There are so many failed game-to-film conversions around and they all have one thing in common; video games have provided their foundation. This leads to the inevitable question, are games worthy of the movie treatment? The fact is the majority of games available today tend to use their storylines as an excuse to shoehorn in as many memorable moments as possible. This results in overly clichéd plots, which gamers often overlook because they’re having such a good time regardless. With films, however, the story is the centrepiece and has to withstand much heavier scrutiny.
That’s not to say that all narratives in games are sub-par, there are a few notable exceptions. Telltale’s The Walking Dead series springs to mind, but this could be regarded as more of an interactive television show than a game. There is a decent story in Red Dead Redemption too, albeit buried beneath layer upon layer of Wild West stereotypes. The Mass Effect trilogy also boasts a solid parable, with certain decisions bearing considerable weight and consequence. These are just a few examples, but even the best in-game stories show us little that we haven’t seen before. However, the chronicles found in comic books often share the same shortcomings as video games, but their move to movies has been infinitely more successful. So what’s the reason for this?
It wasn’t so long ago that most comic book films were considered to be throwaway trash. Nowadays, it seems that every other major motion picture release started life as a comic book. Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Joss Whedon’s Avengers Assemble and the X-Men franchise have almost erased the horrors of earlier comic flicks from our memory. Remember the excruciating original Punisher starring Dolph Lundgren? Or the catastrophically bad Captain America, directed by Albert Pyun? So what has changed? How come comic book conversions are almost guaranteed hits, whereas games are seemingly destined for mediocrity?
In late 1978, Superman was released in cinemas worldwide and went on to be a massive success. One of the first comic book adaptations, Superman was a huge gamble because there was nothing to compare it to. It was an unknown quantity at the time, so why was it so popular? Well, it didn’t just rely on its already established fan base. Instead, a solid script was written, a much sought-after director, Richard Donner, was recruited and a number of big name actors got involved. This proved to be a firm foundation which allowed comic book conversions to flourish. Naturally there has been a few missteps since then, but Superman would always be there as an example of what could be achieved.
Unfortunately, games don’t have the benefit of this strong foundation. Super Mario Brothers was the first game to get the movie treatment, and it was an unmitigated disaster. In fact, it was so mind-bogglingly bad, it probably did more harm than good. It’s hardly surprising seeing as the story behind Mario and Luigi’s world is virtually non-existent. First impressions are always important, and the first impression left on the movie industry by games was this ungodly mess. Now that it’s out there, unable to pretend that it never existed, people will always associate games with appalling films. This is a shame, because beneath all of the stereotypes and clichés, there is still potential.
There’s no denying the popularity of Resident Evil as a gaming franchise, but as a collection of films they have been somewhat underwhelming. Technically, the RE films could be regarded as a success, simply because they made a profit. But commercial success hasn’t shielded it from negative reviews from critics. It could also be argued that Resident Evil panders not only to fans of the games, but also to zombie fans in general, of which there are many. So the success of these movies may not be solely due to gaming cinemagoers after all.
There are rumours circulating that an Assassin’s Creed adaptation is on the horizon. An exciting proposition for fans of the series, but will this really be the answer? As entertaining a Creed motion picture would undoubtedly be, the open-style gameplay might prove too big a hurdle for a filmmaker to overcome. The truth is, no matter how strong the story is, the sheer scale of games such as this would require an awful lot of content to be left on the cutting room floor. Extracting so much from such a popular game may alienate a large chunk of the target audience.
As long as games are commercially successful, there will always be film tie-ins. As long as something makes a profit, it will be deemed a success. Maybe this is the problem. Filmmakers are too concerned about making a profit, so the budget for any forthcoming game conversion will inevitably be reduced to minimise financial loss. As a result, the films will suffer and they’ll never be given a chance to shine.
It’s hard to imagine a future where a film-of-the game could be appreciated by both gamers and film enthusiasts alike. It’s a real shame, but there’s always the hope that the next adaptation will change public perception for the better.
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