I was perusing the Internet Movie Database when I found this. That’s right…Castlevania, the movie, is slated for 2011. I don’t know about you but…every video game movie I have sat down to watch, has been crap. I say crap, but I am really only being family friendly. I thought that I might be a bit too negative, maybe I have just given up hope that a decent video game movie would slip through the cracks (Silent Hill was “ok“). So, I decided to click on a few of the people involved, and since there isn’t a cast listed yet, I clicked on the writer.
Paul W.S. Anderson, not to be confused with Paul T. Anderson, is the classy Uwe Boll of film. His movies aren’t atrocious (Uwe Boll is the monster responsible for Alone in the Dark and House of the Dead, amid other crimes against nature), but they aren’t good either. I wanted to take the time to speculate here, with you guys, and figure out why almost every video game movie released, ultimately fails.
I understand that translating a media that utilizes action, above all else, into a form that is limited to only visual, is difficult. If you were to sit down and watch the events that unfold in Silent Hill 2, it wouldn’t be scary at all, and playing There Will Be Blood: The Video Game would be excruciatingly boring. Each media requires an entirely different method of storytelling, which leads us to the first problem. Video games are not cut out to be movies.
Video games aspire to intertwine storytelling with player interactivity (there are a few exceptions; Metal Gear Solid). Bioshock is the pinnacle of this achievement since it uses almost zero pre-rendered cinematics, giving complete control to the player. Instead of guiding another character into cut-scene after cut-scene, the player is given the choice (much like someone who would have crash landed in a strange city) to go about their business as they please; only to discover the plot as they explore. To add to this effect, you aren’t giving the characters name or personality. The player must develop these themselves, whether it’s their own or fictitious, and it deepens the player’s investment into the story.
Movies create investment by developing cultural and social problems that reflect on our own society (see American History X) or creating characters that we can relate to on some level (see The Wrestler). Games do this at times, with some of the more average heroes, but most of the time its a burly guy/girl who can pretty much take down everything in their path. Not many people can relate to that. So, if you wanted to make a video game a good movie you would need to pick a game that exhibits cultural or social reflection, a character the audience can relate to, or be willing to shell out the money necessary to make a quality action title. It baffles me that, out of more than 20 video game movies, they’ve only come close once.
The only decent video game movie is Silent Hill, because of the game they chose to use. Silent Hill focuses more on the human condition, using average characters with no special abilities or training, and forces them to confront their own sins and desires inside an evil city. Since the director wasn’t entirely daft, he made sure the human element of the main character was kept intact while he made changes to the story, thus making the movie suck less. It’s obvious here that choosing which game to make into a movie plays an important role (duh).
Mass Effect is the only game that would make a decent movie right now because the universe that Bioware created is so massive that a screenwriter and director would have a lot of room to develop their own storylines, and instead of recreating the Mass Effect game, offer something that expands upon the universe, and ultimately, the game. Instead, directors and writers keep picking terrible games that we all knew wouldn’t translate to the movie screen. Who in the world would want to sit through The House of the Dead or Double Dragon?
Neither of the games have anything to offer in terms of plot or character development to warrant consideration as a movie. As video games gain more ground as a popular entertainment medium there is no stopping studios from taking games and forming them into movies. However, they need to invest more time in looking at what games to make into movies, and then playing and dissecting those games.
My last reason for the absence of great video game movies is a lack of credibility. Paul W.S. Anderson has taken video games and made them into movies with marginal benefits at the box office. Uwe Boll, the antichrist, has taken video games and made them into some of the worst movies of all time. There are better B-rated movies about zombies directed by 8-year olds than his The House of the Dead and Alone in the Dark. Since these movies are so unsuccessful, studios tend to put marginal effort into their creation.
The FPS shots from Doom were poorly animated, and in the long run, offered nothing to the movie as a whole. These studios spend less money so that the video game movie, which makes less money, will show more total profit. I am willing to bet that if any film company were to throw 200 million dollars at Mass Effect or *shudder* Gears of War, the movie would be good, if not decent. I absolutely hate the Tomb Raider movies, but their success proves that if the game doesn’t translate well, throw money at it…it might just work. More money means better actors, staff, and equipment. Silent Hill is the example that proves that less money, but more thought, can breed success as well.
Upon writing this article, I discovered that Metal Gear Solid, Bioshock, Tekken, and The King of Fighters are all upcoming releases of movies. There is no guarantee that they will get off the ground (Tekken and the King of Fighters…really?). We can only hope that Hideo Kojima’s love for film will be apparent in the adaptation of MGS and that someone will take the time to actually dissect the plot and ideas behind Bioshock. Until then, we can only hope.