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Will video game movies always be terrible?



So, last week I touched on the subject of video game to movie conversions in a short article about Nolan North and his belief that fans aren’t interested in a movie version of Uncharted. It is a subject that is quite close to my heart and it is consistently a major hot topic in video game and Hollywood circles. So I wanted to expand on it slightly.

So far I am yet to see a major film release based on a video game that has even been a solid movie in itself let alone an honest portrayal of the source material it comes from. A quick note here, I say major release because there is a wealth of independent releases, straight-to-videos, short films and geographically exclusive movies that I am yet to see therefore it would be arrogant of me to pass judgement on them. But as far as Hollywood is concerned, they just can’t get it right. It seems like as soon as a video game picks up traction, movie production companies spring up to take advantage of any potential easy money to be made from a film based loosely on characters from the game.

But what is it about these movies that falls so far short of the gamers’ expectations? Well, games have come a long way in the past few decades. It’s not just an idea that makes up a game any more. It’s more than that. Characters, plot and emotion play the largest role as we explore the vast worlds and stories than we are dropped into. This journey into the heart of games develops deep bonds with the subject matter and often we spend hours and hours on these adventures. In many ways, the games we play share many similarities with books and as with book to movie conversions, when a film-maker neglects the source material the cinema-goers are disappointed. If Peter Jackson neglected the ideas and characters from Tolkien’s world the Lord of the Rings franchise wouldn’t have been anywhere near as successful as it is. The same can be said for the way the Harry Potter movies, the most successful movie franchise ever, followed the source material so faithfully.

So where does it go from here? It’s no secret that some of the worst movies brought to the big screen have been video game conversions. Look no further than Alone in the Dark, Silent Hill: Revelation and Hitman: Agent 47 for some excellent examples of how not to make movies. But the future could be brighter for films based on the games we love. We’re moving towards a time where the people making these movies are the people who grew up playing them, and that will be important. I’m desperately hoping that Duncan Jones proves this with his upcoming Warcraft movie, as he’s spent a lot of time with the source material for that project. If a video game has the potential to make money in the cinemas nothing will stop Hollywood forcing it onto the big screen but hopefully we’re moving towards a time where these projects are handed to people who understand what these games mean to people.

But, on the other side of the coin it could be argued that we don’t need movie adaptations at all. The gaming industry realised the value of high production levels when it comes to the story elements of games a long time ago. Look no further than Uncharted, Last of Us, Bioshock, Mass Effect, Half-Life and I could go on and on. These are games that have a huge cinematic feel to them with characters and plots that are incredibly involving and sometimes deeply emotional and it can be argued that the feelings and character bonds generated after spending sometimes upwards of 40 hours with these games can’t be adapted for feature length movie experience. It would make more sense to adapt them into television series instead of movies just to cover the content that takes place.

It’s not that I think video game movies can’t do well and reflect the ideas and stories we encounter in the games themselves, it’s just I haven’t seen proof to suggest otherwise yet. Again, I hope that Warcraft will be a major turning point for video game movie adaptations as it could mark the beginning of a greater appreciation of the source material and a better understanding of what the fans want from these movies. But as games get better at creating cinematic experiences it’s really down to the film-makers to raise their game and approach this hot topic with the caution and respect it deserves.

Of course this is all my own opinion and I’d love to hear counter points and arguments to anything I’ve said so feel free to let loose in the comments section below.

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