Why Do Video Game Adaptations Suck?

Why do video game adaptations suck? This question has been plaguing me ever since I saw Super Mario Brothers, the very first video game adaptation, and realized that movies couldn’t just be dumb. They could be downright god-awful. Every movie lover has his moment of realization, and Super Mario Brothers was mine. The problem is that since then, we haven’t really come that far. It’s not as if the video game adaptations being made today are far superior to that of Super Mario Brothers. There are myriad reasons why: bad, unknown actors, bad, unknown writers who probably wrote the screenplays on the toilet while taking a break from writing thirty other screenplays that will never get bought by a studio, and of course, Uwe Boll. Though I shouldn’t pick on just him, even if he is the very worst. Other directors have done video game adaptations as well. The issue with directors is the same as the other issues: they’re unknown, small-time, and inexperienced. Hollywood obviously doesn’t have any trust in video game adaptations. And I can’t help but wonder why.

It’s not as if there’s a shortage of good ideas of cinematically inclined games out there. Yet it seems as though the only games that are made into movies are just repeats of crap that’s been done before. Take Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Dead or Alive, and now Tekken. All of them are fighting games. But how much can you do with a fighting game besides make a bad movie where people just use a bunch of iconic moves from the games? Perhaps it makes sense that fighting games get made into movies so often (compared to other types of games, I guess), because they can be made for little money, with unknown actors, a small-time director, and a bad writer. There are stories in a fighting game, sure, but the main interest is the fighting. In the same way that Bruce Lee movies had minimal story, and were essentially used to capitalize on his kick-ass moves, fighting games can’t really be plundered for much beyond that, it seems. Story will always be secondary to the action and the fights.

Which is why I can’t help but wonder why the hell you don’t see more video games with involving stories, characters and really cinematic elements get adapted. Why do we have a House of Dead movie? Or more infuriatingly, why they get adapted so badly. Let’s take Resident Evil. The movie franchise seems to be popular, with three movies under its belt. But that doesn’t make them good. They’re not. They’re all pretty mindless action films. It’s as if the filmmakers purposely ignored the very essence of what made Resident Evil such a successful game franchise: it’s scary. And it’s atmospheric. And it also had an involving story about corporate greed, betrayal, and shady scientific experiments. Zombies are shuffling, slow and kind of boring, which is why dogs, birds, and even plants were entered into the mix. The first two games, taking place in a mansion and in a police station, forced the player to be in claustrophobic spaces, never sure if something would jump through a window fall from the ceiling. But this isn’t a review of the games. My point is that these are elements that could have been used, and used well, but instead were just thrown away in favor of big guns, explosions, and a shit ton of action.

The problem is that even further than Resident Evil, there are games that have stories that might as well be in a film because they’re so engaging; the characters, the settings, the depth, among other things. Metal Gear Solid is the perfect example of just such a game, and also the perfect example of what’s wrong with Hollywood when it comes to adapting games to the screen. The Metal Gear Solid movie has now moved officially from development hell into death. Although I do not know the actual reasons, I’m guessing it probably had something to do with Hideo Kojima requiring quality from the studio, and the studio not willing to commit to Kojima’s level of quality. Which is sad. I just think about getting someone like William Monahan, who wrote The Departed, to write a screenplay, and then get someone like Paul Greengrass to direct. You can’t tell me that Greengrass, after doing The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, couldn’t do a Metal Gear Solid movie justice. And Monahan, with his knack for intricately woven, but believable and tightly executed scripts, could definitely make a decent script.

And what about the Halo movie? It seemed as if the studios were actually giving a shit, for once. They paid Alex Garland of 28 Days Later fame $1 million to write a screenplay, and had Neill Blomkamp set to direct. And then everything fell apart. One wonders why. It might have actually been a good movie, especially after seeing what Blomkamp delivered with District 9. Love it or hate it, the action and combat sequences worked well, and that’s what Halo would be delivering.

This is where my confusion starts to become pure frustration, and at times anger. Not only are the games they’re adapting usually not the best to begin with (you can’t tell me The House of Dead would EVER make a good movie, because I just don’t think it would), but they’re picking teams of people that simply couldn’t deliver even if they did their very best. Uwe Boll has become synonymous with bad video game adaptations because studios continue to pick him to direct their stupid scripts. One wonders why, after such a string of crap, they continue to allow him to work. They furthermore get unknown casts, less-than-amateur screenwriters, and teams of technical designers that are probably fresh out of school after graduating bottom of their class. Ok, maybe it’s not quite that bad with the tech designers, but you get the idea.

Is there actually a solution to all of this? I don’t know. Studios seem to be trying a little harder these days. Prince of Persia looks like to might be decent, if not great, like Pirates of the Caribbean decent (though one wonders if Jake Gyllenhaal can do what Johnny Depp did – without him Pirates would have failed). At least they’re putting a nice amount of money and talent behind the project. An adaptation of Uncharted is also in the works, and it seems as if studios are again going to try to deliver something worthwhile, and not just stick Uwe Boll behind it. Although I haven’t gotten the chance to play that game, I’ve heard that it’s the kind of game that could work very well as a movie.

So not all hope is lost, I suppose. But that hope is small, like a match in a field of darkness. It’s not as if it’s not possible to adapt a game to film and do it well. It’s just that it’s not likely. I hope that one of these days, I’ll be genuinely surprised, and someone will come along who cares enough to make a good game into a good film. Perhaps it’s just that adapting games to film is still in a way in its infancy. Studios just don’t know what to do. Doom, with its scene shot like a first person shooter, kind of proved that whoever’s behind these things, they don’t understand the difference in mediums. Maybe someone just needs to come along who does. I do hope it happens, but at the moment, I wouldn’t hedge my bets on it.

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