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Understanding Why Movies Based On Video Games Fail

By Stan Rezaee

Looks like Mr. 47 is returning to theaters as fans got a chance to see the first trailer for Hitman: Agent 47. Like its predecessor, it’s going to be an action thriller and another forgettable flop.

While video games have made efforts to recreate or continue some of the greatest works of the cinematic arts, Hollywood has failed to show the same kind of professional curtsy. It’s not that making an adaptation of a video game is difficult as it requires the same guidelines used to adapt popular books and comics. Yet Hollywood has failed to learn these lessons in trying to bring an iconic video game story to the big screen.

The biggest issue is that Hollywood doesn’t respect video games as an art. That is not a blanket statement because it’s obvious that Steven Spielberg respect video games as an art. The same could not be said about a studio executive who see gaming as a fad to tap into. To be fair most studio executives operate in a shell while only focused on the studios bottom line. It’s understandable that they need to focus on profits to stay in business, but it also gives them a warped perception. In the end it’s all about what sells and if they can’t understand it then it must not sell.

Since many in Hollywood have failed to respect video games as an art, they have also failed to understand it as a medium. For example; people who don’t understand gaming will look at Grand Theft Auto V as a cop and hooker killer simulator rather than a story of three friends seeking the American Dream in a post-2008 Crash society.

It’s easy to overlook that video games didn’t become a story telling medium until the late 80’s while having to break from the traditional standards set by cinema and theater.

The issue is that a lot of screen writers and directors will look at video games as if it was an action movie. The action is a gameplay mechanism that allows the player to function in the context of the environment, not drive the story. In doing so they have overlooked the story and robbed it of any content that fans enjoy.

Case in point would be how John Moore adaptation of Max Payne failed to properly recreate one of the greatest works of neo-noir since Pulp Fiction. The key word being “neo-noir”, as in a gritty crime drama within the context of a modern society and not an action / supernatural film.

If the creative team doesn’t understand the medium then they are likely to break away from the source material. Too often when such a film is announced, fans get excited in the hopes of seeing a cinematic adoption of their favorite video game. A few months later they are shocked to discover that the story and characters are not based on the source material.

The film adaptations of DoomHitman, and House of the Dead are just a few examples to note. The most well known example to look at would be the turbulent production that Resident Evil had to undergo.

When a Resident Evil movie was first being developed, Capcom and Sony originally tapped horror iconic George A. Romero. Unfamiliar with video games; he attempted to understand the source material by having his secretary play the game over eight times while being recorded. Romero would study the videos and take notes so that he may create a screenplay that was faithful to the story. However Sony rejected his vision and put the project on hold until Paul W. S. Anderson submitted his screenplay.

That is correct, Resident Evil was originally supposed to be directed by one of the most influential horror film directors and Sony rejected him in favor of some hack.

This bring up the next point, the studios hiring unqualified directors.

When it comes down to it, the majority of movies based on a video game have been created by bad directors. A lot of these directors who have made movies based on video games are either inexperienced or just notoriously terrible.

Taking lessons learned from the success of comic book films, there could only be a good film based on a video game if the director understands and respects the medium. Not too long ago comic book movies were seen as box office poison until Bryan Singer and Christopher Nolan redefined the genre. Video game movies could also have the same kind of success if only the right talent is leading the project. One needs to realize that there is a big difference between the works of Paul W. S. Anderson compared to Joss Whedon and Sam Raimi.

Directors like Whedon, Raimi along with Peter Jackson are the kind of directors who have the utmost appreciation for the source material. These artists were raised within this culture and as adults it has been a vision to properly recreate or retell these stories through the cinematic arts.

Also important to note is that they all had some experience in film making that help build the needed credibility among the studios to green light their dream project. Raimi had established himself with the Evil Dead-trilogy, Sir Kenneth Branagh was already recognized for his cinematic adaptations of William Shakespeare before directing Thor, and the successful re-make of Dawn of the Dead help launch Zack Snyder’s career.

Meanwhile the majority of movies based on video games have been directed by individuals who are either inexperienced or are known for making bad films. The best film Moore directed, Flight of the Phoenix, has a 37% on Rotten Tomato while Andrzej Bartkowiak sorry excuse of a filmography is no different and Uwe Boll can’t direct a film for s***.

The difference could be obviously seen with Halo: Nightfall, a successful adaptation that was produced by Sir Ridley Scott. Meanwhile another highly anticipated Halo adaptation is being developed by Steven Spielberg.

The only way a movie based on a video game will ever be successful if it’s directed by a gamer with experience while the screenplay is a faithful adaptation of the source material. So in other words, Sony please dump Jordan Vogt-Roberts in favor of Joss Whedon for the Metal Gear Solid movie. 

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About Stan Rezaee (440 Articles)

Stan Rezaee is the founder and Editor of 8Bit/Digi. He is a journalist and gamer from the Bay Area who has been writing about the medium for over five years.

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