Dave’s Cultamania: Movies based on Video Games
With the recent announcement at SDCC that the video game masterpiece that is The Last Of Us has been optioned for a 2016/2017 movie adaption (courtesy of horror legend Sam Raimi and video gaming’s newest messiah Neil Druckmann), my immediate reaction was actually one of dread. Not because I think that the concept of TLOU wouldn’t suit the movie realm – far from it, the game is one of the most cinematic, intelligent, action-packed and emotionally fulfilling games that I’ve ever played; and could easily be turned into a high-concept and heart-wrenching horror/thriller, if kept in the right hands (which I think Naughty Dog, Raimi and Robert Tappert definitely are). It’s just ‘THE FEAR’ always comes into play in these situations.
The fear is what I feel every time I hear the words “video game movie adaption”. This fear has been built up by years of Hollywood sensing an opportunity to make a bucket-load of money by taking whatever game has been catching the public consciousness, slapping a reasonable budget in the hands of a stylised music-video director, and letting him/her run riot. Cue a ton of hype and plenty of over-excited fans of the game wetting themselves in anticipation, only to be emotionally crushed when they discover the movie is generally a piece of shit.
Why is this normally the case? Why do the directors/producers execute the concept so badly? Is it because condensing a 8-10 hour long game into a 2 hour movie is an impossible and thankless task? Is it because the Hollywood elite aren’t normally gamers, don’t understand the normal perimeters of a game and attempt to change the aesthetic so it fits neatly into the confines of a movie? Or is it because a video game is by it’s very nature an interactive experience (where the gamer is directly involved in directing and manipulating the narrative by making various choices), and not the passive experience that sitting watching a movie or tv show generally is (the course of the movie or show is already pre-determined)?
Whatever the reasons, the majority of video game movies suck!. Granted there are a small few exceptions. With that in mind I decided to put out the call to some of my friends on Twitter (@dfoy79) for some suggestions of the worst and er… most bearable movies based on video games, which I re-watched and reviewed for this article. I’ve picked five mainly because they’re based on some of the most famous (or infamous) games ever released, but there’s a ton more which I might return to in a few months.
So here goes:
Super Mario Bros (1993)
Why in the hell did Shigeru Miyamoto and Nintendo allow this to happen? They had already subjected us to ‘The Video Game Kid’, a late 80s stinker starring Fred Savage and Christian Slater, which was nothing more than a 90min advert for ‘Super Mario Bros 3’ (and was famously sampled by ‘Nintendocore’ legends HORSE The Band on their song ‘Cutsman’), and so the next logical step was to allow Hollywood to adapt (in the loosest sense of the word) their most famous game, and the most famous video game character since Pac-Man, into a live action film.
To call this movie a piece of shit is a disservice to faeces – let me put it this way: if we could compare movies to actual games, this would be the Atari ‘ET: The Extra Terrestrial’ of movies (and should also have ended up in a landfill somewhere in Nevada).
Seeing as this was Hollywood’s first attempt at making a movie based on a video game, I can understand some of the mistakes that were made – video games up to that point (late 80’s/early 90’s) were specifically designed to be playable in short bursts (20-40mins at a time – unlike the 10 hour plus epic games of today) and so required little or no real plot, whereas a film relies on its plot to maintain a viewers interest for 90-120mins. In this case, the film-makers felt the need to shoe-horn in a worthless and ill conceived plot (concerning a meteor splitting Earth in two, and alternative evolution?!), while not actually paying attention to what made the games popular and successful.
This is particularly relevant in the sense that both main stars,Bob Hoskins (Mario) and John Leguizamo (Luigi), seem lost in this movies – no wonder they reportedly turned to booze to get them through it’s filming. The humour and innocence of the games is almost non-existent here, instead both brothers are horrible movie stereotypes: Mario is a gruff, unlikable bully while Luigi is an angsty little bitch. Even Dennis Hopper is wasted – playing the main villain should be bread-and-butter for him. If he were to have played Bowser (or King Koopa, as he’s known in this) as Frank Booth with a fake rubber turtle shell, the film would still be a million times better. But he seems to be more interested in snake tongues and weird facial ticks than the delivery of his lines.
