The Ugly Truth About Videogame Movies

 Pages 1 2 NEXT
 

The Ugly Truth About Videogame Movies

We all know that movies based on games tend to suck, but perhaps it's time we finally admit that we're partly the ones to blame.

Permalink

I don't think you can easily compare a video game to a film that is based on it. Its much like comparing a book to a film, on the outside they both appear to be at the very least similar in regards to plot line and setting but when you get right down to it the difference is content, you'll never see the same degree of detail in a film and at the same time you'll never get the same degree of empathy from a book. All stories, good or bad, are told through the medium they are intended to be told through, in the case of Max Payne this was evidentially through an interactive experience. I for one wouldn't open say... a .jpeg file in notepad and then expect to see the picture.

The long and short of it is this, a game is not a film and a film is most certainly not a game. They may share similarities but ultimately they are two very different forms of story telling, even if you were to create a game so it is designed to feel like a film you'll still be playing a game. But its on that difference that most attempts at conversion fall through a rotted wooden floor and onto a pit of razor sharp fans... I mean spikes. They take either one of two extremes, the long road down "Stick to the original" lane or a ride down "Change is good, they probably won't even notice" street, both of those options are pretty damned terrible.

I mean take the former and you'll probably end up with something that can only be appreciated by fans of the series and take the latter and get slaughtered by the venomous fingers of those same fans. What it comes right down to is money, regardless how big a fan base for a game is it'll never match up the millions brought forth by the uninitiated masses.

So admittedly I never played the Max Payne games, yes I know I'm such a complete n00b. So I went to see the film without any anticipations of what it will/won't be and to be quite honest I thought it was good, if not spectacular. A few things jarred with me, for instance the fact that every scene with the "Bad Guy" seemed to be acted to a background of heavy metal, the seemingly off-hand way in which they tossed the back story into the frame among others. But I was frankly pleased, Mila Kunis wasn't half bad as the femme fatale, it even took me a few moments to actually recognise her. Mark Wahlberg wasn't half bad and being the giant TV geek I am I liked noting the other actors for what parts they've played in various TV shows I've watched.

So they got my 5.50 and frankly they deserved it. I could have done worse things with that hour and a bit.

But to get to another point, video games with little storyline. I don't know about you but when my bad ass marine was ploughing his way through the Doom hellscape I had a really good storyline going on the background, each loading screen was just another excuse for some off camera story action and certain bad guys were storyline important! And its that kind of... fun that separates films and games. In a film you get everything presented to you in a nice little package, whereas with games you're are supposed to playing a character(you do this in first person shooters too) so obviously something of you should be imparted onto this pixelated avatar... right?

One of the big unsolved problems of philosophy: Is it theoretically possible to create a good (either critically acclaimed or popular) video game movie?

If a good game makes a bad movie then wouldn't a bad game make a good movie.

zombiepandaman:
If a good game makes a bad movie then wouldn't a bad game make a good movie.

do you think dark sector would make a good movie?
no

I liked the doom film personally. & I thought they did the right thing by simply taking the bare premise of the game (mars, demons, macho marines & violence); & making a not trying too hard but none the less entertaining action movie out of it.

I disagree with your thesis. Maybe fan expectations play a part in how disappointed they are in a film and how they express how awful the film is using juvenile metaphors that the Angry Video Game Nerd discarded as beneath him, but I think the reason why most video game movies are not very good is because they are made by people who are not very good at making movies.

Much like the recent and infected rash of 80's horror remakes, these are films that are cashing in on the name only. It does not matter if the movie is any good. It will still have a decent opening weekend based on the name alone. So the production is cut rate and not given the amount of time money or skilled people it would need to realize a decent movie based on a video game. These movies are quick cash ins, like t-shirts and coffee mugs.

Eventually, someone with some actual talent might make a movie based on a game. It might even turn out to be a good movie, too. But so far, this has not happened

I noticed that no mention was made of the first Mortal Kombat movie, a rather glaring omission. Its success, I think, came not from trying to be a good videogame movie but simply to be a good movie, period.

Yes, I hear what you're all saying. (No, I don't actually, but let's just roll with it.) Mortal Kombat was nothing more than a rehashed version of Enter the Dragon. What's wrong with that? Given the relative paucity of plot in the various MK variations, it's unavoidable that some deviance (i.e., linearity) will occur. Also, since you're going to be mining the genre tropes, why not ride the coattails of the guy (Bruce Lee, ftw) that invented the freaking genre in the first place?

So: Mortal Kombat, the one good videogame flick. (As far as the sequel, I actually recommend it as well, though only for MST night. It's so bad that it's bloody hilarious.)

