By Banyan Ryan
From “Super Mario Bros,” in 1993 to the recent “Need for Speed” released last year, Hollywood has attempted to adapt popular video game series into live-action films ever since the gaming craze first started in the late ‘80s. Since then, for critics and gamers alike, these adaptations have earned the reputation of always being terrible. Even the film most considered to be the best adaptation thus far, that being the “Mortal Kombat” film from 1995, is generally thought to be just mediocre.
For the past decade, film adaptations of video games have frequently been a once-a-year occurrence. In fact, the year to currently hold the title of most video game to film adaptations released was 2007, with the record being only five (“Like a Dragon,” “Postal,” “Resident Evil: Extinction,” “Hitman,” and “In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale”). These numbers pale in comparison to the number of movies based on either stories, myths, legends, or even alleged true stories being released each year.
This makes me wonder why Hollywood has already announced 10 live-action video game based movies to come out from now until 2016, with over 20 more waiting to have a release date. That is over 30 live-action video game movies currently being made. Are these movies doomed to stand among the other atrocious films of the past, or is it possible that after 30 years of terrible big screen flops that there is still hope for these adaptations to make a comeback?
What steps can these movies take to ensure that none of them wind up as the next “Street Fighter” film? There has been the argument that the reason video game movies have all been hated so much in the past is because they change so much of the source material and ruin the experience for fans of the franchises, and that if the creators were actually fans of these games in the first place that the movies would turn out better. That argument, however, seems entirely irrelevant. It doesn’t matter how big of a fan you are of these games. If you can’t make a good movie, what does it matter if it’s similar (or even different) from the game it’s based on?
Thus begs the question: would having talented filmmakers on board these projects help them improve and evolve from the video game movies of the past? J.J. Abrams has already been in talks with Valve to create live action “Half-Life” and “Portal” movies, and has admitted that he is very excited to be working on the films. Similarly, Neil Druckmann, the creator of the video game “The Last of Us”, has been confirmed to direct the live-action film adaptation of the game. And considering that “The Last of Us” is already basically a well-put-together movie on its own, we already know that he has the chops when it comes to filmmaking. So Hollywood is clearly taking these films seriously and not thinking of them as just quick cash grabs. But is that really all there is to making these movies work?
As stated by Super Mario Bros. creator Shigeru Miyamoto regarding the idea of bringing Mario back to the big screen in a possible animated film, “…We always have to take into account the fact that game entertainment and movie entertainment is quite different – one being passive, and one being active. Those don’t always necessarily mix.” That is a very important thing to remember. Sure, video games have greatly evolved from the simple ‘80s arcade games of the past. They’ve been given plots, stories, characters and several other familiar movie-based elements. But at the core of all video games is the gameplay itself. It’s the ability to play as these characters and take part in the story that separates games from movies. How do you translate the ability to play to a medium that is only meant to be watched? You’re basically turning the audience from the older brother who’s playing the game to the younger brother just sitting there watching.
And if so many games out there already have fully detailed stories to them, why would a person bother paying money just to watch the story unfold rather than buy the game itself and become the one taking part in the story? Most video games being made into movies nowadays already have fully fleshed out stories to go along with the gameplay. When these stories are translated into movies, you’re removing the added gameplay asset which made these games what they are. People watching the movie will only get the story while people playing the game will get the whole bundle. The person going out and buying the game is ultimately given the better experience. No matter which way you look at it, no matter how well made these movies may be, playing the game rather than watching the game just makes more sense.
However, is that really what makes a video game-based movie ‘bad’? Sure, it may not meet the same experience of playing the game, but that on its own is not enough to say that it fails as a movie. Comparing watching the movie to playing the game is always going to work in the game’s favor, but that is only comparative. Just because a film won’t have the same enjoyment factor as the game it’s based on doesn’t mean that it’s a bad film on its own. People walking into a theatre want to sit down and enjoy the story. They want to be entertained passively. I’ve mentioned how video games and movies are two very different genres of entertainment. If you’re walking into a movie theatre preparing to go see a live-action movie based on your favorite video game, are you looking for the same experience as when you were playing it, or are you just hoping to watch a good movie? If the movie is well-made and has good writing, directing, acting and so on, but still is not as much fun as playing the game, does that make it a bad movie?
It’s not easy to tell if the next generation of live-action video game movies have a chance at being good, or at least better than the films of the past. If they have talented enough people on board with them and try to remember that their main priority is making a good movie, what’s to say that these 30 upcoming movies won’t turn out to be amazing? The most important thing we must always remember is that movies and games are very, very different things. They may not have mixed well in the past, but is that on the fault of the filmmakers or on the fact that it was based on a game? Games and movies are two genres with both different factors and different audiences. One must be good in its own right and should not be affected by the other.