Monday, 30 September 2013

Video Game Movies: The best and the rest

The trailer for Need the Speed came out this week, and you would have been forgiven for thinking it was the trailer for Fast and Furious 7. Need For Speed is the latest popular video game franchise to be given its own movie. Starring man of the moment, Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul, perhaps this street racer could take the genre to the next level. The trailer to be fair, looks half decent, but the whole premise so far has that overly marketed constructed feel. You get the impression this film has not been green-lit because of some genuine inspiration, but by the study of numbers in a business meeting. They have got in a popular up and coming actor, in a genre proven at the box office, and for good measure tied it in with a video game franchise. It feels artificial, but hey I’m jumping the gun here a bit, there’s no reason it couldn't be a hit.

You couldn’t really blame anyone for being wary or cautious about getting too excited for a video game franchise movie. There has yet to be one that really elevated of benefited either the movie or video game industry meaningfully. Sure there has been the odd half decent movie, and a few that fall in that ‘so bad it’s good’ category, but the majority in all honesty have been complete dross. Let’s boot up our systems and have a sort through the best and the rest of video game movies available currently on-demand. Just head over to Tank Top Movies to get your viewing sorted.

Let's start with the biggest and most popular video game franchise of the lot. For over 30 years now people have been playing as a little mustached plumber just trying to save his princess. The Super Mario games have remained remarkable popular from generation to generation. Apart from being beautifully designed and unbelievably polished games, they are brimming with personality and charm. They’re whimsical, zany and so so so obviously not suited for a live action movie. The idea doesn’t even sound remotely good on paper. The 1993 complete mess of a film, Super Mario Bros, provided the totally unneeded proof that Mario was a franchise that would not work on screen. Bob Hoskins described it as the worst thing he ever worked on. If a Super Mario film was to ever work, surely animated would be the way to go. Here’s hoping Insomniac’s upcoming Ratchet and Clank movie, can set the example of how to take a popular adventure game to the big screen.

Let’s have a look at the efforts of two popular fighting game franchises at feature length movies: Street Fighter (1994) and Mortal Kombat (1995). They are both absolutely rubbish and I love em. If you sit down to watch either one of these films and are expecting quality and inspiring film making then you are off your rocker. However, if you go in ready for a laugh, cheesy lines, ridiculous costumes and plenty of action, you’re going to have a good time. Mortal Kombat has all the classic lines from the game you would expect unashamedly shoe horned in, and the fantastically funky music from the series. Jean-Claude Van Damme is just so ridiculous alone in street fighter to warrant this film a watch. For fans of DOA: Dead or Alive, that movie has much the same cheesy appeal also.

Perhaps the most successful Video game movies have come from the adaptation of horror games. The Resident Evil movies have had five entries alone. Full of over the top video game like action and violence, it’s not hard to see why the franchise has been a financial success. The links to the video games have become more tenuous and stretched as the series has gone on, but the relentless Zombie fighting antics haven’t let up. The films are directed by Paul Anderson, and star his now wife Milla Jovovich. Other horror game adaptations include Doom, starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Silent hill.

If you’re looking for a decent action adventure flick then give Lara Croft - Tomb Raider a try. By no means a masterpiece, but Angelina Jolie was a good piece of casting and the film is a solid effort at bringing the franchise to the big screen. Lara croft, quite clearly herself was inspired by the likes of Indiana jones, so out of all the games mentioned so far, it was one that lent itself best to a film adaptation. A solid action adventure movie that both appealed to non-gamers and didn’t offend fans of the original game series too much. Clearly, the film was a commercial success too, earning itself a sequel.

Prince of Persia, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, was another game series that one would have thought lent itself to a big film adaptation, and for those who are not a fan of the Ubisoft games, perhaps this Mike Newell directed romp is an OK film. Unfortunately, in this admittedly fanboy opinion, the film was a bit of a mess. The storyline of the first game, that the film is supposedly based off, is fantastic: I don’t understand why they completely abandoned it. Lara croft told a new story not based off one of the games as well, but didn’t go round explicitly naming itself after one of the series entries. The casting of Gyllenhaal says everything I think you need to know about this film: The prince of Persia!, are there not enough white american heroes at the movies?

Max Payne and Hitman are two other franchises whose big screen adventures have left a bitter taste in the mouth of fans. I’m not sure anyone who is really fans of these franchises are clamouring for these movie outings. It’s to an extent an insult to the videogame medium: There is an implication that videogames are an inferior medium for storytelling. No doubt video games are far less accessible format to experience a good story: no film has ever prevented you from seeing the final act because you got stuck on a puzzle you couldn’t solve. Nevertheless videogames can and have told stories just as meaningful and dramatic as the big screen. Just check out the Bioshock games, tell tales’ Walking Dead series or perhaps best of all, Naughty Dog’s Last of Us. Creating a video game movie in this sense is a bit offending to fans of the actual game, but on the other hand it can bring a great story to thousands of people who might not have experienced it otherwise. We are certainly yet to see a video game movie that has convinced either the video game or movie world that the adaptations of games is path to excellent content.

By Matthew Taylor