Really? I thought the first Mortal Kombat movie was terrible.

I can somewhat see how the Bioshock movie will work but I also cannot see how it's going to be meaty....unless the plaster in about a dozen Big Daddy and Splicer Fights just to create action.

You know why video game movies suck? The same reason comic book movies sucked until very recently: they are being made either by shameless profit-mongers trying to cash in on peoples' passions and fond memories or overpaid art-snobs who think themselves above the medium (more the former than the latter).

Until we have a generation of filmmakers that understand and appreciate how video games tell stories and how to extract drama and character development from the source material, we'll never see a good video game movie. It took grown-up comics geeks becoming filmmakers for us to be saved from the comic book adaptations of old (yes, even the first Superman, which I feel you couldn't help but make cheesy and corny because...well...it's Superman); it's going to take a while for video gamers to reach the same pinnacle.

PuckFuppet:
...you'll never get the same degree of empathy from a book.

I take issue with this. While it may not be true for everybody, if you have a vivid imagination, a good book will move you just as profoundly as a good movie.

However I do agree with most of your points. The only really successful cross-medium endeavors I'm aware of were not direct translations from game-to-movie or movie-to-book, but common universe stories. For instance, I quite enjoy the .Hack franchise. The games and TV shows tell complimentary stories in the same universe, rather than simply rehashing the same story in a different medium.

Another example is the Star Wars universe. Yes there are a number of Star Wars movies, books and games that suck, but there are also some really good ones in there- and the best ones are all original stories in their own medium, even if there are occasional intersections.

The Resident Evil Movies weren't all that bad either, I don't think - as far as these things go. Generally though, I think the author is right on this point: that makers of videogame movies are trying to find a middle-ground that doesn't exist. I'll add to this, that I don't think any middle-ground is necessary either. The middle-ground is that between approaching this as a normal movie and attempting to play it closer to the actual game. Since you're making a movie, not a game (important fact, remember this), attempting to veer closer to the latter limit, I think is entirely pointless in the first place, since you're unlikely to please the fans no matter what you do in that respect (unless you manage to film, verbatim, a run-through the entire game, but re-filmed in live action, in which case they might be amused).

It seems clear that video-game movies need to forget everything about the videogame and instead use the strengths of the setting and the characters to do their own movie-thing. Here comes the second problem of course - that most movies are rubbish. So really, it all comes down to the necessity of actually attracting people who make good movies to make the movies.

Actually, what I think is even more concerning is that so many films seem to be imitating games. Take Quantum of Solace for instance - it's as if the entire film is a game walkthrough, with long action sequences punctured only sporadically by short cutscenes that offer brief glimpses of plot exposition (what David Cage calls the 'porno' approach).

And, honestly, when your action movies, video games and porn share the same structure, you know you have bigger problems than just bad video-game-to-film adaptations.

The reason video game movies suck: No one has really tried to make a good one.(Uwe Boll, maybe, but he doesn't have any talent) If hollywood wanted to get a good videogame movie they'd hire Paul Haggis(crash, quantum of solace) to write, they'd hire Robert Rodriquez(sin city, grindhouse) to direct and they'd hire brad pitt to star. Comic book movies were never good until they hired a-list directors to helm them.(Sam Raimi, Bryan Singer) Videogame movies won't be good until the same thing happens.

PuckFuppet:
I don't think you can easily compare a video game to a film that is based on it. Its much like comparing a book to a film, on the outside they both appear to be at the very least similar in regards to plot line and setting but when you get right down to it the difference is content, you'll never see the same degree of detail in a film and at the same time you'll never get the same degree of empathy from a book. All stories, good or bad, are told through the medium they are intended to be told through, in the case of Max Payne this was evidentially through an interactive experience. I for one wouldn't open say... a .jpeg file in notepad and then expect to see the picture.

I hear this a lot and I do not agree with it.

While on the one hand there is a difference to how different media present a story and different media have different strengths and weaknesses, I find the above to be just so much handwaving.

But maybe I'm being a little unfair. I don't think how story works in a game is properly understood. So we do not know games strengths or weaknesses in storytelling when compared to other media. I can offer a hypothesis:

The reason why most games make for terrible movies is because the stories in most games, especially the popular ones are shit.

This is just a hypothesis, so it needs to be properly tested, but I suspect that the stories in most games are, in fact, shit. The only reason why most gamers do not notice this is because of the interactivity games offer. This allows them to overlook even the worst storytelling craftmanship.

So no wonder they make for bad movies, they're not very good stories in the first place

dorm41baggins:
I take issue with this. While it may not be true for everybody, if you have a vivid imagination, a good book will move you just as profoundly as a good movie.

