Microsoft versus Sony, Battlefield versus Call of Duty and Forza versus Gran Turismo. These are some of the rivalries that can get people talking about console wars. “Game On or Game Over” is your place to get inside the minds of Nicholas and Andy as they seek to find the true meaning of gaming and tackle some of gaming’s most controversial subjects. Both are award winning authors – although the awards haven’t been mailed or created yet — but trust them. Would they lie to you?
Andy: There are an amazing number of games coming out this year that, at least in the ultra-hype trailers, look pretty damn good. Sure there are even some titles coming out that I’m not overly interested in, but still look good. Of course there are also some games coming out that I have zero interest in, but that’s OK because it provides options for everyone and options are never a bad thing when it comes to gaming. I know we talk a lot about games, but I don’t want to talk about games this week. Instead I want to talk about something else that seems to have a plethora of upcoming releases as well.
I don’t want to keep you on the seat of your pants though and draw this out. What I want to discuss this week are movies based on video games. There are quite a few video game-based movies scheduled to hit theatres this year, but in the next couple years there is a literal explosion of them. Really, I looked at a projected list and it’s crazy how many there are. Being coy, I’m not going to play my hand and say what I think yet though.
So, to start things off this week, what do you think about movies based on video games?
Nicholas: When I think about it, my views on video game-based movies has changed as I’ve grown older. What I mean is, when I was younger (think young kid to teenager) I would desperately want to see movies based on video games I loved. Movies based on Super Mario or Need For Speed, and even movies based on the original two Assassin’s Creed games. Now that I’m older, and as I think about this over the past five years particularly, that interest has essentially gone down to zero. Where there was a time that I really wanted my video games to come to the big screen, now it doesn’t phase me in the slightest.
When I think about why this is, I believe it boils down to one main point – video game-based movies are typically horrid. The two examples that come to mind, and co-incidentally match my paragraph above, are the movies based on Super Mario and Need For Speed. The real-life portrayal of Mario and Bowser for example turned me off immediately and when it came to the Need For Speed film, well, I could go to the dairy isle of a supermarket and there’d be less cheese. I know ‘The Fast & The Furious’ isn’t heralded as the best franchise, but compared to that, the NFS movie was horrid.
So yeah, to kick things off, I cared more about video game-based movies when I was younger, but no-so, not so much. How about you though?
Andy: I’ve been thinking about starting this topic for a while now, so I have actually put a lot of thought into it. You brought up one example I wanted to touch on and that was the ‘Super Mario’ movie, man that was terrible. I remember when I first heard about that movie and, as a kid, was super excited. That was before the age of the internet and all that. It was pretty much, hear about a movie, find out when it was in the theatre and go. Three friends and I went to it and we left saying “What the hell was that?” Even at that age we knew it was garbage. Since then there have been a couple movies based on video games that I thought could be OK, but none, like you said, have ever measured up to being good, let alone decent.
The only movie based on a game I can even recall somewhat enjoying was ‘Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within’ and that was an animated movie at that. There is a certain perception that all video game movies are terrible though isn’t there? So, like any good journalist I did highly scientific research, crunched some data, interviewed hundreds – upon hundreds- of people (read that as I did a Wikipedia search) and looked at the final numbers. The list I found only 1 move had a Rotten Tomatoes score above 40% – ‘Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within’ oddly enough. 10 of them had scores below 10%, with one ‘Alone in the Dark’ coming in at an impressive 1%. I don’t know but you have to try really hard to be that bad don’t you?
There are movies on the list that you just have to shake your head at and think: Who the hell thought this would make a good movie? ‘Street Fighter’ for instance… how can that possibly translate into a good movie? Then I look at the list of upcoming movies based on games and see… Angry Birds, Minecraft and Temple Run. I cringed, then curled up in the corner rocking back and forth praying that my eyes deceived me. They didn’t. To answer your initial question I just can’t get excited about movies based on games anymore, because the quality has never measured up.
