Why Movies Based on Video Games Invariably Suck [Retro Feature]

It was long ago, before the dark times, before the empire. It was back when we were innocent, comic books only cost seventy-five cents, and MTV was actually a channel where they showed music videos as opposed to an endless parade of stupid jerks on reality shows. The idea of a movie based on a video game seemed a natural and desirable occurrence. In the mid-eighties the genres had already clashed, with the plots to both Tron and The Last Starfighter centering around arcade games.

With Nintendo and Sega going blow for blow for console dominance, stepping up the innovation to unheard-of levels, it seemed only matter of time before our favorite video games characters found their way into the multiplexes. We look back on that time, so long ago, with fondness and a bittersweet melancholy, bemused at our innocence and naivete. You see, long have out eyes been open to horrible truth. For the video games did appear on the silver screen, much to our chagrin, and as cinematic travesty after travesty was unleashed upon the unsuspecting public, we continued to greet each one with excitement and anticipation and each time we allowed ourselves to get our hopes up, we died a little inside.

But why?

Not pictured: Anything sucky

Why are movies based on video games doomed to mediocre treatments on film, and left to languish in the Walmart bargain bin? Why are we forced to watch Jean Claude Van Dam do somersaults or Uwe Boll shamelessly wallow in his own feces when all we want is to watch the characters we’ve loved controlling take on a life of their own? All I can offer are theories, but you know what? I think they’re pretty good, so here goes.

1. Lack of respect for the source material.

Not pictured: The audience's attention

Who can say what writers were thinking when they interpreted “Magical adventure of a plumber in the sunny mushroom kingdom” as “dimension traversing trip through a poor man’s blade runner set”? We can be fairly sure that at some point, however, someone went “I’m WAY smarter than the Japanese guy whose idea is so popular we’re making it into a movie”. This is a form of dementia common among Hollywood screenwriters. It’s known as “Big dumb stupidheadness”. I can think of no bigger example of this form of Hollywood arrogance than in the movie version of Doom.

The game was steeped in the supernatural and the occult, mixed with hints of sci-fi. The story went that experiments in teleportation unleashed a gateway to hell on a Mars station. As the protagonist, you would shoot down demons and zombies while being scared out of your wits (particularly in Doom3). Instead of mining this goldmine of story ideas, the writers of Doom: The Movie made the decision to remove any hints of the supernatural from the storyline and instead rip off the plot of Resident Evil. Illogical since those games had already been turned into movies themselves. Speaking of segues, I know there are a few of you who enjoyed the Resident Evil movies, but really is there anybody who didn’t check out during the slow motion kung fu kicking of undead dogs? Where in this loud, overdone action fest was the unsettling, quiet creepiness of Resident Evil? I appreciate a carbon copy of the game would also be lame, but out of respect for the story at least keep a few important elements.

2. Some things just don’t transfer well.

Not pictured: Anything resembling Super Mario Brothers

As much as the odd mutation of Super Mario Bros. bugged me, I honestly believe that a movie of short Italian plumbers busting rocks with their heads and stomping turtles out of their shells would have been worse. Some things just don’t work as a movie. Would anyone flock to the multiplex to see Bubble Bobble: The Motion Picture? Because THEY TOTALLY SHOULD!

The problem is taking a character from a universe with insane Ninendo physics and portraying them in a realistic setting. Remember in Street Fighter, when “clever” writing got every character in the movie to look how they did the game? Or Bison’s “resuscitation machine” that gave him, conveniently, all his power moves? In Mortal Kombat, most of the coolest moves from the game looked ridiculous being performed by live actors. And yes, Scott Wolf and Mark Dacascos did look like gay S&M enthusiasts in Double Dragon. If you’re into that kinda thing, congrats, you’ve found your movie. If you’re looking for an adaptation of some of the coolest side-scrolling brawler games ever, sorry. Maybe DOA will be your lucky break, but judging from the fact it went to DVD in the time it took to watch the trailer on YouTube, I’d say not.

