Movies Born Of Games
Posted on Tuesday, July 21 @ 10:55:20 Eastern by Chris_Hudak
EX LUDUS: MOVIES BORN OF GAMES
Anybody remember that golden age (as recent as a mere 10 or so years ago, by some reckonings) when the phrase “media convergence” hadn't yet acquired an outdated, laughable creakiness, rather like the depiction of bricklike 'mobile' phones in 80s-era motion pictures? [I'm riding the information superhighway! ~Ed] Today, you're practically begging for reserved seating on the Special Bus if your creative endeavor doesn't bleed across multiple incarnative lines (The Simpsons Live Action 'The Slashening' Twitter-Feed Video Game by EA Mobile, The Radio Drama ™ --The Musical!).
These days, many gamers feel a special twinge—something hovering between electric, free-floating sexual excitement and a looming sense of impending, protracted projectile-diarrhea—when they learn that a beloved or forthcoming movie franchise is going to become a video game. But there seems to be an added element of risk when the pipes start flowing the other way; when movies are born from video games, the gamer's inner child starts nervously clenching his glutes, thinking: “Now you're touching my DREAMS, buddy.” The obvious question is: Good touch, or bad touch?
It would be pointless (and ultimately, rather depressing) to attempt to slog through a comprehensive list of all the videogame-related movies, great and small, released to date; the truly interested can skip ahead to just such a list—including an even longer one of game-movies in the works—here. There are, however, those notable handfuls of standout movies born from video games, at all levels of quality, that bear mentioning and in some rare cases viewing—the exceptional, the mainstream and entertaining (or at least, mostly harmless) and, of course, the downright miserable. Let's take a peek.
(NOTE: Just imagine, gentle reader, this writer's soul-crushing disappointment upon learning—halfway into the writing of this article—that the title “The Good, the Bad and the Boll” had already been used by another author earlier this year. Just imagine.)
S-RANK CAMPAIGNS: SAVING THE PRINCESS (OR AT LEAST MOST OF HER)
The good news is that, sometimes, the silver-screen universe is a basically decent, happy place, where good things do occasionally happen. Despite some truly valiant early efforts on the part of Hollywood to ruin the practice of translating games to films (see “E-Rank Faceplants,” below), gamers have been bestowed major motion pictures that had their hearts—if not necessarily their special effects or overall thespianism—in the right place:
Mortal Kombat, even with its cinematic pimples and quirks, holds a special place in the hearts of numerous gamers (it's a little like the bespectacled, mousy outsider dork-chick who loses the Coke-bottle glasses, teases her hair out and, in the vernacular, “cleans up nicely” in the third act of an 80s teen comedy). The cinematic MK featured a handful of notable B-list faces, a charming, stubborn inclination to fan-service, and decent (if ironically blood-free) fighting sequences. Plus, it undid—or at least, strived to undo—the disfiguring damage that had already been dealt to the whole games-to-movies thing by the mid-90s, so it deserves a slot in our nominal “best” category. Its 1997 sequel, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, however...
Like it or jam it in a thigh-holster, you can thank the original Lara Croft: Tomb Raider for kicking videogame-centric films squarely into the spotlight of mainstream respectability and—alas, this is a base but unavoidably-important element—box-office success. As Lara Croft, Angelina Jolie certainly nailed the haughty (and hottie), sexy, sophisticated stare-and-slink of the famed, well-toned videogame Indiana Jonesette; even the iffier parts of the movie were incontrovertibly easy on the eyes. As an added post-credits bonus, Tomb Raider meant that a guy could drag his girlfriend to a videogame-centric movie and exit the theater with the reasonably certainty that said GF's next Halloween costume was going to be relatively cheap, marginally functional...and awesome.
Of course, the upper-tier videogame movies to date haven't all been about obvious, broad-appeal action—some films were ready to take some chances and aim a little higher than the boobs-and-guns approach (not that there's anything wrong with that). 2006 saw the long-awaited movie adaptation of Silent Hill—a natural move to celluloid for the already-cinematic game series that redefined so-called 'survival horror, and certainly among the most polished and unorthodox (if also rather murky) of movies born of games. The production values, general acting quality, freaky visuals and fan-service levels were admirably high, and the creators weren't afraid to go for the enigmatic ending (really, could a proper Silent Hill movie have any other kind?) While a fair majority of game-movies often lack a certain critical something (budget, acting, scriptwriting, relevance to subject matter), what flaws there were in Silent Hill were minor by comparison. Indeed, save a smattering of minor missteps—mostly actress Radha Mitchell's bellowing of “Sharon!” seemingly every two minutes, and one or two really unfortunate instances of mood-breaking, unintentional humor—Silent Hill was a great video-game-to-film translation (there's already a second movie on the way, of course; here's hoping that number two isn't, y'know, Number Two).
C- RANK EFFORTS: BUNGLING THE PRIMARY OBJECTIVE, FUMBLING THROUGH THE SIDE-QUEST
Greater in number are the borderline cases, the great swathe of also-rans: These are the movies that might not necessarily win the Talent or Swimsuit competitions, but could still sneak in a little Miss Congeniality victory. If there is such a thing as cinematic comfort-food for gamers, these might be some of the dishes of the day.
While the Resident Evil live-action movies went terribly awry in the second and third installments by most accounts, movie-going gamers seem to agree that the first film came closest to the mark: Behind-the-scenes at Umbrella Corp., a nasty female super-computer called The Red Queen that goes all HAL on our asses, a scantily-though-not-nearly-scantily-enough-clad Milla Jovovich, and a death-by-laser sequence that might make the next Cube movie. Resident Evil wobbled from its game-plot roots, but still delivered beer-and-bullets popcorn cinema. (For our hastily-printed GR dollars, we'd still like to see the original Raccoon City mansion fiasco, as depicted in the first Resident Evil game—you know, the one where the franchise was still, um, scary?)
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is still a pretty amazing game-to-movie endeavor to watch. Even if neither you nor the characters on screen seem to have the slightest coherent clue what's going on. Throughout most of the movie. The CGI is jaw-dropping, the endless babbling about Sephiroth and “geostigma” is drool-inducing gibberish to any but the most hardcore Final Fanboys, and it's hard not to continually think of the violent reaming that Mother Physics is taking throughout the pseudo-deep Mayhem With Fights and Motorcycle Chases unfolding onscreen.
Skilled animators and computer render-farms are still a better use of money than a number of so-called A-list celebrities, however—and as we lurch ever closer to the day when we won't need actual flawed, bossy, erratic, egocentric flesh-and-bone likenesses of celebrities anymore (we'll still need their voices...for a while...) it stands to reason that we'll see more exponentially more such fan-service, computer-animation extravaganzas. What serious game-fan doesn't want to drill down to such excesses of game-world environmental detail, given the option?
Films like Advent Children and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within could be (and have been) called little more than 'CGI porn,' which is fair enough (that's coming in force too, by the way, and please keep the pun as our little gift to you, oh reader—but it's also another article, on another site entirely). Some game-worlds are so thoroughly eccentric and downright strange that the cinematic comfort-food of the completely computer-generated motion picture is the only viable way to go. To put it another way: Do you really want to see an old-fashioned, live-action, makeup-and-prosthetics stab at, say, Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee? 'Cause I sure as hell don't.
NEXT UP The real stinkers, and games that should be movies. >>