Where are the video game movies?

Some years back, just before the Warcraft movie was announced, there was some slight buzz about how video game based movies would find a new place in the market now that comics have finally been successfully adapted for silver screen. That era never really came about. Both Assassin’s Creed and Warcraft movies were ultimately lumped with the Marvel and DC ones. While they’re not comic book movies, the terms has changed to encompass movies with extreme amount of CG, emphasize on action and essentially being a full genre movie.

This isn’t exactly the best science out there, but there is a certain kind approach thematically with comic book movies. To some extent, “comic book movie” is a degrading term and has been used as such. It’s the usual you used to hear from film snobs for them not being real films, just movies or flicks. Entertainment for the masses and such.

Despite video games having more money moving inside its industry nowadays that Hollywood, Hollywood has always had the position that they know the best when it comes to stories. After all, they’re the ones that realise dreams on the big screen, teller of stories and such nonsense. The stance Hollywood seems to take is that passive following of a story and being immersed in it is the higher route to take, it’s more classy or whatever you want to call. Story through play, i.e. player’s own actions, are seen lesser because of the connected connotations of “play” and “game”. Somehow it’s more childish to be an active part of a story rather than sitting still and have a story told to you.

Every time Hollywood has taken charge of a game and wish to bring their wealth of knowledge to this lesser field of entertainment, the results have been less than impressive. For example, Jurassic Park: Trespassers was supposedly co-developed with Spielberg and parts of Hollywood crew, but all they ended up bringing in was story elements. Trespasser, while a big budget title, ended up pretty damn terrible game with some interesting elements to it. I recommend checking out Research Indicates’ Let’s Play on the game, its full of information on development and history of this sad title.

Considering Hollywood doesn’t care about how a game could tell a story in its own media, something most game developers don’t seem to care either, it’s not surprising that they’d concentrate on the FMV sequences and pre-scripted scenes first and foremost. To them, this is where the artistry is. Hollywood’s takes on video game movies have been rather lacklustre overall, with Super Mario Bros. probably being the most blatant example of not giving a fuck about the source material. That said, the SMB movie is also one of the last great children’s adventure movies made, similar to The Goonies. Alternatively, House of the Dead movie or Alone in the Dark. Overall speaking, video game based movies haven’t been all that well-received or well produced, similar to comic book movies initially. Certainly there has been numerous good titles here and there, like Mortal Kombat (which is a great MK movie but lacklustre otherwise) and we can make an argument for Prince of Persia.

However, unlike with comic book movies, no company has really managed to make a game based movie work to the same extent. Whether or not it is because there’s a lack of respect for the source material, the source material being rather terrible, or simply because games’ stories don’t fit the silver screen without considerable changes for the adaptation, the end results speak for themselves. Something like a fighting game as in the aforementioned Mortal Kombat is relatively easy to adapt as a martial arts action movie, but something like Super Mario Bros., an abstract action game about a character jumping on platforms to defeat a big turtle doesn’t exactly turn itself into a movie easily. Well, Sony’s certainly aiming to do so.

How do you turn, for example, a mission of Warcraft into a scene in a movie? By having a massive fight scene, of course. While the scenes in the  movie are of pure fanservice and pretty nice to watch, nothing in the movie is impressive or new. Much like how the original game stood on the shoulders of fantasy giants before it, so does the movie. Lord of the Rings movies affected both aesthetics and directions how similar fantasy movies would be directed down the line, and Warcraft followed its lead in a very expected manner. I doubt there was ever a possibility for anyone in the project to aim change the paradigm fantasy movies are in at the moment, and that possibly lead to the movie’s lack of success outside China.

Perhaps its because games don’t have a need for a Hollywood-like “good” plot. Video and computer games require a reason to play, the end-goal that may change, and the story itself is the player’s actions. The overarching narrative in a game is more about the player than the readily set story. A comparable example of this would be in any tabletop RPG, like Dungeons and Dragons, where players play a readily made scenario. This narrative can be extremely hard to translate into a passive story. However, considering there are numerous franchises based on the author’s DnD games, like Slayers.

It would seem that the first thing that an adaptation from a video game to a movie needs first-hand experience, a play worth telling. All the story sequences, FMVs and such are meaningless as the meat is in the gameplay. All players have a story to tell when it comes to their greatest moments in a game and that moment is always within a game’s play. Hollywood is missing this and concentrating on the wrong parts of the games and consider playing as acts for children. While you can visually replicate some of the moments in a game visually, a film can never replicate the action of it. Why even try when the special effects heavy smashbin market is essentially controlled by Marvel?

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