Apparently the studio spent over 50 million dollars on extensive sets and props – I have no idea where the money went as everything looks like total crap. At no time do you feel that you’re watching anything other than a cheap indoor film set (probably a warehouse), and that the props are plastic tack (in fact, the guns that the bros use are simply repainted SNES Superscopes).
To be blunt, ‘Super Mario Bros’ is devoid of any of the excitement, fun, pace and loveable characterisation of the games it was based on, and it was on that basis that it bombed horribly both critically and commercially. Avoid this fiasco like the plague.
Street Fighter (1994)
While it can be said that the ‘Street Fighter’ movie is seen as a bit of a cult hit amongst the gaming community, JCVD fans and those who get a sick pleasure out of watching bad movies (its still shown on Channel 5 at least once a month!) it’s still one of the worst video game movie adaptions ever made.
To put it bluntly, the movie makes absolutely no sense. Each and every SF character is altered until they bear no little resemblance to their game counterpart (and they all seem to become annoying early 90’s stereotypes, or ridiculous comedy-relief in the case of Zangief) – plus for a movie based on martial-arts/fighting game, there aren’t many real martial arts action scenes. Most of the time it’s just annoying dialogue and the odd shot of JCVD ordering members of his army around. It’s a total waste of the Capcom source material.
Written and directed by Steven Da Souza, who wrote some of the most successful action films of the 80s: ‘Commando’, ‘Die Hard’ and ‘48hrs’, as well as some of the biggest flops of all time: ‘Hudson Hawk’, ‘Beverly Hills Cop 3′ and ‘Judge Dread’ (Keep the helmet on FFS!!!), this film could’ve swung either way – unfortunately instead of being a big dumb funny action movie, it’s actually a big steaming pile of turd.
On the positive side, the JCVD plays his part in the film perfectly, not in terms of his actual acting ability (which is as limited as they come), but in the sense that he doesn’t try to take himself too seriously. Every roundhouse kick and dropped pun is delivered with just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek, while his natural ability to headline a low budget action movie is one of the two things that are actually worth watching in this turkey – the other being Kylie Minogue’s arse (sorry, I’m not trying to misogynous – but it is true haha).
I know that this film was purposely made to appeal to the mostly teenage gamer demographic, meaning that the violence is pretty tame for the early 1990s , but I can’t help that they missed a trick. JCVD was a MASSIVE star at that time – ‘Timecop’ and ‘Universal Soldier’ being major box office successes – why not just apply the Street Fighter formula to the JCVD action template (I mean, he already covered the whole fighting tournament storyline with ‘Bloodsport’ and ‘Kickboxer’) – which would mean proper bloody violence as well as the other JCVD staples (larger-than-life villains, JCVD doing the splits, JCVD screaming in slow motion, etc…).
This was also Raul Julia’s last film before his untimely death and although his performance as M. Bison is full of dark, and almost sinister, wit and bravado, it’s impossible not to notice how extremely sick and thin he looks (so much so that they’ve had to fill his costume out with an obvious muscle suit, which makes him look like a child who has put on a few layers of their parents clothing during a particular cold Winter) – it’s unfortunate as it means the movie lacks the all-powerful and intimidating villain that an action movie like this demands.
To say I was disappointed when I first saw ‘Street Fighter’ would be an understatement, and although there have been a few excellent animated shorts and movies based on SF – as well as some even more shocking live action versions (‘Legend OF Chun Li’ deserves a full essay on how unbelievably shite it is!) – it’s quite shocking that for a more enjoyable and thoroughly faithful adaption of a Beat-Em-Up game, actually came from Street Fighter 2’s lesser cousin.
Mortal Kombat (1995)
Originally released in 1992 for the arcade, and quickly ported to consoles (SNES and SEGA Mega Drive) the first Mortal Kombat game was a major commercial success, with its rotoscoped character models and over-the-top finishing moves proving an alternative to the 90’s king of the beat-em-ups Street Fighter 2: The World Warrior. Many a Saturday afternoon was spent attempting to freeze, roast or rip spinal cords from choppily animated opponents in front off some of the most clichéd game backgrounds ever (dungeon…check, volcano… check, big-ass evil looking temple… of course).
