Is it inevitable that films inspired by videogames are total cack? It is certainly nigh-on impossible to think of even a solitary example that bucks the trend of atrocious translations, and a list as long as your arm of abysmal failures can be reeled off at will; Max Payne, Super Mario Bros, Wing Commander, Tomb Raider, Alone in the Dark, the Resident Evils (how the fuck is that still going btw?) and, my own personal nadir, House of the Dead. I actually paid to see that one in the cinema. It also – somehow – spawned a sequel. Incidentally, the director of that pig’s abortion of a picture was Uwe Boll – a man who seems to thoroughly hate both gamers and cinema-goers in equal measure.
Aside from the technical difficulties inherent in achieving the same success in the passive medium that an art form has in the interactive medium, most of the appalling characteristics these movies share are – or, at least, should be – easily resolved. Poorly-written, sloppily-edited, awfully-directed, woodenly-acted and visually slapdash are descriptions which readily spring to mind. That’s before we get into how terribly they deviate from the source material, how roughshod they ride over their origins and how horribly they mutilate the hopes of the enthusiastic gamers whose initial interest paves the way for such projects in the first place. Who green-lights this dogshit?
On that note, it is worth praising the exceptions. No, not good adaptations – I would argue that we’re still waiting for one of those – but the few rights-holders with the artistic and creative integrity to look at where an adaptation is going and say, “No way.” Bioshock’s Ken Levine took just such a principled stance…and here’s the thing: Gamers, seemingly in unanimity, applauded his decision. That’s how damaged our expectations are now; we have seen so many of our beloved games systematically gutted on the big screen that we would rather never see them reach cinematic greatness than run the risk of repeating the experience.
Some failures are simply inexplicable. How on earth do you fuck up a film version of Max Payne, for instance? The thing was a conscious throwback to the hardboiled, noir detective thrillers of Hollywood, and contained a strong central character, a simple-but-compelling plot, and the sort of action chops that would get Michael Bay salivating like a hungry bloodhound. There’s revenge, betrayal, loss, drugs, a rise-fall-rise narrative, a love interest, a shady corporation, and a whole lot of nasty people getting shot in the face. This is what you call a slam-dunk, people. And they fucked it up. Just…staggering.
Anyway. There are numerous examples of games which are ripe for adaptation, but at the moment it seems like Hollywood doesn’t really understand the medium enough to do it justice. Which is pretty sad. I don’t know if book adaptations had to go through a similar teething period – videogames, particularly of the cinematic variety, are still an incredibly young artform after all – so perhaps this is just a learning experience that we all have to suffer before some big studio gets it right. Certainly, it would appear that Ubisoft’s shrewd approach to the film productions of Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell could reap dividends, and set the standard for others to follow. Hopefully, having greater creative control from the company which publishes the original game might make for more faithful, careful adaptations and – fingers crossed – this will result in a more enjoyable finished product appearing on the silver screen.
We can but hope.
In the meantime, I’ll be watching the fan-made trailers/vids which, embarrassingly, are still miles better than any big budget bullshit adaptation a major studio has crapped out in the last twenty years. In fact, here’s one below!
Solidarity, brothers & sisters…♫