Friday, February 8, 2008

Trolling The Cinematic Dreck

Osver at Amazon's Game Room has agreed to subject himself to 24 hours of movies based on video games.

Now, I'm a gamer. I'm a computer gamer more than a video gamer. The Wii is the first video game console I've used since the Channel F because: 1) I learned early on that programming your own games is at least as fun as playing them, and 2) The sorts of games I like aren't usually available on consoles.

As a gamer, I'm fully aware that many games have better plots than many movies. There's a bell curve, Sturgeon's Law applies as always, and the marriage of gameplay and traditional notions of narrative, character development and so on is an uneasy one at best.

As far as I know, though, no game has ever been made into a movie that actually reflected the experience of the game, with the possible exception of Mortal Kombat. This, in itself, goes back to a more important premise: the selection of games that are picked to be made into movies borders on the insane. Borders? Hell, sometimes it goes into full-blown WTF-were-they-thinking mode.

Mortal Kombat is about best of breed: The game is about fighting. There's a plot, but there's no need to get invested in it. And it's mightily strained over the years. So you have some paint-by-the-numbers plot and characterization, some yucks, and a fair amount of fight scenes. It's still not very good, but as with all Paul W.S. Anderson films, it is what it is, and what it is is more or less what you could reasonably expect going in.

Uwe Boll has used this as an excuse for his more egregious outings. House of the Dead, for example, he defended as being "people shooting zombies" and "What did you expect, Citizen Kane?" No, Uwe, but we did expect some connection between the zombie shooting done in your movie versus the game. Uwe actually used clips from the game in the movie, I presume to remind you of the far more entertaining source material.

Before he got into making video game movies, he did a fairly entertaining rip off of Fight Club combined with a touch of The Sixth Sense called Blackwoods. I think he's a reasonably talented guy who--well, I dunno what's gotten into him, except maybe a lot of German tax money. Which he's managed to use to make himself the most hated man in the gaming world.

I'm not going to Boll bash here except to say that his films highlight the other problem: When a game with a story is picked, the movie doesn't reflect much of that story. This is pretty typical for Hollywood, but it seems to be the height of arrogance with game adaptations. "Well, you know, these game guys don't know what they're doing, so we'll do whatever we want and slap on a game title. They'll show up." Boll has proved there's a limit to that.

So, where Mortal Kombat fleshes out the bare story that's there, Doom touches on the superficial aspects of that minimal story to tell another one that's somehow even more trite. In the case of Doom, though, budget constraints were the issue. But without the budget, they shouldn't have made the movie. The game itself was a triumph of technology; if you can't preserve that, pick something else to make into a movie.

House of the Dead is a rails shooter--meaning you have no freedom of motion--which is essentially what a traditional narrative is. Now it's "All Your Base" level camp, and that's really the way Boll should've played it. But there are budget considerations again.

What you almost never see is a story-driven game made into a movie. Wing Commander is perhaps the sole exception, and is a good reminder that "good game designer <> good movie maker".

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is kind of a cheat: Apparently the Final Fantasy games are one-offs. There's a rough similarity between the universes that the games take place in, but they're not sequels. (In other words, there's no connection between FFI and FFII or FFII and FFIII, etc. FFVII actually has a sequel--and a movie!--but it's not FFVIII.) Spirit Within continued that by not being strongly related to the games. And it's actually a pretty good movie if you don't mind the uncanny valley.

Don't believe rumors that the Tomb Raider movies are good. The first one is watchable because of Jolie. She brings the role to life in an otherwise lifeless movie. The second one somehow manages to kill the magic, even with Jolie in fewer clothes.

So, where does that leave us? Mostly with a cynical smirk on our faces, looking at a pile of movies that were made solely to cash in on a property, with considerable contempt for the prospective audience. The Resident Evil series is not bad for what it is, and the last was fairly watchable if you can get past the premise--but I'm pretty sure the plots have long diverged from any source material.

Silent Hill was watchable as well, though at the end you might find yourself with a big fat WTF? on your hands.

But just out-and-out unqualified good? The only movie he's got on his list that qualifies is the engaging documentary, A Fistful of Quarters. And that, of course, is not based on a video game, but on video game players.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Grab an umbrella. Unleash hell. Your mileage may vary. Results not typical. If swelling continues past four hours, consult a physician.