Fact #1: In the current economy, Hollywood movie executives are largely afraid to stick their necks out for anything. No one wants to be the guy whose advice is to blame for getting the studio to spend money on an expensive failure. This is why we’re currently inundated with remakes and adaptations – making your greenlight recommendation based on “the original material already made X amount of money!” comes with less personal blame potential than “I think this should get made.” Even if the original material is a line of toys, or a boardgame.
Fact #2: Sooner or later, they are going to run out of comic book superheroes who’re worthy of their own movies – though, hopefully, not before I get to see a live-action Iron Fist, or Christina Hendricks in a Power Girl uniform.
Fact #3: Prince of Persia is making decent money, and garnering mostly decent reviews.
Conclusion: We’re only a few years away from a possible deluge of high end videogame adaptations. It’ll likely be mostly current hot franchises as opposed to more established fare – much in the way that we got Spawn before we got X-Men – which means a lot of hot young stars will be lining up to audition for the coveted role of “largely-unseen-man-perpetually-holding-gun-within-his-own-field-of-vision.” But, then, you never can tell.
In any case, here’s a bunch of games I’d really, really really rather not have to sit through as movies – with the caveat that “movies” in this case refers to big-budget, blockbuster format Hollywood films. Anime adaptations? Lower-budget, fan-focused versions made in (just for one example) certain games’ native Japan? That I’m more open to.
In any case, here we go:
Left 4 Dead: Rule #1: If the only narrative appeal of a game is getting to play something that’s already been a movie or a bunch of movies, it makes no sense to make a movie of it. Zombies are over, unless your name is George Romero.
Call of Duty: See above. The WWII COD games are all about letting you play through Saving Private Ryan. No way is a WWII COD movie going to be anything but a pale copy of that. The Modern Warfare series could work if you filmed it as a brutal satire of war movies, which is the only context in which I could imagine taking MW’s ridiculous Tom-Clancy-and-Michael-Bay-trading-24-fan-fiction story style.
Shadow of the Colossus: Wait! At least hear me out before you send the angry letter.
I love this game. One of the things I love about it is the way it tells a compelling story in the context of a fundamentally game-ish setup of “go to X, kill Y” missions. Too often, games seeking to tell good stories assume that means “cinematic” stories, i.e. sandwiching pieces of a movie in between the gameplay. Shadow worked without going that route, but as such its narrative of repeating monster battles is wholly unfilmable, except maybe as a short.
Could it be done? Sure, but it would mean adding characters and subplots, diluting the purity that made the game itself special. I doubt that’s what most of its fans would want to see happen.
Uncharted: Of all the stuff on this list, this is the one I’m most torn about including. I don’t have a PS3, so I haven’t experienced either Uncharted all the way through, so it’s possible that content I didn’t get to would make it a “must-film” franchise. Not likely, but possible.
What makes me ultimately include it is the knowledge that the stuff I like about the games, mostly summarized as “the stuff that feels like a movie,” wouldn’t be as impressive as a movie. Meanwhile, the stuff that would translate would probably be the stuff I didn’t like, i.e. everything having to do with Nathan Drake, the most inhumanly obnoxious douchebag of a game hero outside of Leisure Suit Larry.
Seriously, here’s a quick bit of calculus: Tomb Raider minus Angelina Jolie plus Dane Cook. Sound like a good idea to anyone? Anyone? Didn’t think so. And while we’re at it…
Tomb Raider: Dressing Angelina Jolie up in form-fitting Lara Croft cosplay turned out to be a fantastic idea. Building whole movies around it? Not so much. And as we won’t likely see another uniquely sexy/deep beauty like Jolie for a long time, there’s no reason to try this again anytime soon.
Monkey Island: There. This is for everyone whose already halfway through the snarky retort about “only ‘attacking’ modern games.” Yes, Monkey Island rules. Yes, it’d be interesting to see who could pull off GuyBrush Threepwood. But a fourth Pirates of the Caribbean already kind of sounds like a mistake, and what could only end up being a POTC wannabe would probably face similar hurdles. Sometimes it’s just not meant to be.
God of War: I’ll stipulate this: a faithful God of War movie could be fun. An R-rated cousin to Clash of The Titans with a $200 million+ budget to realize all the creatures and locales of the games? Sure, sounds like fun. Probably can’t do much to make Kratos even passably interesting as a lead character, but probably fun, sure.
That movie isn’t going to get made. The only way to finance what it would cost to faithfully translate even a fraction of GoW’s tapestry would be to shoot for a box office-friendly PG-13, at which point you lose the already shaky incentive to do this instead of Clash of The Titans 2. And in either case, I have profound doubts about building a whole movie around one-note badass characters like Kratos.
Final Fantasy: Not that anyone has any reason to try again…
At this point, trying to base a movie on Final Fantasy – unless you’re basing it on a specific entry in the series, and even that only came out semi-good – is like trying to base a movie on a scented candle: The appeal isn’t really a story or even an idea, but a particular mood. Final Fantasy games from about VII on have mostly been selling a branded aura: “Buy this game and we’ll garauntee lots and lots of turn-based progression through a mist of new-agey techno-fantasy gobbledygook.” Some people still dig this, and that’s fine. But it ain’t a movie.
Monster Hunter: I like dinosaur movies better when the dinosaurs get to win. That’s the beginning and end of my argument on this one.
Halo: Oh, don’t act like you’re even a little surprised.
Back when I reviewed Halo Legends, I made my feelings about this franchise pretty plain: So far as I can see, the only way to make a decent movie of Halo is to throw out everything but the basic backstory and visuals and build something worthwhile from scratch.
No, not even one based on Fall of Reach.
Now, I stress I’m not saying that there isn’t an audience for what amounts to fetishized military hardware porn in sci fi trappings staffed by a roster of faceless, defiantly one-dimensional badasses. Clearly, there’s certainly a big enough audience for the games. I’m just saying I’d rather not see it taking up space at the multiplex. Could a good movie be made out of Halo? Sure, but you’d have to find a more interesting protagonist than Master Chief, and have more than just gratuitous alien fragging going on. In fact, it’s highly probable that you’d have to turn it into something that a majority of Halo fans would outright despise or order to come even close to a good movie, and even then, you’d still probably only wind up with a 2nd rate Starship Troopers.
To be continued on a more positive note, next week in
Part II” “Film These Games!”
P.S. Yes, I’ve seen that Mortal Kombat Rebirth thing, and I think it looks like ass. Yeah, the MK franchise could use some improvement. Y’know what improvement doesn’t look like? A Saw knockoff.
Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you’ve heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.