Video game movies suck.
Sure, there have been a few decent ones—the Resident Evil films aren't all bad—but for the most part, any movie based on a video game is guaranteed to be a terrible waste of time.
Back in the early days of video games, there was a legitimate excuse for making crappy movies: Video games had crappy plots. The 1993 Super Mario Bros. movie, for example, was an abomination that should never have been green-lit. But then again, look what the script writers had to work with. The video game was about a chubby Italian plumber tasked with saving a princess who had been kidnapped by a fire-breathing turtle. He could eat stars to become temporarily invincible, mushrooms to grow twice as large, and flowers to shoot fireballs. Now, how to you make a live action film version of that? You add an interdimensional portal and a whole lot of suckiness, that's how.
Now, you could argue that there are dozens of fan-made live-action Mario videos on YouTube that are actually good, and you'd have a fair point. However, most—if not all—of the good ones are spoofs that intentionally juxtapose the insane in-game logic of Mario games with real life to point out how ridiculous this logic is. If you wanted to make a serious action film with these parameters, you'd have a tough time with it.
Another example from way back is Street Fighter. Now, the whole premise is that a bunch of people from other countries get together to fight each other. There's not a whole lot to work with there. But someone decided to make a movie of that anyway, and it was hilariously bad. And just to make a hilariously bad thing even hilariously badder—or maybe just because everything Capcom touches must get beat mercilessly into the ground with overuse—they decided to make a new Street Fighter game based off the movie. That's right, they made a video game based off a movie that was already based off a video game.
But video game storytelling has evolved quite a bit since then. (Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of a series I wrote on this a while back.) In this current console generation, we've seen incredible stories in games like BioShock, Red Dead Redemption, Half-Life 2, the Uncharted series, and Metal Gear Solid 4, just to name a few. These play out much more like movies than the games of yesteryear, so making the transition from TV screen to big screen shouldn't be that difficult, right?
But we're not quite there yet. Now, my personal theory is that video game movies haven't found their focus quite yet. For an example, let's look at another medium that had a pretty rough time transitioning to movies: comic books, primarily superhero comic books.
Originally, comic book-based movies were just silly. These films tried to capture the spirit of what made comic books so much fun to read, giving us ridiculously over-the-top characters that felt like they should have been in a cartoon rather than a live-action film. Seeing living, breathing human beings acting like cartoon characters is a bit unnerving, since cartoons/comic books and reality have completely differing rule sets.
Now, you could point to the Adam West Batman TV series and the corresponding film as great examples of what I mean by this. Sure, they've risen to cult classic status, but a good portion of why that happened is because of how silly they are. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is another film that was based on this cartoon-in-real-life principle and was just plain awful as a result. I mean, Superman's accomplishments in that movie are so far-fetched that it's hard to stomach.
More recently, though, we've seen some exceptional superhero films hit theaters. Perhaps the best example is the Christopher Nolan's Batman series. Now, the reason these movies work so well is that the source material has been reworked to be more realistic. The film's setting removes itself from the over-the-top world of the comic books. Now, it's not a complete departure. Some of the comic book elements are still there; they're just dialed down a bit so they don't feel so out of place in a live-action setting. That makes them less true to the source material, but less likely to be accused of "jumping the shark." (A side note: Batman literally jumps the shark in the Venom storyline from the comics. He actually jumps into the ocean and wrestles a shark bare-handed. This just wouldn't fly in the Nolan films, but it doesn't feel out of place in the comics.) It also makes the characters more "human" and therefore more relatable to a moviegoing audience.
This is a lesson that needs to be applied to video game movies. Now, a film like Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is animated, and can get away with going a lot further over the top than a live action version would be able to do in good taste. But a series like Metal Gear Solid would have to be dialed way back in order to work successfully in a live-action film. In fact, I would rather see a CGI or even anime Metal Gear series than a real movie with real human actors.
My prediction: Video game movies don't need to suck. The problem is that the action needs to be restrained more in a film version than a video game version in order to not feel completely absurd. I think this is a lesson that will eventually be learned, and we'll see some incredible video game films show up as a result.
One tiny little thing that gives me at least some measure of hope is that Ken Levine and his friends at 2K are so protective of the BioShock IP that they simply won't allow a BioShock film to be made unless it's not going to suck. Hopefully more developers will feel attached enough to their creations that they won't sell them out for some quick cash and allow crappy movies to keep wasting our time.
Editor / News Director
Date: January 11, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*