The Moving American Dream

Why is Disney adapting their animated works into live-action? has been a question asked more time than answered. Money is of course the answer, and plays a large, major part in whatever decision Disney does, but it’s also about the good ol’ attitude of Animation isn’t enough. The film, movie, flick or whatever you want to call them, is still considered to be the top form of art in the American culture, which then has spread across the world to some extent. This of course does not apply globally, we know Japan loves its animation about as much as it loves its live-acted ones, but embraces them completely differently from a cultural point of view. Consider porn, for example. You got relatively large amounts of drawn and cartoon porn in Japan and very few will bat an eye to it, but in America, no such industry exist in the same way. The American culture couldn’t have created something like Lemon People in the 1980’s. Hell, technically the comic I compare it to, Heavy Metal, was originally French comic called Métal Hurlant. But when it comes to live performances caught on film, there’s nothing quite Hollywood.

What Golden Age of Hollywood sold to its public, and through that to the culture at large, was a window. What this window sold was glimpses to glory, to love, to murder, to horror and yearning the human soul is heir to. You can see the people through the window and embrace their stories as they’re shown, not told. When you sit a theater to watch a movie, you see through the window the faux-reality presented and you’re sold on it. It’s wish fulfillment, whatever it is. Perhaps we want to see how badly someone else’s life is through gruesomely realistic depiction of some wretched bastard taking another shot of heroin and beating the shit out of one’s family to have something to contrast to our own lives, or perhaps that one glorious, fabulous story about love between two completely opposite people in stance and personality ultimately break the accepted mould the society has set up, coming at the top and showing nothing can stand in the way of true love. The Hollywood film has sold its viewers thousands upon thousands of stories and emotion to the point of becoming the way to do so. Books are fine, but you can’t see the world, not really. Animation offers all the possibilities, but it’s animation, not real. Movies on the other hand, they show you that it’s (fake) real.

The reality of films is not created by just the actors, though the play the most important part. Even when the sets and costumes might be drab and the everything looks fake, as long as the actor can sell you the role and the emotions their characters are going through, you’re sold. Everything else comes after. The sets, the costumes, the special effects, all that is there to sell the reality of things. Even if it’s science fiction or fantasy, as long as you can see it on screen with people, you can believe what you see through that window. Add in the music, that more often than not is intended to support the scenes, pull your heart strings, make it beat harder, seed fear in to the back of your head or have your stomach hurt from laughter.

The live part is important, as that is the true connection we make through the window. While animation does have all the other elements, it lacks the real person on screen. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? doesn’t count, and neither do the Marvel flicks, despite being 90% of computer generated animation rather than the reality itself. That is strange in itself. The Western attitude towards animation became that it is only for children or child minded some time after the Second World War, and perhaps it’s Disney we should put blame on, because pre-war cartoons and animations were for all ages and adult animations were a thing. The cultural shift wasn’t a done deal overnight, or within a decade even, but a gradual shift as movies as a media matured. Perhaps that choice of word puts it in the right place when it comes to what happened; in the minds of people who grew up, things had to be more mature. Silly cartoons with silly characters doesn’t cut it, and the sentiment seems to have spread from there. Animation, despite allowing impossible depictions, just doesn’t stand up to the window of reality. With most big even blockbuster movies the animation has taken its role as depicting the impossible while you still have some resemblances of that window to reality. Superman told you that you’d believe a man can fly, and that was a massive special effects extravaganza for its time. Now, it’s quint, something anyone and their mothers could do via Windows Movie Maker’s special effects tab, or whatever the modern alternatives are.

Perhaps the example how the media are seen are best embodied with 1980’s films-into-cartoons groove, where movies like Robocop and Rambo saw Saturday morning cartoons made out of them. You could give any film franchise this treatment, like Aliens. Well, it never got made, but you had Conan the Adventurer to take its place. Perhaps it’s the fact that kids tend to watch more cartoons, but is that because cartoons are more made for kids? Or is that there aren’t cartoons that are made for adults in the same manner? Perhaps that’s what the Marvel and other comic book movies are, cartoons for adults. We can still call them live-action because there’s an actor on the screen and some live places, but majority of it is special effects and computer rendered backgrounds.

Whatever we call Hollywood to be, an empty and vapid cesspool of actors and directors living in a bubble, or peddlers of dreams and stories, it sold us the culture of film and they are perceived, for better or worse. The appreciation of film is at the top of the ladder. A comic isn’t enough, a book isn’t enough, a cartoon isn’t enough, a TV-show isn’t enough. It can be made into a movie. A million dollar production with bombastic soundtrack that shows the richness of the story and the depth of the characters with fully realised and believable world. All seen through that one window, the silver screen. The film is the end-all top of American art, where all other forms of art go become one unit. Movies have cultured a near religion around them, a modern myth of its myth and importance above all. No other form of media can compete with them. Well, except computer and video games that have larger markets.

