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8 Aug 2010

Author Feature: Video Game Movies: The Demented Runt of the Litter

Video games are great. Movies are great. However, their bastard offspring is not. On paper, the concept seems awesome: Massive action + amazing storylines + great special effects = amazing film. But it never quite works out like that...

The main reason I can think of is that most of these films remove one of the most important concepts in a film or video game: amazing storylines. Almost all video game movies rely solely on "this is a gun fight, watch how pretty we can make it", but this leaves little room for stories. Yet even this idea must have stemmed from somewhere. For this, I can blame gamers and game producers. Gamers demand constant action, and this is what game producers give. This vicious cycle continues on and on, until all that is left of a game is player-controlled action with very few cut-scenes. In turn, this gives the directors very little to work on, and so, inevitably, bad video game movies will be made.

But how do good games be made into bad movies? Well, just look at the Resident Evil games and their counterpart films. The games are notable for great stories and have become the leader in the survival horror genre. The films, on the other hand, are notable for dodgy stories and questionable CGI. Well, if we have a look at their scores, Metacritic gave Resident Evil 5 86%, with the latest film, Resident Evil: Extinction, receiving just 41%. So, why the large difference? Well, firstly, games have so much more going for them. Firstly, games are rated on gameplay, which makes this type of media so unique. However, films cannot do this. Instead, you have to watch the action unfold, which isn't as fun. I mean, how fun is it watching your friend play a game, rather than you playing it? Exactly. Films are also notably worse purely because of the source material. As almost all of video games are made using animation and computers, translating this to a live-action film is near impossible. Look at the Super Mario Brothers Movie, for example. In the game, Goombas are big-headed creatures that jump about. In the film, Goombas are small-headed men in leather jackets. Filming from such sources can be only really done by using CGI (see Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children).

Now, I've defended video game movies up til now, but a debate about this topic cannot be complete without the use of one name: Uwe Boll. Uwe is responsible for such tragedies as Bloodrayne and House of the Dead, both of which landed themselves on Time's Top 10 Worst Video Game Movies, with House of the Dead taking the top spot, and with good reason. Every time I see a video game movie advertised, I get excited, thinking that "this one will be different", but then I see the name Uwe Boll. And then I sign in disbelief, thinking "who the heck commissioned him to do another film?" Every film that he makes is always met dreadfully by the critics, and yet he still keeps coming back for more. Yes, he suffers from every single problem I have mentioned above, but he dumps a load of his own problems on top. His films also fail due to bad directing, bad acting and bad cinematography, all of which can be sorted if the actors were changed, the crew were changed, and most importantly of all, the director was changed. Even better, if the whole filming process with Uwe was stopped. Basically, his films have been around 75% responsible for the bad coverage video game movies have gotten.

Yet in the end, video game movies will always be bad. Nothing anybody can say or do (unless they animate it) will change that. The source material is too far astray from the constraints of filming using live-action. It's a bit of a shame given the amazing sequences given in games, but directors either try to stick too close to the source but are restrained by the filming process, or stray too far away that the source is no longer recognisable, leading to an uproar from fans. Either way, video game films are hard to get right, and so, in my opinion, they should just be left alone.

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