From a personal point of view I totally agree with you, my imagination is often too vivid, enter Doom storyline sequences. But generally speaking what I said applies.

the antithesis:
I hear this a lot and I do not agree with it.

Not the best quote in the world but you get the idea.

Anyway, I see your point but for the most part the writer him/herself will design the plot to play out in a very particular way. In films it can either be introduced throughout the course of the film, or in one big chunk at the start with the rest of film just building on it, whereas in games the whole process needs to be completely different.

First there needs to be enough of an introduction and backstory to get the gamer interested enough to spend the obligatory four or five(Well... nowadays more like 20 minutes...) hours playing the game, from then on the plot can be introduced and explored a plethora of different ways, much on par with a book in its degree of possible detail.

the antithesis:
Really? I thought the first Mortal Kombat movie was terrible.

Really? I thought it was awesome. The second was terrible, I was actually ashamed for renting it when the inevitable mud wrestling scene came around. It's pretty hard to shame a drunk person. Pretty hard indeed.

The problem isn't just that the movies suck, or that it's our fault for wanting them. Working with videogame plots must be a nightmare but going the route that most directors and writers go with game to movie translation is outright wrong. Same with most movies about comic books and even just regular old books. Trying to adapt the game, or comic book's story to a wider audience takes finesse and careful planning so that it can be a well thought out film and also that the original subject matter isn't lost in translation. Only a few films have been able to pull it off so far. But that's just the same as any other source material out there. We gamers are just very picky and very vocal about it. Trust me, there are lots of crappy movies out there that have nothing to do with videogames.

i thought max payne was pretty average, not bad, not good, but it was the best game-based movie i saw. and to anyone reading this; i know thats not saying much

I think the best hope we have for a great game to movie conversion is Peter Jacksons Halo. Ok, Halo isn't plot heavy, but its Peter Jackson, damnit! Peter Jackson, who cut the crap from the over, over, over, over long books, who re-did King Kong so well people really cared about a CGI ape! Seriously, he could take a turd and turn it into 2 hours of movie gold.

I think the biggest problem is the lack of enthusiasm on the writers and/or the directors half.
You clearly get the feeling watching these movies that neither have played the damn game they're basing their movie of, only trusting in a general plot outline and that the visual department will mask their lack of professionalism.
Modern game movies, like superhero movies of the past and even some films based on literary work seem to be phoned in rather than made with sincere intentions.
And while they are still making a buck out of hopeful, all-to-eager to forget fans and casual movie lovers they serve their purpose just fine.

Hollywood just sucks in general, it's as simple as that. Sure, they can't make good video game movies, but they generally can't make good movies of any other kind anymore either. The best films to come out of Hollywood were released in 1939 and it's been a long, slippery slope downhill ever since with only a few exceptions.

Another problem is that video game stories are craaaap. Even the best ones. Deus Ex's conspiracy theory nonsense would be laughed out of any cinema if anyone dared make a film of it, the plot contains so many cliches it's as if the writers were having a competition between themselves to see how many tired conspiracy theories they could squeeze into one game. A film based in the Bioshock universe might work (if nothing else, the setting is mildly original) but not if the plot is anything like Bioshock's. Half Life 2 has reasonable characters (except for Freeman of course) but the plot isn't even as good as a sci-fi B-movie from the 1950s. And don't get me started on Halo. The problem with most video game plots is you always end up, in one way or another, "saving/changing the world". Even in the Thief games, the bitterly cynical Garrett somehow always ends up saving the world instead of just robbing it. And "saving/changing the world" is BORING and does not make good cinema. Think of all the films you've ever seen where the world gets saved at the end of it. They all suck, each and every one. Why? Because you know, that as soon as the plot heads in the "world needs to be saved/changed" direction, that the world WILL be saved/changed, and all other outcomes are impossible. The film becomes completely predictable. For example, you know as soon as Bruce Willis hears about the rock heading towards Earth in Armageddon, that he's going to stop it somehow. So any attempt by the director to create 'tension' or 'drama' is pointless, because we already know how the film will end about five minutes after we've started watching it. But when watching a GOOD film, you should never be that sure about what is going to happen next, or how things are going to turn out. That's a value completely at odds with video games where you want to "win", so "winning" becomes the goal, and you know what will happen, you will win (eventually, if you keep playing long enough). This is why the classic, "Academy Award for best picture"-winning movie based on a video game will not happen in our lifetimes. There would have to be a radical shift in video game design methodology for this to come about, which I can't see happening as video games are becoming more and more conservative year after year.

BonsaiK:
Another problem is that video game stories are craaaap. Even the best ones.

