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Why Are Video Game Movies so Bad?

Warcraft springs into theaters June 10, and this hotly anticipated release got me thinking about other video game-to-movie adaptations. While the film looks promising simply because of the people behind the camera, the video game film market hasn't been well-received in its two decades of existence. As someone who is very passionate about movies, to say I have been disappointed by these releases is a profound understatement. The potential in this market stretches into realms I can hardly comprehend, but it hasn't been handled with care at all. The best parts of these games are squandered in their movie adaptations, and the filmmakers have no idea what the fans really want. While this is probably due to movie studios butting heads with the filmmakers (as there are sporadic moments of promise within this market), as a whole, I feel I can safely say that the writers and directors behind these movies have absolutely no idea why people like video games. I've decided to take it upon myself to revisit every video game movie I've ever seen and talk about them with relation to their source material and see how well they hold up.
Disclaimer: I will not be talking about any Uwe Boll movies (BloodRayne, Alone in the Dark, Postal, etc.) since those are universally panned and are horrible movies by any standard. They are easy targets.

The first official video game movie is the Super Mario Bros. movie, and this one is pretty famous for all of the wrong reasons. This film has absolutely nothing to do with its source material other than names. It was originally planned to be another movie, but Nintendo decided they wanted to implement Mario and Luigi into this film. It ends up being some strange movie about a dystopia with egregious set design, morbidly awful effects (even for 1993), phoned-in performances, and some very uninspired direction. While I have to give the writers props for extending their imaginations into some unseen realms here, it was a lot of effort put into the wrong project. I'm not sure if there's any real way Super Mario Bros. can be given its own movie since the story is as thin as it gets, but throwing the brothers into some plot about multiple dimensions and the apocalypse itself is probably not the route to take. Thankfully, this film didn't even make back half of its production budget, so more of these weren't made. Not all franchises die merciful deaths, however.

The first Mortal Kombat movie isn't anything horrible. Paul W.S. Anderson's frantic direction suits the game rather well, and the fight sequences aren't poorly filmed and are actually nicely choreographed. I don't see any obvious or inherent reason for fans to hate it, if they are going simply for the empty-headed experience and seeing one of their favourite games on the big screen. It suffers from the Super Mario Bros. complex, however, where a game with minimal story is given some bombastically overcooked plot about the apocalypse. It's a noticeable trend within these films that the stakes must be raised so high that they lose touch with the source material and end up making a generic blockbuster. Mortal Kombat really only suffers from a bad story and some atrocious performances, but it keeps to its source material enough that it can be given a pass. Mortal Kombat raked in $122 million at the box office, so of course it got a sequel, and... it's truly something else, you guys.

Mortal Kombat: Annihilation is, in a word, hilarious. It feels like an easy target because of how unprofessional every frame of the movie is, but it was a worldwide theatrical release, and that in itself in an anomaly. If a movie like this was released today, it would go straight-to-infomercial-at-3 AM-on-a-Tuesday. I'm not even exaggerating with how awful this movie is. Even fans of the game series hate this movie because it strays so far from anything related to Mortal Kombat that it almost devolves into unintentional self-parody. Annihilation features nothing resembling a professionally crafted movie, and there is far too much here to cover to fit into an appropriately-sized article, so I'm going to let this clip do all of the talking for me.

The Lara Croft movies are an interesting beast for me to handle. The first film is just an utter mess, and the only redeemable quality is Angelina Jolie perfectly encapsulating Lara Croft herself. Action sequences are messily crafted, however, and only serve as summer blockbuster fodder. The second film is slightly better, but only because the action sequences are handled a little more professionally. There is no sense of adventure within these movies, however, and no real feeling that there is any real imagination in these projects. While there is some seriously dedicated set design, it's difficult to brush off the feeling that everything is so artificial, whereas in the original games there is an immersion that the player feels and that there is a real adventure taking place. In these movies it feels like stylish action sequences are happening and Angelina Jolie is barely clothed, and absolutely nothing more. There is no heart present in these movies, and it shows. Clearly, the filmmakers wanted to make a quick buck off of a lazy action movie and slap a familiar name on it to make some money, and it worked. Twice.

Hey, did you know that there is a Final Fantasy movie? Yeah, there is, and almost nobody went and saw it. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within managed to rake in a little over half of its production budget, and given its massive marketing campaign and distribution budget it went on to become one of the biggest box office tanks ever, with a net loss of $126 million. By the time the film was released, Final Fantasy was already on its tenth installment, and Square Enix (at this point still known as Square) was riding high on the franchise's popularity. The games were still being well-received, so why did nobody go and see this movie? Perhaps it's because this movie is terrible. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is entirely a style-over-substance affair, and given how much time the producers spent trying to make Aki Ross as realistic as possible, it's fairly obvious. The thin story and script provide no emotional resonance or relatability. The story quickly becomes generic and half-baked and it actually resembles the storylines of later installments in the franchise. The story didn't feel like it had anything to do with Final Fantasy, and the only notable feature about this movie is its beautiful visuals. This comes as a shock, since director Hironobu Sakaguchi was heavily involved with the production of the games throughout the 90's. I really am not sure if there's another video game movie that has squandered its potential as much as Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.