To put my scientific research to the test though I want to ask you a couple things. First, name the last good movie you watched based on a game? If you can’t do that, which I assume you can’t, can you think of any games that could potentially make good movies? Or do you think it’s forever etched in stone that movies based on games are like choosing to drive a Mazada versus a real car?
Nicholas: I’ll choose to ignore that last sentence. To answer the question though, there are a lot of movies which, on face value should make great films. Movies based on games like Assassin’s Creed, Tomb Raider or Uncharted should all theoretically translate well into a movie. There’s a great sense of exploration, in one it’s grounded in history and in the others there’s myth, and above all, each tells a really great story that players have all spoken about how engaging and interesting they are. Really, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be possible to turn these into great films. Hell, even consider something like Wolfenstein – the idea that the Nazis did win WWII and exploring how the world would have changed under their rule. It’s not like these kinds of movies have been done to death to the point they can’t be engaging, interesting and different to what’s already on the market.
I don’t think that movies based on video games are destined to be horrible, but it just seems like that’s the case most of the time. I think that’s the question we should both be asking ourselves why. You gave the example of the Final Fantasy film above, and when you mentioned the fact it was animated, it made me think about Pokémon. Sure, the movies have never been overly interesting to me, but I think about the original seasons in the anime when I was younger and I really enjoyed them. It makes me think, why can a cartoon series on a video game work, but a movie can’t? Is it because films are one-off and are typically cash grabs, whereas cartoon series need to be interesting or subsequent episodes will fail? Is it perhaps where they’re made? Do western film adaptations simply miss the mark for being too adventurous, whereas Japanese anime has a formula and uses it well?
What are your thoughts on the above? Why do you think most movie adaptations are so bad? Furthermore, are there any video games you’d like to receive film treatment?
Andy: Why do I think movies based on games are bad? A couple reasons come to mind actually. Not sure if they have real merit, but here’s my take. First I think the publisher/developer tries to implement too much of the game into the movie. Games work because gamers get to decide the pace, the narrative (at times) and just how things flow. A movie, we are only there to watch it. No interaction other than watching the story unfold. Instead it seems like they look at the games and think, “Oh that’s cool let’s put that in a movie.” Instead of a good coherent story, we are left with a piece meal mashup of “neat” things from a game with a random story to try and connect the dots. They just try to jam so much from the games into the movies that it just doesn’t work. Take the Tomb Raider movies for instance, they should make for great movies but they got so caught up with having a big name actress and all these Easter eggs that the overall movie suffered.
As for what games I would like to see get the movie treatment, that’s a catch-22 type of question. On one hand I want to say none, because I don’t want to see any of my favourite games made to be subject of ridicule from the making of a bad movie. Yet, at the same time, there is a certain allure of what ‘could’ be an awesome movie based on a game. To be perfectly honest there are several games that could make great movies if done right. Just off the top of my head; Fallout (OK did you really think this wouldn’t be at the top of my list?), Deus Ex, Red Dead Redemption, Mass Effect and Dead Space would all be ones I’d want to see. I think all of those games have broad enough stories that they could make very good two hour, maybe two and a half hour movies.
This seems like a theme lately, maybe it’s because you’re asking such good questions, but I want to throw your questions back at you. Why do you think movies based on games have such a bad track record? And, as you asked what games would you like to see turned into movies?
Nicholas: I think you nailed the reason in your response above. The combination of having to condense tens (if not hundreds) of hours of gameplay into a two-hour block, picking and choosing what scenes and elements to include as well as taking away that interactivity that makes games so great, just doesn’t seem to end well. I think another reason why film-adaptations so often fall flat is because as gamers we place these (much loved) titles on pedestals, and unless the production company absolutely (and I mean absolutely) nails it, then anything in comparison is horrible. It makes me wonder though, how come some book to movie adaptations work so well? Books provide hours and hours of reading time, and while most people say, “the book is better” it’s not to say the movie isn’t bad.