[snip]

I can't possibly agree with you more. Many games have stories that are 'good for a videogame', but very, very few are hold any sway if looked at objectively and for precisely the reasons you state. That's not to say there aren't genuinely good stories, but you won't find them on the popular, mainstream IPs because the mainstream IPs are largely shooters and action games trying to imitate action movies. Outside of that grouping there are, I think, some good gems to be found - Grim Fandango, for one, Psychonauts (or so I'm told) and there's probably even some that aren't written by Tim Schafer, somewhere...).

BonsaiK:
Hollywood just sucks in general, it's as simple as that. Sure, they can't make good video game movies, but they generally can't make good movies of any other kind anymore either. The best films to come out of Hollywood were released in 1939 and it's been a long, slippery slope downhill ever since with only a few exceptions.

...

Such fallacies are traditionally held by old men and overly dramatic teens. There are always people like you just as there are always the "exceptions," the fact is the only pre 1940 films that anyone recalls in any degree are the "exceptions" (ie the good ones).

Concerning plots you're also very wrong. Why are you wrong?

Transformers

Don't deny it, this isn't about you. Whether or not you like something has no bearing on how good it is.

It's a lot simpler than this explanation. You see, the producers know that fans of the game will turn out to see the movie no matter how bad it is, and Hollywood never puts effort or quality into anything it doesn't have to.

"Nobody's going to nominate Karl Urban for an Oscar but Doom should probably get more credit than it does for serving up a passable action flick based on one of the most famously thin game concepts to ever land on a PC."

I'm pretty sure Karl just grew few inches. Well said sir.

You know, it occurs to me that at its core, a story should simply be good without qualifications. I think the Mortal Kombat movie was good because there was enough meat on the original story to produce a decent movie. I mean, the game certainly didn't have that story contained in it, but by drawing on the larger works of the universe, a decent movie got made.

Bioshock is a good story, and if you can keep people interested in what happens next, they'll watch it. Why throw in splicers and Big Daddy's for "action's" sake? Who said there had to be action? Bioshock is about the slow decay of a idealist utopian society as it is destroyed by scientific advance that was not tempered by ethical considerations and greed. It also happens to take place in a visually stunning modern Atlantis. Tell me that story isn't a thousand times more interesting than Valkyrie's "Kill Hitler" plot?

It's contemporary and relevant. Characters like Atlas and Andrew Ryan, given powerful dialogue with the numerous supporting characters who were amazingly well developed in the game, the stirrings of a civil war as this Utopia crushes itself under the weight of its own genius. Criminal Organizations running contraband in on submarines. Jabbering mental patients on the rise thanks to ADAM. The dreadful experimental process for Plasmids. All that's just background as Ryan and Fontaine grapple with or disregard their plans for the innocent girls of the Little Sister Orphanage. Now, close the movie with disturbing images of them torturing little girls into "Sisters" and the creation of the first Big Daddy.

THAT's the movie I want to see. It's undeniably Bioshock, but it's not the game in film form. It's more important and more creative than that.

Eldritch Warlord:

BonsaiK:
Hollywood just sucks in general, it's as simple as that. Sure, they can't make good video game movies, but they generally can't make good movies of any other kind anymore either. The best films to come out of Hollywood were released in 1939 and it's been a long, slippery slope downhill ever since with only a few exceptions.

...

Such fallacies are traditionally held by old men and overly dramatic teens. There are always people like you just as there are always the "exceptions," the fact is the only pre 1940 films that anyone recalls in any degree are the "exceptions" (ie the good ones).

Concerning plots you're also very wrong. Why are you wrong?

Transformers

Don't deny it, this isn't about you. Whether or not you like something has no bearing on how good it is.

I'm neither old, teenage, nor very dramatic. However I would say that plenty of people remember the movies of 1939 and the general consensus among film buffs is that Hollywood peaked at this time. (Actually 1999 was an unusually good year for Hollywood films too, but generally speaking it's been grim pickings for the last 40 years or so.)

Not sure what your point is about Transformers. I haven't seen it, but I've heard it's great.

BonsaiK:

I'm neither old, teenage, nor very dramatic. However I would say that plenty of people remember the movies of 1939 and the general consensus among film buffs is that Hollywood peaked at this time. (Actually 1999 was an unusually good year for Hollywood films too, but generally speaking it's been grim pickings for the last 40 years or so.)

Not sure what your point is about Transformers. I haven't seen it, but I've heard it's great.

Maybe '39 was the best year for movies in movie history but that doesn't mean that the general quality of movies has been spiraling generally downward since. Your "grim pickings" link basically just moans about little more than commercialization. I would argue that the desire to make money doesn't preclude good work.

