So Bad It’s Good? A Look Back at Videogame Movies

21 Aug

By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)

marioposter

In the past three decades Hollywood has recognized the appeal of adapting popular video games to film. They provide a ready-made audience of fans who will most likely see them, and some have become cult classics. They are memorable because they survived the transition to broadcast television. Usually the adaptation is a fun romp in the director’s part in translating pixels to a more realistic product. More often than not, the video game’s appeal is missed in the translation and critics and fans are quick to point out what’s missing in the film. In this look at the worst of what cinema had to offer, maybe they are gems after all:

As any fan and they will say that Super Mario Bros (1993) was mostly disliked even though it had achieved a cult following. This movie starred Bob Hoskins as Mario and John Leguizamo as Luigi. Turning the bad guys into gangsters was appropriate in what would otherwise be a fantasy film set in an alternate Earth world. To entirely base the movie on the mythology established in the Mario games would have been disastrous, especially in a decade when digital special effects was in its infancy.

Nor did it help make another franchise, Street Fighter (1994) work. Despite this film’s brief commercial success, people were interested in mostly seeing Jean Claude Van Damme kick some butt and Raul Julia (better known as Gomez in the Addams Family films) play M. Bison. Even for fans of martial arts films, most have said the fighting was uninspired. The movie suffered from bad writing and cheesy dialogue. The studios were simply cashing in on the popularity of the Street Fighter franchise.

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In the following year, Mortal Kombat (1995) literally smashed a variety of records. It made number one in opening weekend grosses and the soundtrack went platinum in less than two weeks. The scream of MORTAL KOMBAT was often heard thundering from cars several blocks away. Fans loved the game enough to spawn a sequel, MK: Annihilation (1997) and two short-lived television series, a cartoon Defenders of the Realm (1996) and Conquest (1998-1999). Unfortunately, these martial arts films were losing popularity and they were never the same when two greats passed on. Bruce Lee was in Heaven and Chuck Norris decided to focus on television more. Video-game cinema did not have anyone memorable for fans to relate to.

Before Laura Croft was realized, Wing Commander (1999) came into cinemas and went out of it like the wind. The problem was that the film deviated so far away from its storyline that the majority of the fans just did not care for it.

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Tomb Raider (2001) was great because it had Angelina Jolie in tights. But the lack of emotional action sequences was this film’s main failing point and more people were paying attention to Jolie’s body than anything else. With an identifiable icon for fans to admire, this movie would soon lead the action-adventure-heroine nights on specialty stations like Space, The Imagination Station or Turner television. The sequel, Cradle of Life (2003), was only made because the money being raked in was good and the video-game franchise showed it had lasting power.

Tomb Raider was also being adapted into the comic book medium and is making a comeback with a more realistic depiction of this heroine taking on uncharted territories better than ever.

In the other side of the Pacific, Squaresoft took a chance by opening a movie production house. They made Final Fantasy: Spirits Within (2001). The unfortunate problem for such a graphically gorgeous film is that audiences were clueless to the very Japanese message this film was trying to make. Like John Cameron’s Avatar, the environmental message is simply lost.

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After a little more than 10 years into this genre, no film has received a standing ovation yet. Not even the much-loved zombie got satisfaction. Resident Evil (2002) was a box office smash for the simple reason that the directors went back to the basics. Give audiences non stop action and crazy one-liners, the film will be good. And this video-game cum action product has become of the longest running franchises in cinema. There’s also Apocalypse (2004), Extinction (2007) and Afterlife (2010). But not to be forgotten, George Romero and Max Brooks deserve the credit too for keeping the zombie genre alive in the entertainment industry.

While Universal Studios’ monster mash doesn’t include the zombie, they know audiences love a good scare when it’s mixed in with some fun first-person shooter action. That’s one reason Stephen Sommers’ remake of The Mummy (Egypt’s closet thing to a zombie) was so successful. To see Brendan Fraiser hamming it up with goofy one-liners and trying to kill Imhotep is like watching an episode of World Wrestling Entertainment’s Smackdown!

With wrestler Dwayne Johnson shedding his Rock image, there should be no surprise to seeing him transition to Hollywood. However, true to the game’s name, Doom (2005) failed not only because of the bad acting but also because the movie didn’t use anything from the videogame’s established mythos.

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This becomes a common theme when one looks at what’s bad in these video game-to-movie translations: is it going to be story heavy or is it art? Silent Hill (2006) is a wonderful example of a game-turned-movie that works. The tale is engaging and horrific because it deals with every parent’s nightmare—losing their child. The sequel Silent Hill: Revelation 3D (2012) was not too bad either, but it suffered when the characters fell flat in scripting development.

Instead of borrowing from the game, good writers should take the best elements from it and adapt it to cinema. That’s why Mario Bros. and Resident Evil worked as a film. But the movies from the past three years have not surpassed what Silent Hill achieved. They were merely attempts at reigniting a tired martial arts genre like Dead or Alive (2006), getting ultra-violent with Hitman (2007) or doing another lone wolf story with Max Payne (2008).

Interestingly enough, Hollywood has taken a break this year for movies. The next films in the production board are Need for Speed (2014) and Assassin’s Creed (2015). Ratchet and Clank is in the works too, and that may be a film to pay attention to if it goes the CGI route. Angry Birds is just a bad idea from the start. Unless there are real voices attached to the chirps and oinks, nobody will want to sit through a feature-length product of that.

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One Response to “So Bad It’s Good? A Look Back at Videogame Movies”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Is Temple Run “Doomed?” | Otaku no Culture - November 13, 2013

    […] video games, all anyone has to do is look at the history of hits and misses that came from adapting video game movies. Not every idea worked. Mario Bros attained a cult following and Tomb Raider squeaked its way into […]

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