Games on the Silver Screen

The other day I was scrolling through my RSS feed trying to keep up with the non-stop torrent of news and came upon an article over at Polygon touting an interesting statistic which I had to be honest came as a bit of a surprise. This was mostly due to the fact that a couple of weeks ago I went and saw the new Tomb Raider which while not perfect I thought was an overall solid movie. This opinion comes with the rather important caveat that I have not seen Rampage yet but my own love for the old school game is enough to make me want to go. The movie also isn’t hurt in any way by having Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson as its lead, say what you will about his other career the man has impeccable comedic timing and oozes charm like most of us sweat.

On an unrelated note it’s fucking hot in Florida.

I don’t think anyone can, with a straight face, say that they saw the Rampage trailer and thought that anything good would come of it. It’s fine, I didn’t and if I’m honest I still don’t but I will go see it because it looks like a big, dumb summer blockbuster that should just be a fun time. I’m entirely okay with that being the case, people may denigrate these movies as nothing but a waste of the memory they’re filmed on but not everything society produces needs to be high art or commentary. Sometimes a giant ape knocking over buildings and fighting humongous crocodiles as a backdrop to Dwayne Johnson’s biceps is all we need. After reading the Polygon article I immediately hopped on Rotten Tomatoes to have a look at Tomb Raider 2018 and needless to say I was a bit aghast at what I found, 49%?! I will say that at the time of this writing Rampage has officially fallen to the 50% mark which means according to RT it gets a… splat? A rotten tomato, I guess. At the very least it looks like it will in fact not be the first video game movie to break the curse and become critically acclaimed which overall I think is a good thing lest the studios learn the wrong lesson. Video games have much, much more to offer movie going audiences than fleshy alternatives to whatever Transformers disaster is set to explode onto screens this year. As you’ve probably gleaned from what I’ve written so far I actually did like Tomb Raider and feel it certainly warrants better than a 49% but I’ll expand on that later as well as my feelings on Rampage when I get in to see it.

In the interim while we do wait for the one chosen adaptation which will break the critic ceiling I thought it might be interesting to set forth a little series project for myself and go back to do a retrospective on what video game movies we have gotten so far. Obviously I won’t be going over them all in this post but I thought I’d at least put this out there as an official starting point and an outline for how I’m going to go about it. If you have suggestions for ones you’d particularly like to see talked about, let me know!

So whats first? Criteria, what makes it a ‘Video Game Movie’? I mentioned Transformers above and while there have been games using that IP none of the movies are actually based on those games so those are out. Movie Tie-In Games while an interesting subject in their own right, namely because some of the great games over the years have been as a result of this, don’t count for this particular subject. Perhaps something I can cover down the road. Comic book games/movies also not going to be included in this. I will strictly be sticking to movies that were created as a direct result of or to tie into a video game franchise.

Here is the list so far off the top of my head as I write this, the one at the top should be clear that this list is in no particular order –

  • House of the Dead
  • DOOM (Y Dwayne?)
  • Resident Evil Series (I will actually watch all of these, god help me.)
  • Assassins Creed
  • Prince of Persia
  • Ratchet and Clank
  • Warcraft
  • Mortal Kombat Series
  • Street Fighter
  • Far Cry
  • Super Mario Bros (I can’t promise I wont be drunk for this one.)
  • Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
  • In the Name of the King Series
  • Double Dragon
  • BloodRayne
  • Max Payne
  • Dead or Alive
  • Silent Hill
  • Hitman
  • Wing Commander
  • Need for Speed
  • Postal

I’m sure there are probably a couple I’m forgetting but thats quite enough to get me started.

The conundrum of video games being apparently so difficult to adapt to the silver screen is very intriguing to me because from my point of view you couldn’t really be given more of a gimme. One of the core problems I think that directors and screenwriters face is the incorrect assumption that they have to change the story in order to make it distinct from the game and therefore interesting to movie audiences. As anyone who has read any amount of fanfiction can tell you the vast, vast majority of people don’t actually know better than the original creators. The real challenge they should be focusing on is how to condense the story into a much more limited time frame, the same challenge that faces book adaptations. I don’t know of any gamers who go see these movies who really hope for a totally different story than the games they’re supposedly inspired by. We go for the novelty of seeing a live, big-screen adaptation of a story we already love, to see those pivotal scenes envisioned in a different format with actors who can really pull it off.

My constant question has been: Who are these changes for? Why make them? The only answer I’ve ever been able to come up with that makes sense is the changes are purely ego or business driven. The directors and screenwriters feel like if they don’t put their own stamp on the movie then it wont be worth their time. They know full well that no one really appreciates the person who can faithfully replicate a Mona Lisa but the artist who does the cubist version might turn some heads. The problem with this line of thinking is that adapting a book or video game isn’t a 1:1 transfer, it isn’t an exact copy and requires a talent all its own to maintain the integrity of the original product. Peter Jackson has not earned the acclaim he has for The Lord of the Rings because its his original story, it isn’t but he has earned it because of the monumental task that it took to faithfully translate it to the big screen. Not everyone is suited to do adaptations and its up to them to know their place when taking on a project like this. When altering an already completed piece of media for a different format all of the heavy lifting has been done when it comes to the story, characters and, setting. It’s one of the reasons that Jackson’s addition of Tauriel to the Hobbit movies was so heavily criticized, it was a change that wasn’t needed or wanted. It served a trope of modern movies that didn’t belong in the story being told and wasn’t needed to improve it. In my view Jackson fell victim to his own ego there and couldn’t help himself from adding his input when it was unnecessary. To be perfectly honest here when I first saw the movies I didn’t even remember she wasn’t an original character chalking it up to the fact that I haven’t read The Hobbit since I was a teenager. After I went home and did some research to clear up my confusion at some of the scenes I realized she was a wholly original addition to the story. What that tells me in hindsight is that while not every addition will necessarily turn out badly its a pointless risk, you are presenting an unknown element into something that was already successful. Why? At best it might serve as an intriguing bit of seasoning to the story but it most likely is destined to throw off what was already a finely tuned and crafted work.

Anyways! So as not to ramble at you for much longer I’ll cut myself off here and say that I’ll be continuing these thoughts once I set up a schedule to start watching the movies I listed above so I can talk about them and where they went wrong and how they might have avoided it. I’ve been pretty painting, video game and podcast focused in the past couple months so this will give me another reason to branch back out to movies, albeit old ones. My current movie viewing project given to me by my co-host on The Ourcast is Man From U.N.C.L.E. which we’ll discuss on an upcoming episode once we’re both back from our vacations.

Thanks for stopping by, have a great rest of your weekend!

  • Non-Washable

5 thoughts on “Games on the Silver Screen

  1. There are some movies on that list that I love in a shameful fashion. Wing Commander being one of my favorites.

    • Oh definitely. Terrible as they may be I can’t help but love them just for trying. It’s just so fascinating how utterly impossible it seems for Hollywood to make a movie even as entertaining as something like The Expendables from a game. Its ridiculous.

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