The end of a golden age doesn't mean what comes after is worse (in most cases, such as the Golden Age of Exploration the activity after is in fact better) it just means there's less. The achievements of the present may be less impressive than those of the past but only because we're amazed such simple people could do those things (give it ~50 and people will wonder how the frack such idiots made things as great as we have).

My point with Transformers is that it's held to be a great movie despite it's rather poor and cliche plot.

zralbot:
Yes, I hear what you're all saying. (No, I don't actually, but let's just roll with it.) Mortal Kombat was nothing more than a rehashed version of Enter the Dragon. What's wrong with that? Given the relative paucity of plot in the various MK variations, it's unavoidable that some deviance (i.e., linearity) will occur. Also, since you're going to be mining the genre tropes, why not ride the coattails of the guy (Bruce Lee, ftw) that invented the freaking genre in the first place?

I think you've touched on another point here: these days most games are trying to mimic movies anyway, and most of them come across as watered-down versions of the films they're imitating. This is partly because there are a lot of crappy game writers, but also because of the nature of the medium: an interactive medium with multiple potential narratives open to the players (especially in open world games) is not going to be as cohesive as a passive story that expects nothing from its audience but to sit back and watch. Other commenters have mentioned the thin plots and characterizations of most video games.

For what it's worth, I liked the first MK film too. And to be fair to the filmmakers, the whole tournament concept a la Enter the Dragon or Bloodsport is really the only plot that lets a medley of very different fighters get into one-on-one fights that makes any sense. I found the Dead or Alive movie to be surprisingly fun as well. The game was about two things: hot chicks and cool fight moves, and the movie delivered both, but the comic banter between Tina Armstrong and her father was pretty amusing too (even if the actor playing Armstrong Sr. doesn't look near old enough to be Jaime Pressly's dad). There was even a shoutout to DOA Volleyball. By no means a great film, but there are far worse ways to kill 90 minutes.

Good video game movies will come.

It took awhile, but comic book movies became popular and fun. Nearly a decade later, the Dark Knight arrived.

It will happen, just give it time.

I think one big problem, and I think Doom is a perfect example of this, is that gamers want a visual walk-through. Maybe not all, and I certainly can't speak for everyone, but almost everyone I've talked to really want just that. We don't want a change in the story. That's a big reason why Mortal Kombat was a decent movie (at least the first one); It didn't have a story to follow. The first few games were pure fighting, so all you had to do was include the character's signature moves and people are happy, almost regardless of the storyline.

When you make a movie based on a game, there are of course some changes that need to be made. No one can deny that, because a lot of the "game" time will be lost. It may take someone days, weeks, or months (depending on the length of the game and how often said person plays) for someone to finish a game, but movie producers have to tell the story in three hours at most, and it would have to be a really great movie to be worth three hours.

So let's go back to Doom for a moment. Obviously, a lot of the navigating and puzzle solving had to be cut but did they have to change the origins of the demons? No, they didn't. So why did they? For some reason movie makers try to make it different from the game for the sake of being different, and I think there is the inherent flaw. Most gamers don't want the story changed, they want a pure form of the game story put up on the big screen that includes some of the more memorable aspects (i.e. weapons, moves, characters, etc.), but that's never what's made, so we come away unhappy.

Ciran:
I think one big problem, and I think Doom is a perfect example of this, is that gamers want a visual walk-through. Maybe not all, and I certainly can't speak for everyone, but almost everyone I've talked to really want just that.

Ironically(?), I think the movie that did this the best was Silent Hill, well, at least the first part (up to the whole screamy blackout stuff). It looked like it was ripped directly from the game... even the tricycle was in the same place.

I remember actually liking the Wing Commander movie.
I remember the Doom movie being terrible.
Resident Evil was okay (only saw the first one.)
Mortal Kombat movie was mediocre except for the fight scene with the trees, if I recall.

Duke Nukem, Mechwarrior, Zelda, I could run off a list of games that could be awesome movies.

The problem is that the directors and actors haven't played them, haven't seen them, haven't heard of them, and therefore only see the character motivation as generic..and only portray it as generic.

Sylocat:
It's a lot simpler than this explanation. You see, the producers know that fans of the game will turn out to see the movie no matter how bad it is, and Hollywood never puts effort or quality into anything it doesn't have to.

Sad but undeniably true. I am 100% guilty.

I didn't mind the Doom movie to be honest, I went in with very little expectations and therefore was pleasantly surprised that the few I did have were actually met.
I liked Mortal Kombat too, there wasn't a hell of a lot to it but there didn't need to be. The games didn't have a whole lot to them either, they were just fun.

 Pages 1 2 NEXT

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Registered for a free account here