. And it’s that the people who make these movies generally don’t seem to care. Film is a business, and if studios can repeatedly scrounge profits off of hopeful fans for relatively little, then they’d be foolish not to. Uwe Boll, a German director culpable for the lion’s share of lousy adaptations, is completely infamous in this regard. Under Boll’s dubious stewardship, gaming adaptations became the victim of a tax break loophole in the German film industry, and that’s not a sentence you can make up. Essentially, Boll made his fortune making film adaptations of popular titles on the cheap, turning any box office revenue at all into a tidy profit. Eventually the loophole was amended and critics of Boll blasted him for his scrupulous schemes. In response to the pressure, Boll challenged his critics to a boxing match, recorded in the fantastically named documentary “Raging Boll”.
Is there hope for the beleaguered game to film adaptation? It depends. Nintendo, a company that is typically protective of its properties, being open to the silver screen once more gives hope that there is potential for more faithful productions of a higher standard. Time will tell. There’s only so many times you can make the same mistakes over and over again.