But with Hollywood having already massacred Super Mario Bros, Double Dragon and Street Fighter (please see above), it was on the look out for its next victim – that was Mortal Kombat. Boasting a plot that is essentially ‘Enter The Dragon’ with some supernatural mumbo-jumbo (alternative realities, etc…) tacked on, and directed by one of worst film-makers of the last 20 years, Paul WS Anderson (see ‘Death Race’, ‘Three Musketeers’ and ‘AVP’), it’s perhaps a surprise that the film is actually pretty decent.
If you’re going to make a movie based on a beat-em-up game, wouldn’t it be a necessity to have some actual fighting in it? MK, unlike ‘Street Fighter’ has action in spades. In fact, Anderson has crammed in so much fighting that there is very little time for actual plot, which makes the film all the more fun. MK fans don’t want lengthy dialogue or a needless love story; they want Sub-Zero kicking the shit out of Johnny Cage! This film is also important as one of the first Hollywood films to adopt Hong Kong martial arts techniques – its use of wires, alternative camera angles and subtle CGI adding a balletic and supernatural aspect to the combat, years before ‘The Matrix’ popularised the genre.
The film also holds up well compared to ‘Street Fighter’ in that it tries to portray its characters as they are in game, and doesn’t attempt to change them to fit the confines of the storyline and budget: movie Scorpion looks and fights like video game Scorpion; movie Goro looks and fights like video game Goro – movie E. Honda is a Hawaiian news cameraman who throws shitty punches; movie Sagat is a native American sidekick in a three-piece suit who does zero fighting.
All in all Mortal Kombat does everything it should – its colourful, brash, tightly paced, action-packed and, above all else, it’s a lot of fun. It’s a popcorn action film which works because it sticks closely to the game, while not taking itself too seriously – unlike ‘Street Fighter’ and any of Uwe Boll’s monstrosities.
Alone In The Dark (2005)
Speaking of Uwe Boll…
Based on one of the most famous and respected survival horror games of all time, the only scary thing that ‘master film-maker’ Uwe Boll manages to squeeze into this shambles of a film is Tara Reid’s plastic face. Seriously, how does she get acting work? In fact, how does Stephen Dorff still get work? Or Christian ‘Count Von Count’ Slater? I get the feeling that Boll attempted to cast every shit actor in Hollywood for this – maybe Gary Busey, Adam Sandler and Nic Cage were busy.
For those who don’t know, Uwe Boll is the Cecil B. Demille of crappy video game movies – House Of The Dead, Dungeon Siege, Blood Rayne, Postal and Far Cry have all been bastardised with one-dimensional characters, incomprehensible dialogue, and ill-conceived plots. If anyone is unaware of his undoubted ‘talent’ for being a total douchebag, watch the post-9/11 trailer for Postal and think how lucky we are that this guy didn’t get his hands on Bioshock, Metal Gear or Dead Space (which for a while it looked as though he would).
The film itself plays like a two-hour long episode of The X Files and virtually ignores the plot of the AITD games, instead becoming a Relic-like creature feature action film, with some pointless HP Lovecraft lore thrown in. Not sticking to the games basic premise makes no sense whatsoever – AITD always had one of the most simple yet effective mcguffins in gaming history: the hero’s use of light (specifically a torch) to protect themselves from the monsters in the dark. Admittedly this has been used in other recent horror films (Pitch Black and Darkness Falls spring to mind), but if you’re going to have a film called ‘Alone In the Dark’ at least try to include some chills, tension and well… darkness! Instead we have a clichéd action film that shoots first and asks questions later – plus the dialogue seems to have written by someone whose only exposure to the English language is late 80s Steven Seagal and Chuck Norris movies.
As mentioned previously, the casting is absolutely abysmal. Tara Reid is cast as a no-nonsense university supernatural expert – not very believable, seeing as she delivers her lines with the intellectual ability of a tin of Spam. Stephen Dorff, on the other hand, practically eats the screen as the leader of a government special-forces team. This would have been plausible where it not for the fact that Dorff stands at about 4 foot 9 in height – don’t most US special-forces have a minimum height and weight limit? For example, “you must be this height to commit atrocities in the name of America”.
