The Video Game and Film Crossover

The movie industry is huge business. The amount of money that producers have to shell out for actors (half the budget right there, if you’re looking for A-listers), writers, special effects, crew and marketing is astronomical. That’s why you see less and less original work coming out of Hollywood. Any film requiring a budget over 50 million (I’m guesstimating here) must have an installed audience to guarantee box office sales. That means more movies based on existing work like a previous movie (remakes), book or other work like a video game. It makes sense and it’s smart business. What I don’t get is why video game movies have to suck so much.

First, let’s handle the problem of cross-media adaptation. Video games are highly interactive, therefore there’s going to be some enjoyment lost for the gamer who goes to see the movie version of his or her favorite game since the acts on the gamer, rather than with the gamer. I’m OK with that idea and I think most gamers are as well. The real pitfall in the translation is that most video games have weak story lines. Or, if they do have a decent story, it doesn’t follow the typical three-act structure that most films swear by. This forces the screenwriter to create a bunch of characters and story beats that never existed in the game in order to compensate, which can only disappoint fans of the source material.

The other problem is that video games – and the video game community as whole – still isn’t considered to be sophisticated. By and large, people of that opinion are correct. Many, if not most, gamers are comprised of children, teenagers and people who prefer reality television over scripted story. It seems as though screenwriters and/or producers look at the demographics and decide, “Well, our target audience won’t know the difference between a good movie and a bad one. Let’s just throw something together.” While I agree that there’s the fringe population that actually liked Double Dragon the movie, I think that for the most part, your average moviegoer can tell if a movie sucks.

I think this is the one thing that the likes of Uwe Boll can’t understand.The man has singlehandedly ruined a generation’s opinion of all films based on video games. He’s baffled us time and time again with inexplicable directorial choices and errors in movies like House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark, Bloodrayne and the recent In the Name of the King. And yet, with each movie, he gets a better cast! I don’t know about you, but watching Oscar-Winner Ben “Mahatma Gandhi” Kingsley play a vampire in Bloodrayne was tough to watch.

And yet, some filmmakers know how to handle the brand. I enjoyed the Tombraider movies, for instance. Silent Hill was also very entertaining. Let’s not forget DOOM, which I think took the best care of the video game audience to date. The extended first-person perspective scene was a very nice touch. Still, in all of these examples, the creators did their best to make the movies enjoyable as movies, even for people who aren’t familiar with the games; that has to be the primary goal if video game filmmakers want to escape this stigma of “cash cow milkers.”

Keep playing and keep watching.

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