|Double Dragon (1994) Mark Dacascos (Jimmy Lee), Alyssa Milano (Marian Delario), Scott Wolf (Billy Lee)|
Last week John Carpenter, famous horror director of Halloween and other films, said he wants to make a movie from the video game Dead Space.
"You know it's great," he said, “The first game was more - I guess it was like Alien - but not quite. It was a little different than that. I maintain that Dead Space would just make a great movie because you have these people coming onto an abandoned, shut-down space ship and they have to start it up and something's on board. It's just great stuff.
"I would love to make Dead Space [into a film], I'll tell you that right now. That one is ready-made."
While I love Carpenter's work, his video game movie will suck. Why? Because they all do.
Of all the movies in the list at the rating site Rotten Tomatoes, none have higher than 43% for Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010). It’s described as "It doesn't offer much in the way of substance, but Prince of Persia is a suitably entertaining swashbuckler -- and a substantial improvement over most video game adaptations."
That is the best that video game movies have to offer.
I love video games and I love movies and really want to see a good movie made out of a game. But, it's a huge challenge.
1. Video Game Movies Have Horrid Plots
|Double Dragon (1994) Mark Dacascos (Jimmy Lee), Scott Wolf (Billy Lee)|
Video game movies have horrible plots, but that's only because most video games have weak plots. The medium lends itself to simple plots.
Sure, some games have complex plots and are written by accomplished writers. But it's impossible to tell a complete story in the framework of a game.
Gamers want freedom. Freedom to explore and get lost in a game's world. If they wanted to play a game that forces them into a complete story they'd play Dragons Lair. Remember Dragon's Lair? It was basically an animated movie that challenged you to move the joystick in a certain direction at a specific time. Move up. Move left. Move right. It was fun for it's time, but gamers want more now.
Besides, video game movies are inherently flawed because...
2. Video Game Movies Are Like Bad Action Movies
|Street Fighter Raul Julia, Jean Claude Van-Damme|
The first video game movie was based on the extremely popular action platform game Super Mario Bros. I guess we should be glad they didn't make Donkey Kong.
In 2012, the most popular games were Halo and Call of Duty and it usually follows that trend. But, it's hard to make a good action movie.
Here's what reviewer Roger Ebert said about First Blood (1982), the most popular action movie of all-time, "In fact, although almost all of 'First Blood' is implausible, because it's Stallone on the screen, we'll buy it." Ebert added, "Stallone creates the character and sells the situation with his presence itself. The screenplay should have stopped while it was ahead."
Action movies are fun, but don't make strong movies. There's only so much character development and plotting you can do when going from a car chase to a gun fight.
If a video game movie doesn't have enough explosions people complain it's not faithful to the game. So it's lose-lose.
Even action movies, no matter how unrealistic, have to have good characters. Which leads me to my next point.
3. Video Game Movies Have Weak Characters
|Super Mario Bro - Dennis Hopper (King Koopa)|
Video game characters aren’t usually very complex and you can’t have a movie with Nintendo guys running around. Some films have tried to make complex characters out of video game properties, but you have to throw everything out and start over. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.
That means explaining what would motivate a plumber to go into a sewer. It's not like he's a city worker. In Tomb Raider they came up with a motivation for Lara Croft to be a treasure hunter thanks to her Dad. That worked.
In Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, Chun-Li is a world-renowned concert pianist. Then, they have to explain how she learned Wushu fighting.
Despite the Wing Commander game having a fairly good, but rudimentary plot, in the movie they had to explain why a lone fighter would be up against overwhelming odds.
5. Video Game Movies Have Bad Actors
|Wing Commander - Freddie Prinze Jr.|
One of the many keys to making a good movie is to find good actors, and good actors rarely want to make a video game movie. Why? Because they don’t know anything about it and they have to pretend that doesn’t make a difference.
Kristin Kreuk, who starred in Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, said, "I’ve never been a gamer, but I’ve seen a lot of 'Street Fighter'. It was really popular when I was in late elementary school into high school, so I’m very familiar with it. I’ve seen a lot of people play it."
That’s right. She thinks watching people play a game makes her an expert on it. That’s like saying you’re a master chef because you watch Rachel Ray.
On the other hand, take someone like Angelina Jolie who played Lara Croft in Tomb Raider and actually played the game!
She found something in the character to relate to. "This was a side of myself that I didn’t think was in me." Jolie said about the film, "But it wasn’t a surprise to people who know me. You spend so much time in your head as an actor, living in the dark, you forget to be free. And I’m the first person to be looking for what freedom means and to feel trapped and in a cage. It took me a while to realize that when I was standing at the edge of a waterfall in Cambodia, and I was so happy...God, I really learned what the world is about. Now it makes more sense to me, because if this is how I’ve needed to be my whole life and I didn’t have an outlet for it, it maybe explains why I’m a little crazy."
So, let's say you have an actor that is passionate about the role and takes it seriously. You're still screwed because it's based on a bunch of pixels running around doing bizarre stuff.
6. Video Game Movies Have Ridiculous Concepts
|Super Mario Bros|
Another problem with video game movies is the concept. Video games have outlandishly impossible concepts. It's escapism.
Making a movie out of a guy that jumps on mushrooms and fights a giant dragon is hard to take seriously.
The only way to do it is to change everything. Super Mario Bros is a good example.
The game is about two plumbers who travel to the Mushroom Kingdom to rescue Princess Toadstool from King Koopa.
The movie is about two plumbers who travel to a world inhabited by evolved dinosaurs covered in slime. They took a bizarre concept and made it even more bizarre.
Street Fighter, which was a standard martial arts fighting game, could have become a martial arts film like Enter the Dragon (1973). Instead they turned it into a war film.
Mortal Kombat stayed more faithful to the concept, but still struggled to depict the outlandish characters and settings in a realistic way. It's great as a video game translation, but horrible as a movie.
Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 34% and Laura Evenson, reviewer from the San Fransico Chronicle wrote, "'Mortal Kombat' the movie has everything a teenage boy could want: snakes that jut out of a villain's palms, acrobatic kung- fu fighting and a couple of battling babes. Everything, that is, but an interesting plot, decent dialogue and compelling acting."
In the end, video game movies are doomed. Maybe John Carpenter can make a good movie out of zombies on an interstellar mining ship. But, if history repeats itself, it will be a dud.
Can a video game be adapted into a good movie?
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