All in all, this is as close to total garbage as you could get. I really didn’t want this to turn into an anti Uwe Boll piece, but how the hell is he still able to make movies?! According to IMDB, his films make on average only 10% of their original budget back. – this hasn’t stopped him from releasing 21 films since AITD. Compare this with Terry Gilliam who, due to funding issues, was only able to make 4 films in the same period. Seriously, has Boll sold his soul to the devil? How else is he still getting funding? A popular urban myth (which could well be true, knowing Boll) is that an ideal project of his is a movie based on the life of Josef Fritzl – as horrifying as it sounds, I’m sure it’ll be more entertaining than ‘Alone In The Dark’.
Silent Hill (2006)
From one extreme to another. From a piece of worthless trash to a surprisingly faithful and well-meaning adaption – and an adaption of a game that meant an awful lot to me as a young gamer and horror movie fan.
Silent Hill was a survival horror game first released for the PSone back in 1999, which follows the story of a recent car crash victim as he searches for his missing daughter through the empty shell of a US town, all while fighting to survive against a mass of repugnant monsters, mysterious townspeople and various apparitions intent on keeping the dark secrets of the town hidden.
The game is, quite rightly, seen as one of the defining games of that era of horror gaming. It helped move the idea of a horror game away from the ‘running and shooting, with the odd puzzle’ template of games such as Resident Evil and House Of The Dead, and introduced the new wave of the psychological horror game. Gore and action became less essential, while there was a new emphasis on tension, fear and atmosphere – this shift was obviously influenced by the explosion in popularity of Japanese psychological horror movies such as Ringu, Ju-On and Dark Water in the West. If it weren’t for Silent Hill, there would be no Fatal Frame, F.E.A.R., Dead Space or Slender.
I was hooked on the game (as well as its incredible sequel), and had always hoped that someone would have the guts to attempt a film adaption, and hoped that it wouldn’t stray too far from the plot and tone of the game, and avoid Hollywood horror clichés.
Did we get that? Well, yes and no.
Firstly, the movie is pitched firmly as a psychological thriller/horror, which I definitely appreciated. Yes there are moments of pure gore, and they attempt to throw in a few ‘jump’ scares, but director Christopher Gans seems to prefer introducing an unsettling and dread-like tone, rather than following the norm and letting it become a carnival ghost-house on celluloid.
It is also visually stunning. Whether the movie is focussing on (spoilers!!) the ghost-like ‘daytime’ version of Silent Hill in which our now female protagonist finds herself in initially (with its fog, tiny specs of ash and colour-palette of cold blue), the hell like ‘night-time’ version (with it black industrial surfaces and the red flashes of fire throughout) or the ‘real world’ version (with its rain-soaked greens, browns and whites) – the attention to detail is outstanding. This is further helped by subtle CGI and excellent make-up effects throughout. This is definitely a film that should be seen in Hi-Def. The sound design and score/soundtrack are also excellent, using many of the original musical cues and sound effects used in the first three games. I challenge any fan of the games not to go a little mental when they hear the iconic air-raid siren for the first time.
The only issues that I had were the slightly flat and confusing ending, random moments of pointless exposition, Sean Bean’s terrible accent, and the inclusion of some of the games most well-known creatures/villains (Red Pyramid, The Creepers, The Nurses) out of context – they were obviously trying to pay fan service to gamers, but taking creatures that had a back-story (spoilers!!) in that they are meant to be physical manifestations of the previously male protagonist’s repressed sexuality and regret; and instead has them as big scary monsters that just happen to be there, kind of ruined some of their mystique. Although I’m sure the casual movie viewer wouldn’t give a crap anyway.
To sum up, I found Silent Hill as interesting and stylish as I’d hoped it would be, and although it lacked the subtly and overall tension of playing through the game, in my opinion you’d have to go a long way to find a more enjoyable yet faithful video game movie adaption.
Let’s just hope that Hollywood treats The Last Of Us, Mass Effect and Bioshock with the same care…