The Best of Both Worlds…Posted: March 29, 2011
Films have entertained people for many years (Pre-1900’s), but a newer technology when it comes to storytelling is a lot younger. I’m taking about videogames. Films have a lot in common with videogames – they’re a creative medium that tells stories (or can do) and they’re a collaboration of many talents (and not just a single author). Overall, films have more in common with games than they do books. Heck, some film stars even go in for voice acting in games!
So why is it so difficult to make a video-game movie? After all, cut-scenes and FMV’s (Full Motion Videos) have been a storytelling device in computer games for around 15 years. Yet, there’s very few that really stand out.
Looking at my film collection reminds me of some that do a good job, like Silent Hill. I mean, swap the gender and some of the setting of the original game, and it’s a really good homage to the video game series (admittedly, I’ve not played the later games). Likewise, the original Mortal Kombat was a good video-game adaptation. Resident Evil (the first film), arguably another good one. But for every Mortal Kombat, there are the Street Fighters, the Super Mario Bros and the Dooms.
So to make the best video-game adaptation, we have to distil what makes the good video-game movies actually good. Firstly, the world and mythology. It has to make sense as both a computer game as well as a film. The creatures in the Silent Hill film remained true to their game-origins, and not too many of the enemies either. The amount of enemies that you kill on most computer games would top Total Recall and Robocop’s kill count, and then some…
Which brings me to my next point; video-game enemies, unless they’re big bosses, are very abundant and easy to kill. While it makes for a thrilling ride when playing a computer game to rack up those high scores, combo-ing off anything that moves. Movies don’t work that way. Movies require characterisation. It’s why the first Mortal Kombat film worked and the second, not so much so. Include too many characters (and it’s easy to do when working from established universes), and the overall story suffers. It’s also why Street Fighter (besides casting Celebrity big-guns like JCVD and Kyle Minogue), shifting the focus of everyone’s favourite duo – Ryu and Ken – to Guile and Cammy. But casting isn’t too big an issue. Mila Jovovich was famous before Resident Evil, but in the first film, she’s still meant to be the focus of the story, so it still works.
Third point is logic. Videogames have a general internal logic due to their interactive nature. The possibility of failure means characters within games can die, which means in order to carry on they need either a lives system, or save system, or both. Likewise, games are designed to provide regular positive re-enforcement, gaining a new ability, levelling up, acquiring new weapons or even a simple case of opening a new area. These are always difficult to do with a film, since the main motivator for films are not acquiring new abilities or opening up new levels, but character progression.
There is one film in the last year that has managed to pull off videogame logic in a film – Scott Pilgrim Versus the World. The reason it has managed to do so, is because it’s a homage to gaming culture (among other references). Scott Pilgrim gets high scores for defeating his enemies, he gets an extra life and he even gets rewarded for his bravery (e.g. sword of self respect). But the whole purpose of this last point is to illustrate this; homage is key. Celebrate the film with its established audience. Put in those little references, which they will get (and they will get them, no matter how tiny a part of the film it is in). The second Mortal Kombat film bucked it’s audience with the established mythology – making Raiden mortal, not having Sonya Blade and Kano in Shao Kahn’s custody, etc… Also, the cast changes too much. The actors/actress that played Raiden, Sonya, Johnny Cage and Jax were all changed from the original film.
The point that I want to get at here is this: the audience for a film is a driving factor. A good film will usually do well, regardless of its origins. A bad film based on something else will always do poorly.