Video Game movies are cursed. Every time a new one comes out we have the same discussions. Will this one break the curse? Will this one be good? Will this one be the one to show the world it can be done right? It seems that the answers are always, no.
Even when the biggest IP’s in the world give it a shot, and throw millions of dollars, and big stars into the project, they still manage to end up being a disappointment. This year we’ve had two of the biggest video game movies ever released. One of them I reviewed Here on this very site.
Despite most of them having some good qualities, like fan service or great CGI, none so far have set the world alight, if rotten tomatoes is any indication. Today I want to talk about what I think the real problem is and how we might go about fixing it. We all want good video game adaptations, so just for fun, let’s talk about how we might get one.
Every year or so we get video game movies that we know are going to be bad, but how we judge that is relative. The Resident Evil movies spring to mind here. Lots of people enjoy them, otherwise we wouldn’t have seven of them, or whatever number we’re up to now. They make millions of dollars every single time, but it doesn’t matter. The way we see them as bad is in how they don’t translate what we love in the games to the big screen.
The worlds of video games are large, complex organisms. They are filled with history, events, and characters that all add to the rich tapestry of the franchise in question. These elements take time to explore, which is why games span dozens of hours instead of one or two. We love games because we get to go on a meaningful journey with the characters in them. We see them go through hell more often than not, and we witness them grow over a long period of time.
Now that isn’t to say that movies don’t take us on adventures, or give us characters with depth who go on difficult personal journeys. Movies are great, and I love them to bits, but they’re a form of artistic expression, and entertainment all their own. Trying to use movies to translate another piece of entertainment is always going to be difficult, but with games it seems to be largely impossible. Movies need every scene to have impact, and to push the story along. They need every frame working hard to deliver the movies theme, and narrative. Games simply don’t need that. They linger, they persist, and they allow you to breathe in the worlds they’re in. They want you to poke around in all the holes, and explore at your own leisurely pace. I guess movies are like a rollercoaster ride, and games are more like an entire theme park.
Movies can translate other forms of media well; just look at books. There have been dozens of successful movies made about books, but I guarantee the book will always be better. Movies bring something new to the book in the form of visuals that you only imagined before the movie existed. With games, we already have visuals, and in fact, we have another layer on top of that in the form of interaction. I can exist in a game world, I can touch it, mess with it, fuck it up, make it better, and directly impact it. The movie version just lets you see the world, it doesn’t let you mess with it, so in that regard, movies kind of take away from the game medium as opposed to adding to it.
I think we all agree video game movies suck, and I think my comments above give an indication as to why we feel they do. So how do we change it? How do we fix this epidemic of awful adaptations. I think the answer is quite simple, and easy to implement. We move video game adaptations to TV.
Think about this example for a minute. Imagine if Bioware and EA wanted to make a mass effect movie. They could hire an amazing sci-fi director like, Neill Blomkamp, put big stars in it, and throw hundreds of millions of dollars at it, and it still wouldn’t come close to touching the depth of the Mass Effect universe. We would all be super excited, and then supremely disappointed after seeing it I’m sure.
Now imagine if they made it a TV series. We could have a decent budget like Game of Thrones, or The Walking Dead does. We could hire numerous good directors to do episodes as well as bring on some fresh new talent to earn their directorial chops before getting snapped up to make Marvel movies. We could have great stars, with a large cast, introducing new ones as the series went along. The most important thing, however, is that instead of spending a few hours in the universe and expecting it to translate well, we could spend dozens of hours in it.
We could have an entire series for each game in the trilogy, or go even further and spread it out more. A Mass Effect TV show could be like a whole new generation’s Star Trek. People would rush home after school and work to eat dinner and watch the latest adventure of Commander Shepherd and the crew of the Normandy.
TV shows have really come along way over the last five years. We’ve seen the production values skyrocket with shows like Game of Thrones leading the charge, and pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved with a TV show’s timeframe, and budget. I think video games have given the movie thing a damn good try, and after decades of attempts, we still don’t have even a handful of good ones to set the standard. I think it’s time the video games looked to TV, with Netflix, Amazon, and HBO grabbing up anything they think will be the latest hotness, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before we see a massive video game IP translated to TV. I just really hope it happens soon because I’m not sure how many more bad video game movies I can make myself go watch with the slim vein of hope that this time it might actually be worth the time and money.