On a bit of a lighter note, I have no idea why people hate on Doom. Okay, so it's a game about shooting monsters and not really much else, but I feel like the resulting movie was the best it could have possibly been. While I can't really give this movie a pass from objective standards, it's still one of my most cherished guilty pleasures. The Doom games were about gore and machismo, and that is precisely what you get out of its film adaptation. Okay, so its story is paper-thin and the performances are wildly terrible. I'm sorry, I simply don't care. Doom is by far the best video game-to-movie adaptation, simply because it sticks to its source material the most. Objectively, it's not a good movie. In fact, it's kind of terrible. But with a five minute-long sequence of Karl Urban killing baddies in first person in a pseudo-unbroken shot, I don't really care. I came along for the ride, and that's exactly what I got. Give director Andrzej Bartkowiak a more substantial game, and he would surely craft a masterpiece out of it.

Alright, now we're getting to the heavier stuff. Both of the Silent Hill movies are on wildly different sides of the spectrum for me. The first film wasn't really all that bad. It stuck to its source material relatively well, and that's because the director, Christophe Gans, is a pretty big fan of Silent Hill. He originally wanted to create it as an accurate, thought-provoking story that adhered to its roots. Unfortunately, the film is significantly less than that, probably because ambition outweighed talent. The film is a visual masterpiece with some really brilliant set design, and it really locks in a creepy atmosphere that was imperative to the success of the original games. Music from the games was implemented into the film, and additional scoring done by Akira Yamaoka really added to the creepy atmosphere that really made the film mimic its source material. Although its script is middling and overlong, I still appreciate the amount of effort and care that went into the first Silent Hill movie. Its sequel, however, deserves no such recognition. The sequel's director, Michael J. Bassett, has stated that he prefers the graphic novels over the original games, and he shows this in full force. The visuals are alright, but the story, atmosphere, acting, direction... everything falls apart here. Silent Hill: Revelation is nothing short of offensive for fans of the game, and ruins a lot of the (admittedly little) impact the first film imparted upon viewers. There is so little relation to the game or even the first film that it hardly even feels like it's an adaptation. It's a cheaply made, lazy effort to get a buck out of fans of the series, and it's an absolute abomination to filmgoers and gamers everywhere. If you enjoy entertainment, chances are you hate this movie, too.

Speaking of abominations, let's talk about the Resident Evil movies. Not a single one of these movies feels like they correlate in any way with the games. They are tonally inconsistent with the games, with the films feeling more like action romps than horror movies, and tonal consistency is an absolute imperative when basing a movie off of anything. The first Resident Evil film in on-par with Mortal Kombat in the way that it is unabashedly mediocre and forgettable. Oddly enough, the director of the Resident Evil movies is also the director of that first Mortal Kombat film. The reason why the Resident Evil movies fail so much more is because there is a tangible story that goes along with these games, and Paul W.S. Anderson has no idea how to handle a story. He strays so wildly far from his source material and introduces so many different ideas that it becomes an incomprehensible mess, and that's exactly what all of these movies are. The story becomes so incredibly overblown, much more so than any of the games. If Anderson had anything of substance to add to this franchise, then I wouldn't have any problems with him straying so far, but he adds absolutely nothing palpable and only steals from the games, rather than be inspired by them. It's a real shame these movies are so successful, too, since Resident Evil 6 definitely feels more like the films than the preceding games. Capcom is definitely taking inspiration from the wrong person.

So, what do we take from all of this? Will we ever see a quality video game movie? I'm not sure. The law of averages certainly doesn't give good odds for Warcraft, but given the team behind the movie it's looking pretty promising. After two decades, one would think filmmakers would learn from previous mistakes, but box office returns keep telling them otherwise. Too often are filmmakers rushing out to earn a quick dollar that they don't bother to involve themselves with their source material, and it usually results in a half-hearted and disappointing offering. If Warcraft director Duncan Jones (who directed the masterpieces Moon and Source Code) has done enough of his homework, then Warcraft will definitely turn this market around. Creating a worthy video game movie takes dedication to your source material and talent, and Duncan Jones has proved that he has plenty of the latter. If he can step up his game and deliver a substantial, crowdpleasing movie, then there is plenty of hope for this market after all. After two decades of abuse, this movie genre needs to be shown some love, and I seriously hope Jones delivers.
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