Adaptations Day - Video Games Movies: A Troubled Past

The Defective Inspector looks at some of the great video games that were made into less than great films...

For as long as I can remember the video game industry has been taking us on adventures, dropping us into new worlds and embracing the art of storytelling through an interactive medium. Even with the physical data restrictions back in the floppy/cartridge days there were pages of plot scattered in gaming manuals and extra material shoved into magazines or episodes of GamesMaster. Despite having a limitless source of strong, established and extremely popular stories there has yet to be a single video gaming movie which has been considered an international success. The only way to understand why something so easy appears to be so damn hard is to consider how the turds ended up in the punch bowl. To that end, I am going to pick a few adaptations where I have not only watched the movie but also mastered the game it was based on.

WarCraft: The Beginning

Rotten Tomatoes: 28%
Metacritic: 32/100
Profit: ~ $300,000

On paper this as an excellent choice for storytelling. WoW players throughout the land were chomping at the metaphoric bit for their beloved franchise to be taken to the next level. Based on the original WarCraft: Orcs and Human RTS the game promised a cinematic backstory about the most played battle in the entire world. It has Lord of the Rings like fantasy, tons of magic, an immense fanbase and one of the biggest gaming companies backing the project. So, what went wrong?

It’s rather simple, it’s all flash and no substance. While it won an award for its makeup and costumes it felt like a BBC special that a history teacher would make you watch to get you interested in ancient Greece by making it “look cool”. The script was shallow, the acting was barely passable and the plot was predictable. I suspect Blizzard depended on the 10 million WoW subscribers to rush to the theatre forgetting that the game it was meant to be based on was over 20 real-life years before the release of WoW. Sure it made a profit but by Blizzard standards is a silver coin in the treasure chest. It proved that you need more than good graphics, fancy make up and fanatics to make something truly successful.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

Rotten Tomatoes: 44%
Metacritic: 49/100
Profit: ~ -$50,000

Square Co. Ltd had been making some of the best narrative focused RPGS of all time, even during the days of excessive data restriction. Be it through text, 8-Bit pixels or ominous MIDI music these guys knew how to score it big with the fans and rarely disappointed. Problem is nearly every final fantasy game was self-encapsulating and so making a movie from source material was hard. I mean you couldn’t just take the plot from Final Fantasy 7 and turn it into a movie (Well you could but they hadn’t done so yet, hush now Advent Children) so instead they made a new story and turned THAT into a movie. Truthfully, I thought this was a clever idea considering so many other good games failed to make good movies and Square had already proven they could write a good plot. Sadly the plan didn’t really… work.

It well and truly broke the bank and you can see why, the computer animations applied to this project was nothing short of a masterpiece of its time. The humans were lifelike and never had so many male teenagers flocked to a movie theatre to something with the word “Spirit” in the title. I am not understating the facts here, this was the same year Shrek was released and comparing the animation between the two is like comparing a fart in a bucket and a flower in a vase. But if you include the fact the plot was god awful and the characters were cookie cuts of 90s sci-fi clichés there was no way it was going to turn a profit, not even with godlike graphics.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Rotten Tomatoes: 20%
Metacritic: 33/100
Profit: ~ $160,000

I thought maybe the problem was the ambition of movie makers. If you take something which has set the bar so damn high in story telling it’s difficult to reach it, let alone exceed it. With this in mind I considered Lara Croft: Tomb Raider based on the game with the same name and technically all the PS1 sequels made up to this movie’s release. The project had a straightforward plot (Indiana Jones with more boulders) and could simply be a high flying, action packed, girl powered mean machine of a movie. Such a shame….

Despite the fact I was coming of teen-age and Angelia Jolie was the hottest things since the sun around the playground even I struggled to enjoy the movie, looking back I feel vindicated in my belief. Strangely the action sequences were not enough and the plot was lambasted and mocked all the way back to the post-production house. Hilariously when they tried a second time with The Cradle of Life they took away more plot and added more scenery and action with no such luck. Hysterically this movie proved that action alone does not make a movie, despite the fact a game actually can be all action and no plot.

I know I know, this is all a little bit “first world problem”. We are blessed in a world where we can literally sit and enter a new world with as little or as much interaction as we damn well please so complaining about it makes me a tad spoilt. But it does beg the question what would make a good video game movie? I feel like I should mention my examples above are the BETTER of the movies out there! I skipped Street Fighter, Super Mario Bros, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, Double Dragon, Resident Evil, Assassins Creed, Prince of Persia and the list could go on. I think the fundamental problem come down the fact that film makers still think the video game itself is enough to put bums on seats and so the plot doesn’t NEED to be that good. It’s the same theory that putting actor x into a movie will make it worth watching because the people love actor x, it’s just stupid. Once movie makers realise that a game is like any other kind of adaptive media things could get better, imagine if someone took Skyrim and Peter Jackson’ed it? Woah hold up, anyone got an Indiegogo account? GET ME MY PETITION PAD!

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