I’d like to focus though on something you mentioned earlier, specifically the fact that Angry Birds, Minecraft and Temple Run are being made into movies. Now off the bat I think we can all assume that there’s got to be a LOT of creativity to make a full movie out of a game whose full range of gameplay can be experienced in the first two minutes of playtime, but there are two questions I have. Firstly, why? Perhaps it’s a bit obvious, but I’d like to get your opinion. Secondly, if the movie is loosely based off the gameplay but the story has been well-written, would you consider it just as good as any other movie without the name, or as soon as it has the title ‘Temple Run’ or ‘Minecraft’ that it instantly loses all credibility?
Andy: Oh man, that’s a great question. On the surface I would have to say that when a movie is announced with a game title it does tend to lose some credibility. Mostly because what we have already talked about, the past examples of terrible adaptations. I try to give them a chance, but it’s so hard to do after all the times I’ve been disappointed.
I think you’re also correct (man I hate typing that every time) in that gamers hold their favourite franchises up on pedestals and anything shy of perfection is ridiculed mercilessly. Much like it is when a new game is released really. We did an article awhile back on the (at times) unrealistic expectations gamers place on games. When a movie tries to jam all of those expectations into a feature film, they seem to lose their way and get stuck in those details instead of letting the story/setting shine for what it is. You asked why books translate better into movies. I think it’s because of two things. First, with a book we merely visualize what we think the author is describing. With a game, we have already “seen” most of the elements, so change is harder. Also, a book is a guided experience, like a movie, you turn the page and the same thing happens every time. With a game, like Fallout or Mass Effect, there are so many things to do and choices to make – every gamer will do things differently. That doesn’t necessarily translate well to a movie.
As I type that part above I have to think, maybe the movie industry/game developers/and whoever else is in charge of these adaptations are doing it wrong. Not necessarily how they make them, production or what have you. More so in the delivery of them. You said above about how difficult it is to condense all that lore, characters, and all the other little details that makes those games great. Maybe the better approach would be to make a mini-series TV show, or regular episodic shows similar to how ‘Game of Thrones’ has done. A ‘Game of Thrones’ movie wouldn’t work because of all the details that would be missed, but it’s perfect for a TV show. I know it would be more costly, and a bigger commitment for those stations that run them – but to do a lot of these games justice I think that may be the best approach. Instead of trying to make a game fit a feature film… why not just change the way they try to tell the stories? As we close out another week, I’d love to get your opinion on that. Is it that movies based on games just don’t work, or is it Hollywood is so set in their ways they don’t want to consider other ways? Do you think shows based on games would be better received?
Nicholas: When it comes to movies based off Minecraft or Temple Run it’s hard to consider Hollywood changing how they’ve always done things. It’s hard to consider that any films like that aren’t anything short of an obvious cash-grab. At the same time though, when neither game is really based on much of a premise then I don’t really see why making them into move than a movie is necessary. What I’m getting at is, for games like Mass Effect or Assassin’s Creed I’d completely support making them into a series-long or multi-series televisions show. Like you’ve mentioned above, to truly explore all the lore, characters and settings you need to give the story chance to develop and bloom, which is sometimes difficult in a two-hour block. Hell, think of films like the Chris Nolan imagining of ‘Batman’ which was spanned over three films. That at least makes sense rather than cramming it into just one.
You’ve asked the question – do movies based on games work? In my opinion, it just really depends. If it’s a single game in a franchise and they aren’t too complex or in-depth, then sure, perhaps a movie adaptation will work. That said though, if you’re talking about a larger game, something like your Red Dead Redemption or even a Pokémon title, then I think it’s just a massive risk – one that doesn’t work most of the time. In those situations, a television show is definitely more appropriate, and like we’ve seen with some recent TV shows, the quality is certainly there. I’m confident a producer out there could absolutely nail a TV show adaptation of a movie game. Then again, history often repeats itself, and like you mentioned above, if so many fail, what’s to stop it from happening again? Maybe we should just quit while were ahead, huh?