Movies are inherently passive, you are sitting there only to watch and listen, never participate. Games have been chasing movies in presentation and how they tell their stories since early on, never really realising that the player is the actor and his actions are the story worth, not the readily set scenes. The mindset we still have from movies and other media is that we are presented a story separate from the consumer, something we must observe. Games inherently break this, unless the game is stopped for that story to take place. There are attempts where these same scenes are set during play, where characters may yell stuff during a boss fight, but that’s still passively listening to a performance. Gaming at its core fights against this, as the core is still from wholly different culture of games, not of theater. Games are active storytelling; the mission to collect five coins is not the story, but the action of collecting of those coins is. In a movie, you’d get a montage or a music scene to skip the boring walking bits, but for a game those walking bits are the main story, and that main story changes with every player. No player plays the same way and films will never be able to have that. Whenever you replay a game, it will be a slightly different story. Perhaps your character is rogue instead of a knight this time around. Movies never change. You can not take a game and make it a movie without breaking it and vice versa. You can take the framing of the game and make that into a movie, but never the game itself. It’s no wonder streaming and eSports are popular nowadays as those could be argued to be the only true representation of games in passive form; they are live theater with no script other than what the game allows.

It’s not surprise lots of film makers want to get into making games, but more often than not, their involvement has produced largely low-quality products. A movie doesn’t make a good game. Framing games in terms of storytelling like movies will end up with a lacklustre game. Viewed as a film it may be a good product, but at that point you might as well make your game into an animated feature, or take the same amount of money and produce a movie. It’d be outright laughable to say any story would be too weird or hard to make a movie out of. Hell, the amount of weird shit out there due to all the indie movies we’ve seen through the years beats games in the weirdness factor by a mile or three. Hideo Kojima probably won’t be making a movie, because Hollywood and film makers overall don’t understand how games truly tell the story, and this seems to apply the same with many developers. There is a deep contradicting element how games tell their story, and how they are made to tell the story. Part of it is because passive storytelling is glorified. Games are, after all, about choice. The passive approach stifles this. Some games manage to weave the story where the player is in-person all the time without any breaks in the way, while others intend to tell one story and one story only. In a game this can only be done by breaking the game itself and make the player passive parts, because traditional storytelling expects you to sit back and watch as the teller tells his tale. Thank God for Skip button.

Companies like Nintendo and Capcom consistently have taken advantage of movies and television as vehicles to promote their main products, the games. Street Fighter the Movies might be a terrible movie on its own rights, but it is an excellent vehicle to make the consumer aware of the brand. It doesn’t need to be accurate to the games as long as its remotely similar and the same names. The movie, when it comes to Capcom, is secondary. It’s not the end-all product. It’s brings in money and consumer awareness, both of which are turned to produce new games and that awareness is taken advantage. More people will be aware of Monster Hunter as a brand whenever that film comes out, despite MH World breaking series records. Yet Capcom’s stance on the movies is that they’re great marketing vehicle, just big budget commercials. Y’know, on the same treatment level as the detergent commercial on telly, just with more in-depth plot and characters with music to go with it. There has been a slow shift how movies are seen with new generations that have grown with computer and video games, and the older generations who value Hollywood and films more don’t seem to understand what makes a game tick.

Nevertheless, movies’ position hasn’t really changed in the last fifty odd years, and probably won’t change until something that could kick it off the pole. In many ways, movies took the place live theater had. Gaming probably won’t dethrone films despite being a bigger industry, as its origin and place in consumer media inhabits a different ecosystem. At some point a new form of entertainment will kick in, but much like how movies are successors to theater, I’ll bet the dethroning will be done by a media that will grow out from films. Same goes for video games. It might not be until technology advances to some unimaginable point in the future we won’t be alive to see, but progress can’t be stopped. Unless we manage to nuke ourselves back to the stone age. Better learn how to make pine cone animals while you still can.

One thought on “The Moving American Dream

  1. I found your comment about the differences between games and movies really interesting. I find that games are always defined by what you can do, which makes even the boring and mundane things in games like Persona are interesting because it is what you do–no one want to admit he/she is a boring and mundane person, especially when they play games to escape real lives. Everything they do must be awesome and meaningful (the “meaning” as rewarded by the games).

    All of this of course would not work in movies, since in the end of the day you and the characters are still two seperate entities.

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