There are good video game movies, they’re just not based on video games.


Or Why Scott Pilgrim is awesome, a love letter. To anybody with even a vague interest in cinema and video games, it’s solid fact that there’s no such thing as an unequivocally good film based on a video game franchise. If Mario Bros, Tomb Raider and Final goddamn Fantasy have consistently failed to get it right, how can we expect our schlocky junk titles like Blood Rayne to do any better? Well, we can’t.

The problem isn’t with basic story format, video games almost always provide very straightforward 3 Act Structure and at least attempt a Hero’s Journey, even if they don’t deliver on it emotionally. Instead, it seems that no-one in Hollywood has found a way of compressing everything else that makes games great into a two hour, non-interactive experience.

The story is compressed, the gameplay is gone, the different functions of music in the two mediums mean that most of the original score can’t be salvaged without extensive reworking and in Hollywood they have the problem of a giant CG dragon battling the heroes taking significantly more time and money to convincingly create than in The Elder Scrolls.

Most video games read like super-expensive genre films, and therein lies another problem. Genre films aren’t held in high regard by critics because they’ve had to sit through all the terrible sci-fi and fantasy slush that’s been pumped out over the decades. That, and it seems only heart-wrenching drama is worthy of critical attention. Blade Runner was dismissed by critics for years. Blade Runner.

Even Metropolis, arguably the template from which most sci-fi films and TV are drawn was vilified for decades.

But hey, some genre movies are awesome. Some are classics. Some are cash cows. They’ll keep getting made, though probably never with the true attention and funding they deserve.

I do think there’s a trend in Hollywood, also supported by parts of the comic book industry, that’s starting to get the winning formula right. Film makers like Edgar Wright and Zack Snyder. They’re nerds, and not afraid to show it. Consider Snyder’s Sucker Punch, it took the over-the-top fantastical action and blatant sexualisation of its female characters and wrapped it a very aware bundle of sci-fi, horror and fantasy trappings to deliver a complex story with gorgeous design throughout.

The ‘collect x items’ formula we see in titles like Zelda was worked into the narrative, complete with all the symbolism and visual shorthand necessary to allow these scenes to be a place where the characters, their situations and the film’s themes can grow and be explored by those invested enough to find it.

Take the first action-fantasy sequence, in which Wise Man gives Baby Doll her weapons and then she fights off the three giant demon samurai with pistol and katana? It’s a giant dream in which she symbolically accepts and overcomes her sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather. The first samruai attacks her with a huge phallic glaive, which she breaks. Then she fights one with a minigun, the constant physical danger and her evasion of it being reminiscent of when he attempted to attack her and her sister earlier. She then dispatches this samurai with her gun, which she attempted to do to her stepfather (she’s even using the model gun). The last samurai goes down without a fight, showing that Baby Doll has conquered this inner turmoil, and is ready to move on.

Not bad for a film where a hooker attacks steampunk zombies with a giant mecha suit.

Take also Scott Pilgrim Vs the World, which shows the title character maturing and accepting responsibility for his actions and taking charge of his life through a series of video game style battles with his new beau’s seven evil exes. Though actually a comic book film and more than ready to resort to comic book inspired visuals, Edgar Wright was clever enough to know not only that the battles lent themselves more to Soul Calibur than the Fantastic Four but what to take from them.

The point tallies, explosions of coins rather than blood and corpses and super-human fighting prowess and other such paraphernalia are combined with the well-oiled cinematics and a general love of all things geek are pretty much the only way of fusing together such disparate elements.

Video game films need action (most do anyway, Monkey Island and Heavy Rain would be obvious exceptions), but they will constantly have to skirt a razor-edge balance of drama and action. My solution? Make the action the drama. Characterise it. Give it meaning, give it context. You don’t have to put up a HUD with every fistfight, nor does everything have to be some seven layer metaphor.

Hollywood needs to embrace the action and stylisation we know and love from our games instead of trying to make them play by their rules. I think there’s a game that needs to be brought to the attention of someone like Snyder or Wright. No More Heroes. Cut out half the bosses and really personalise all the characters that remain. Everything, right down to the way they fight. Now there’s a cult classic waiting to happen.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. robertlee
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 12:31:17

    Thanks for giving your ideas. I might also like to mention that video games have been actually evolving. Modern technology and innovations have helped create authentic and enjoyable games. These kind of entertainment games were not really sensible when the concept was first being tried. Just like other designs of technology, video games way too have had to grow by way of many ages. This itself is testimony to the fast growth of video games.
    I’ve observed that in the world of today, video games include the latest phenomenon with children of all ages. Occasionally it may be unattainable to drag your family away from the games. If you want the very best of both worlds, there are many educational gaming activities for kids. Thanks for your post.
    One more issue is video games usually are serious as the name indicated with the most important focus on mastering rather than enjoyment. Although, it has an entertainment feature to keep your sons or daughters engaged, each and every game is normally designed to work towards a specific expertise or curriculum, such as math or research. Thanks for your posting.
    I have realized some important things through your site post. One other point I would like to talk about is that there are several games available on the market designed specifically for preschool age little ones. They consist of pattern recognition, colors, creatures, and styles. These often focus on familiarization as an alternative to memorization. This helps to keep little ones occupied without sensing like they are learning. Thanks
    Yet another issue is that video gaming became one of the all-time greatest forms of fun for people spanning various ages. Kids play video games, and also adults do, too. Your XBox 360 is just about the favorite gaming systems for individuals that love to have hundreds of video games available to them, plus who like to relax and play live with other folks all over the world. Many thanks for sharing your opinions.

    Reply

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