By Scott Tierney
Scanning down a list of films that have been based on popular videogames doesn’t make for pleasant reading. Each movie brings only memories of weak attempts at transferring these front room adventures to the big screen. There were the two terrible Tomb Raider titles; the daft Hitman; Max Payne, which barely scratched the surface of the games’ dark concepts; the occasionally decent but mostly misguided Resident Evil films; The Rock lumbering through Doom; several atrocious Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter punch-ups; and not forgetting the mind-blowing Super Mario Bros…why Bob Hoskins was cast as Mario is anyone’s guess…
There are exceptions of course, with the recent Prince of Persia being at least viewable (suicidal ostriches by definition always make things more exciting), and the 2001 CGI animation Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within being a rare highlight. There are also some decent Japanese animations, with ZOE: 2167 IDOLO being a solid excursion from the criminally underrated PS2 title, Zone of the Enders. But it’s fair to say that these are mere diamonique droplets in a sea of gunk. Far Cry; Silent Hill; Double Dragon; I could go on, naming and shaming these terrible adaptations, but one question keeps lingering. Why are these videogame films always so bad?
There are arguably several reasons why these pixel-to-celluloid tie-ins always seem to fail, and it’s not always the result of a stocky cockney playing an Italian plumber. For starters, a lot of these films are well budgeted, well produced, and occasionally directed with expert hands, but still they fail, satisfying neither critics nor fans. Hey, maybe they’re just unlucky. Maybe the game-driven narratives just don’t work for films. Or maybe it’s about standards and the film industry massively underestimating those of gamers.
Fans of video games are extremely loyal; I speak as one of them. They adore videogames. They wait eagerly for new film adaptations in the hope that one of them will finally get it right, but there’s a flip side to this: they are also all too ready to criticise a bad action sequence, sloppy casting or a plot that strays too far from the original blueprint if they believe it undermines the original genius of the game itself. If this movie incarnation is not up to the game –and to be fair, a lot of the games these films are based upon are classics – then it’s going to get the fan’s thumbs down. Not exactly a sound strategy for box office success.
This brings us onto the real reason that films based upon popular videogames never work, and will probably continue to never work. It’s all to do with the image of the average videogamer.
Videogames have always been portrayed as a bit geeky; the entertainment of the dumb, the nerdy, the bored teenager and the emotionally repressed. Sure, games are getting more serious recognition nowadays with the industry essentially growing up from the childish 16bit adventures of the 90s and the then “shocking” button mashers of the early Playstation era. But gaming is still seen as a bit…well…stupid; a pastime of the socially inadequate and dim. So, if you’re going to make a film for videogamers, you don’t want to make it too taxing…at least that’s what production companies assume. They buy into an image of gamers that doesn’t really exist. Or if it does, it’s not the bulk of their audience.
All the film-videogame tie-ins are dumb. They’re heavy on action, light on plot; packed with guns and breasts, devoid of three-dimensional characters or complication. Lots of people get kicked in the face, things go bang and there’s probably a lady with legs that spread wider than the Thames. These films are made for what are perceived to be stupid people; thick gamers with short attention spans and itchy trigger fingers who only speak via grunts. Videogame-based films are nothing more than mindless popcorn entertainment. That’s what videogames are all about, right?
It’s a shame, as in reality neither videogames nor the gamers that play them are as dumb as id often suggested. If anything, some of the videogames of the past 5-10 years have had more involving characters and plots than some films. Games such as Red Dead Redemption, which beautifully told the story of a former Western gang member trying to come to terms with his past and be the man he never had the chance to be; or the multi-faceted Heavy Rain, which involved real sentiment and sometimes overpowering emotion. These are smart, multi-layered and intelligent videogames which not only excelled critically but also sold extremely well. If gamers are buying these titles, why would they want to see dumbed-down versions on the big screen?
OK, I’m just an angry gamer having a rant, who still harbours nightmares of Dennis Hopper playing (what was essentially) Bowser. Games and films may never work together, but it’d be nice to see a film based on a game that at least shows a little respect to its audience. Edgar Wright, Michael Bacall and Bryan Lee O’Malley can’t be the only ones who understand us. We’re not all stupid; we don’t all spend all day on Black Ops…really.