Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Trouble with Movie Video Games and Video Game Movies --- Ryviews Special Ryport

Why are movies based on video games always doomed to fail? And why are video games based on movies frequently so terrible?

I contemplated just showing that poster and leaving it at that, but I figured I should elaborate.
Practically every gamer knows the stereotype. Every movie that's based on a video game is atrocious, and every video game based on a movie either has nothing to with the source material or it has awful gameplay. Either way, it's a commonly held opinion that the jump, in either direction, cannot work in any meaningful fashion. I tend to agree with that sentiment, but I don't think it has to be a hard and fast rule.

I think there's a fundamental problem with going between genres that I want to address up front. I subscribe to the idea that when adapting any media into another form certain things need to change. Movies have to leave out large sections of books for various reasons. A TV show will have to change details or origins of characters to fit current trends and fads, mostly because almost everything is a business. That's why Wolverine is in pretty much every single incarnation of the X-men ever. He's the most popular one, and he sells tickets/games/TVs/love.

But, to be fair, he's badass.

But just because the medium changes doesn't mean EVERYTHING has to change. If you look at pretty much any game based on a Disney movie, it usually has nothing to do with the original storyline. Games like Aladdin were just confusing platformers that borrow art styles from their source content. And the Star Wars SNES games are very much the same. They were platformers with set pieces that had whispers of the movie, but in general it had nothing to do with anything. I enjoy those games, but they're terrible adaptations.

And there are numerous examples of video game movies gone bad. From the infamous Super Mario Bros. movie featuring the an inexplicably humanoid villian King Koopa, to the insanity laden project known as Dungeon Siege: In the Name of the King.

Any movie with Jason Statham, John Rhys-Davies, and Burt Reynolds has to be good, right?

Ultimately, there are a few reasons people give for these missteps. They say a silent protanganist can't lead a movie. They say a first person shooter won't have enough plot. Or that there needed to be a love story. Or any number of things. And I understand that there are definitely games that can't lend themselves to the process.

But there's a kind of unspoken truth that most production crews seem to not understand: In order to have a successful adaptation, you can only piss off the fan base so much before your project is doomed. There are certain things you can't change about the mythology to make it work. Fans will bicker and argue about which things are sacred or not, but ultimately there is a balance that can be struck.

Take a movie like Doom. Terrible. But it featured a first person shooter sequence. That was pretty awesome, and the fans appreciated it. It wasn't worth wading through the rest of the crap, but it was a glimmer of hope in a sea of disgusting filth.

I think part of the problem is that companies want every blockbuster video game to become a blockbuster in other media (and vice versa). But if you look at a successful franchise, like Halo, they release Forward Unto Dawn to fairly good reviews. It wasn't a blockbuster movie. It was a mini-series. It didn't reach for the stars. And it told a new story.

A story about some dude who grew up to look completely different and that girl from Narnia.

I already lamented video games that were terrible adaptions, but that's mostly because they were labeled as an adaptation. If it was supposed to be some other game set in the same universe (like pretty much every popular Star Wars video game) it's not a problem. And it usually works. Now, there are cases where it doesn't, such as the Wolverine companion game that came out after X2. It was a new story, but it was a pretty bad game. But I think they could have released a more classical X-men game that had nothing to do with the movies whatsoever, and it would still get boosted by movie hype.

Ultimately, I think the movie side needs to be more open to the idea that you can't throw everything about the game away to make the movie work. You have to keep the fans happy, because the wide audience won't be drawn in enough. You need the devoted fan base. If we're ever graced with a Bioshock movie (which was killed because it would require an R rating), it needs to be as dark as the game. It doesn't have to attract pre-teens. It needs to attract fans.

And the video game side needs to stop producing terrible games just so they can slap a name on something. It just takes slightly more upfront planning and you can produce a real game that can be completely separate from the movie and still boost the success on both sides. Use a different story, a new story, or be faithful to the movie. But pretty much every game in that genre I can think of is some weird mismatch of the two, which results in a confusing and disappointing experience.

With movies based on WoW and Assassin's Creed on their way, I can only hope that everyone involved has finally started to see some sense and that they're devoted to creating good, enjoyable content rather than jumping genres as a perverted get-rich-quick scheme.

But I'm less than hopeful...

Until next time,


Images courtesy of Wikipedia

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