3. It’s more fun to play than to watch.

Not pictured: sunshine or rainbows

In case you were wondering if Doom is worth a rental, consider that it stands as an example of ALL THREE of the errors in this article. That’s a trifecta of suckitude. Doom’s biggest stunt and wink to audiences (I hate those by the way), was the much tauted FPS scene, where the viewer is given a view behind the gun of a charging space marine, mirroring the look of the video game. Pat yourselves on the back, makers of Doom: The Movie, you’ve just recreated perfectly the feel of watching someone else playing Doom. I’m reminded of when my sister’s ex boyfriend would come over and monopolize our PC for hours on end, never letting anyone else play. Kudos!

The thing about making a video game into a movie is that you’re taking control away from the player (re: your audience). The journey you send the hero on has to capture the players imagination. Alas it would seem that when it comes to game franchises, those responsible are content to crap out odd mixes of over-the-top, mindless action, ridiculous-looking effects, one-note characters, and lame winks to the audience , which, by the way, sums up EVERY movie Uwe Boll has ever made. He should have his nose pushed down into a pile of his movies and slapped with a rolled-up newspaper. “Bad! Bad Uwe! No more movies! Bad!”.

So is there any hope? Will we ever have a at the very least a fairly decent video game movie? Actually, I’d say yes. Not only that, but I’d go so far as to say we already have. A single ray of light shines tenaciously down through the darkness in the form of Silent Hill. Foregoing gimmicks and flashiness in favor of an engaging story, Silent Hill acheived that really cool, quiet creepy vibe building up slowly to a terrifying climax and a haunting ending. It delivered everything the game did and more, proving that yes, it can be done. Here’s hoping this is the start of a new trend in Video Game adaptations. Maybe it will be. I keep hearing good things about the upcoming Halo movie. Whatever. When they get around to making Pong: The Movie, then I’ll be excited.

4 comments

  1. I’m personally waiting for the travesty that will become the World of Warcraft movie scheduled for release in 2013. MMORPGs and Realtime Strategy games shouldn’t become movies ever… and based on the latest rumors and Hollywood fiasco’s it’s already destined to be 3D.

    I only pray that in 2012 the world does end and it never sees the inside of the theater.

  2. jeff: Agree, but on the other hand, the Warcraft-Universe should have enough fluff besides the games to make a decent story at least somewhat possible.But on yet another hand: So had Wing Commander…

  3. […] Admittedly I’m huge fan of the source material to the extent that I was in line at midnight at Atomic Comics for the sixth and final installment of the series. Which is all just to say that you’re not gonna get an objective review out of me. It’s quite impossible for me to separate the movie from it’s ink and paper sibling, which has been the object of my geeky affections since my little brother brought it to my attention a few years back (right around volume 4), but quite frankly, judging by a majority of the reviews, at least a passing familiarity with the comic and video game culture is apparently essential to actually getting the point. For the rest of us, who grew up playing games like Punch-Out, Metroid, Legend of Zelda, and Street Fighter 2, this is film’s love letter to games, or perhaps it’s long overdue apology, since Hollywood has proven incapable of successfully adapting a true game franchise. […]

  4. […] Admittedly I’m a huge fan of the source material to the extent that I was in line at midnight at Atomic Comics for the sixth and final installment of the series. Which is all just to say that you’re not gonna get an objective review out of me. It’s quite impossible for me to separate the movie from its ink and paper sibling, which has been the object of my geeky affections since my little brother brought it to my attention a few years back (right around volume 4), but quite frankly, judging by a majority of the reviews, at least a passing familiarity with the comic and video game culture is apparently essential to actually getting the point. A staggering and frustratingly high number of “we’re so above it all” critics are writing off this film as indie hipster white noise, while their fingers aggressively avoid getting anywhere close to the pulse of the minutiae of pop culture. At the time of this writing, Roger “video-games-aren’t-art-even-though-I’ve-never-played-one” Ebert has yet to even publish a review, which goes to show you how much he cares about the film. For the rest of us, who grew up listening to punk rock, hanging out in friends’ basements and trying desperately to get that one perfect girl (or guy) to notice us, this is the way we’d like to remember those years just after high school. For those who are sick of Hollywood’s drab formulaic crap being spewed out year after year, this flick is a breath of fresh air. For those of us who grew up playing games like Punch-Out, Metroid, Legend of Zelda, and Street Fighter 2, this is film’s love letter to video games, or perhaps its long overdue apology, since Hollywood has proven incapable of successfully adapting a game franchise. […]

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