Reasons why movies based on video games fail – 03/23/2014

The release of Need For Speed has proved once again that movies based on video games are disasters. It now joins the ranks of many video game adaptations that have been panned as embarrassments to the cinematic arts.

There is a reason why so many movies based on video games fail to impress critics, attract audiences and satisfy the fans. The problem could be broken down to four major reasons and here is why:

Nobody in Hollywood respects video games as an art – This is not referring to all actors or directors, because it’s obvious that Steven Spielberg respect video games as an art. It could not be said the same about studio executives who see gaming as a fad among kids that they want to profit from.

To be fair; most studio executives operate in a shell while only focused on the bottom line of the industry. Its understandable that they need to focus on profits to keep everyone employed, but focusing on the bottom line gives them a warped perception on the business (aka knock-off’s and clones). To them its all about what sells and if they can’t understand it then it must not sell (this also is why Community has had a turbulent run).

However there are going to be a lot of entertainers who feel that video games is not an art and working on such a project would be beneath them  (people who are not Spielberg, Joss Whedon, Peter Jackson or Zack Snyder).

Lacking an understanding of gaming – Since many in Hollywood have failed to respect video games as an art, they have also failed to understand it as a medium. For example; people who don’t understand gaming as a medium will look at Grand Theft Auto V as a “car game that allows you to kill hookers” rather than a story of three friends seeking the American Dream in a corrupt society.

Its easy to overlook that video games didn’t become a story telling medium until the late 80’s while having to break from the traditional standards set by cinema and theater.

The issue is that a lot of screen writers and directors will look at video games as if it was an action movie. The action is a gameplay mechanism that allows he player to function in the context of the environment, not drive the story. In doing so they have overlooked the story and robbed it of any content that fans enjoy.

Case in point would be the Max Payne film and how it failed to properly recreate one of the greatest works of neo-noir since Pulp Fiction. The key word being “neo-noir”, as in a gritty crime drama within the context of a modern society. Not a dry action bore with trivial elements of a “supernatural” thriller.

Lack of respect for the source material – If the creative team doesn’t understand or respect the medium than its likely that they are breaking away from the source material.

Too often when such a film is announced, fans get excited in the hopes of seeing a cienmatic adaption of their favorite video game. A few months later they are shocked to discover that the story and characters are not based on the source material.

The film adaptations of Doom, Hitman, and House of the Dead are just a few examples to note. The most well known example to look at would be the turbulent production that Resident Evil had to undergo.

When the Resident Evil movie was green-lite back in the 90’s, Capcom and Sony originally wanted George A. Romero to direct it.  Unfamiliar with video games; he attempted to understand the source material by having his secretary play the game over eight times while being recorded. Next he would study the videos while writing a screenplay that was faithful to the story.

However Sony rejected Romero’s screenplay and put the project on hold until Paul W. S. Anderson submitted his screenplay. That is correct, Resident Evil was originally suppose to be directed by one of the most influential horror film directors and Sony rejected him in favor of some hack.

This bring the next big pint…

Unqualified directors – Finally when it comes down to it, the majority of movies based on a video game have been created by directors who obviously lack any kind of creative talent. A lot directors who have made movies based on video games are either inexperienced or just notoriously terrible.

Taking lessons learned from the success of comic book films and New Hollywood era, there could only be a good film based on a video game if the director understands and respects the medium. Not too long ago; comic book movies were seen as box office poison until Bryan Singer redefined the concept in 2000.

Video game movies could also have the same kind of success if only the right talent is leading the project. One needs to realize that there is a big difference between the works of Paul W. S. Anderson and John Moore compared to the auteurism of Joss Whedon and Sam Raimi.

Directors like Whedon, Raimi along with Christopher Nolan, Guillermo Del Toro, Peter Jackson and Zack Snyder were the kind of geeks who had the utmost appreciation for the source material. These artists were raised within this culture and as adults it has been a vision to properly recreate or retell these stories through the cinematic arts.

Also important to note is that they all had some experience in film making that help build the needed credibility among the studios to green light their dream project. Raimi had established himself with the Evil Dead-trilogy, Sir Kenneth Branagh was already recognized for his cinematic adaptations of the works of William Shakespeare before directing Thor,  the successful re-make of Dawn of the Dead help launch Snyder’s career, and Whedon became an icon with his cinematic screenplays and television shows.

Meanwhile the majority of movies based on video games have been directed by individuals who are either inexperienced or known for making bad films. The best film Moore directed, Flight of the Phoenix, has a 37% on Rotten Tomato, Andrzej Bartkowiak is also very similar, Uwe Boll can’t direct a film for s***, and Need for Speed is Scott Waugh second major film.

That is why fans were disappointed when Jackson abandoned his highly anticipated Halo movie. Because it had a chance to actually be a proper adaptation of a popular game series because of his experience and Neil Blomkamp possible vision.

However there is some hope for the proposed adaption of The Last of Us since Sam Raimi is attached to the project.

Written for The Gamers Progress
03/23/2014
Original Article: Reasons why movies based on video games fail

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About Stan Rezaee
I'm a writer from San Jose who has contributed to several online and print publications.

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