Video game movies will never be good movies, no matter how much we want them to be. Super Mario Bros. Doom. Assassin's Creed. And now Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is right around the corner. If this keeps up, we'll have to stop campaigning for less video game movies and move on to less video games. If we can't get em' by the stem, maybe we can get em' by the root.
I don't want it to be like that. I want video game movies to be a celebration of the arts, much like book-to-movie adaptations or comic book movies. Alas, it is not meant to be. Video game movies resemble a long line of failed, flopped, flat-out film flunks that should never have been scripted, let alone funded, filmed, edited and released. Assassin's Creed was the last real shot we had at making a good video game movie. Now that its potential has been shredded, I think we can all reasonably say that we need to give up on video game movies.
Oh sure, you can try to be optimistic. There have been surprising comebacks before, from Robert Downey Jr. to Mel Gibson. But those comebacks came from artists in the craft. Rare is it that an entire genre fails us as much and as often as video game movies do, and I don't expect the genre to change now. Here are a few reasons why.
1. It’s a Movie, Not a Video Game.
This is the first, and perhaps the most immediate, problem with video game movies: they’re movies, not video games. The expectations are different. A video game is an immersive, interactive experience where you, the player, are in control and a part of the story like the main character is. In many ways, you are the character, and the events that unfold in the game are due to the choices and actions that you make.
But a movie is a two-dimensional viewing experience. You have no control minus your reaction to what you’re watching. This isn’t normally a problem with most films adaptations, because you’re usually adapting one narrative work into another, like adapting a book into a movie.
Adapting a video game into a movie is a different challenge because it's adapting an interactive experience into a non-interactive one. You’re already setting your audience up for disappointment because you've taken a step back from the immersive scope.
The costumes and the fights were impressive in Mortal Kombat, but the movie never matched the first time you ripped out someone’s spine in the original arcade game. Mark Wahlberg was a good casting choice for Max Payne, but it will never compare to the first time you went into bullet time during a firefight. And the choreography was just as impressive in the Prince of Persia movie as it was in the games, but sadly, it will never be as impressive as doing it yourself.
Let’s face it: no matter how good the movie is, it will never be as good as your first time playing the game. That’s because it isn’t meant to.
2. Habit Becomes Reality
A teacher of mine used to say “Once is a mistake. Twice is stupidity.” This is too true on too many occasions. Nicolas Cage has been widely considered a great actor during our time, but ever since filming The Wicker Man and Ghost Rider in 2005, his career has sunken into a slump that he hasn’t been able to come out of. M. Night Shyamalan was once known as the guy who made The Sixth Sense, but after The Village and The Lady In The Water, he quickly became known as the guy who made The Happening and that bad Avatar movie.
But in the case of video game movies, there haven’t been one or two mistakes, but several. Since 1993, over 100 movies based on video games have been theatrically released. Not a single one was ranked positive on either RottenTomatoes or Metacritic. Few have passed the 6.0 mark on iMDB. And don’t even get me started on how many made critics worst-of lists.
Granted, RottenTomatoes and critics are not the most reliable sources to begin with. That being the case, I now offer you a handful of community opinions on their thoughts of video game movies:
I could continue, but like Uwe Boll’s career, I just fizzled out.
3. Video Game Movies Are Not Stories To Studios. They're Franchises.
The biggest problem with video game movies is the same problem any big studio production faces. The studios aren't focus on story. They're focused on money. They care about who’s going to see it and when, how they heard about it, why they’re interested, and how they can get more people to fill seats.
Why do spoof movies do so well? Because they’re cheap to make and usually do well at the box office. Why are more Transformers movies being made? Because its made almost four billion dollars, with the last one making over a billion dollars on its own.
Video game movies are tied into the same problems of money versus quality. Studios aren’t concerned with making stories. They’re concerned with making money, and with a big franchise name attached to the title, its very easy to do that. As Cracked.com observes, studios already have the fans hooked in by the name alone. If they can rope in another million by mass advertising, a big-name actor and a kick-ass trailer, they’ll do it and count the ticket money the following day.
“Remember: In box office-ese, 'seeing the movie then ranting about it forever online' translates as 'seeing the movie.'"
That’s the biggest reason why video game movies have such a hard time overcoming their barriers. Studios see these films as franchises more than they do as stories in their own right.
Until these perceptions change, we will never have a good film adaptation of our favorite video games in the near future.