Editorial: FROM VIDEO GAMES, TO MOVIES, TO SOME SERIOUS FRUSTRATION

THE LAST OF US is being made into a movie!

There’s two reactions that I’m going to get from that line. From the average Joe: *crickets* “So?” But to anyone who has played the video game it’s being adapted from, this is a topic as controversial as talking about the future success of the DC comic’s cinematic universe. Why is it such a hot button? Because video games have rarely met success on the big screen, and many, if not all, of these movies are based on popular and critically praised video games.

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Let’s start with the very first adaptation: 1993’s SUPER MARIO BROS. starring Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, and Dennis Hopper. As many would remember, this was not a very good movie and, of course, wasn’t a faithful adaptation of the original game. The universe of Mario and Luigi is a colorful, fun, and rockin’ good time being a mustachioed plumber rescuing Princess Toadstool… er, Princess Peach? … wait, what’s this bitch’s name again? Anyway, rescuing her from the evil dragon Bowser. This is the same… “story” that has repeated over the course of many Mario games, so one would think it’s a formula not too hard to replicate. Well the movie, for those of you that didn’t see this flick, decided to go many different routes. While the movie got that Mario and Luigi are plumbers right, um… they somehow live in Brooklyn (as opposed to the Mushroom Kingdom), Mario and Luigi have a backstory about having no parents and Mario raised Luigi (spawning several jokes about how Mario can be both Luigi’s brother and father – and in the game, there is no backstory for their heritage), Bowser is “King Koopa,” awe fuck it, if I listed all the changes we’d be here all day!

The point I’m trying to make is that this movie was clearly just a cash grab: take a property that is highly profitable/popular, make a cheap movie, slap the name on it to get asses in the seats, and roll in the Benjamins, and worry about the critical backlash… never. Who cares if the product isn’t well-liked, as long as it makes a profit?

Well, you damn asshole filmmakers that green-lit this movie, it was neither a commercial nor a critical success. 40 million dollars to make, grossed barely more than 20 million.

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This has been a repeating pattern for these adaptations ever since. DOUBLE DRAGON (7 million to make, grossed 2 million), WING COMMANDER (30 million, grossed 11 million), FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN (137 million, grossed 85 million), DOOM (65 million, grossed 55 million), the list goes on. All of these movies have been panned by critics and fans alike (don’t get me started on anything directed by Uwe Boll).

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Now that’s not to say all of these movies were bombs. Some were successful enough to warrant a sequel, such as TOMB RAIDER and TOMB RAIDER: THE CRADLE OF LIFE, and MORTAL KOMBAT and MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION. But once again, these films were critically brutalized and their sequels did so much worse that the properties were never revisited on the big screen.

The most astonishing case of success, however, is the Resident Evil franchise, which has a record setting five, almost six, sequels. A respectable feat not accomplished by any big screen video game adaptation. And like its video game adapted relatives, these movies aren’t so good either.

What in god’s name is going on here? How is it that this franchise is so successful?

Well, like the Transformers movies, it’s all about the “cool” factor and marketing. Did you see RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE’s teaser?

That’s still one of the most stand-out teasers I’ve ever seen. Or how about RETRIBUTION’s trailer?

That still gets a chuckle out of me. Whoever makes these things for Paul W.S. Anderson clearly knows how to distinguish himself. Be that as it may, these movies have always been marketed well and good marketing increases interest in a movie, therefore usually translates to a successful movie. Whether or not the movie is any good always remains to be seen. On a personal note, I think the Resident Evil films are not RESIDENT EVIL. It’s only in name and some fan service thrown in, but it’s not RESIDENT EVIL. Even the best of these movies don’t compare to the worst of the games.

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But all that aside, I don’t want this to turn into a review of all these movies. The purpose of this editorial is more or less just me expressing my frustration that there are no good film adaptations of these great or iconic games. I want to use the argument of how comics have come a long way since the days of Christopher Reeves’ SUPERMAN, or certainly how far they’ve come since Tim Burton’s BATMAN. This would a fair argument as video games are almost just as old, the first video games having been invented in the late 40’s, early 50’s (granted, it didn’t hit mainstream popularity until the 70’s a-la PONG). But what makes this a weak argument for me is that superhero comics had stories. Thin and basic, “present bad guy, hero flies in, and stops him” kind of stories, but stories. But comics would eventually put effort in more detailed, complicated stories and characters in time. Hell, by the time PONG was reaching our arcades and big box TVs at home, we were about to get introduced to comics like WATCHMEN. Comics evolved quite a bit since those early years, didn’t they? Unfortunately, video games didn’t start getting deep in narratives until later, like the original FINAL FANTASY, which might have been one of the, if not the, first video games to have a real story with real characters; plot progression, character development and relationships, emotional investment, all that good stuff that also makes a good movie.

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Fast-forward to 2016, what are video games now? A hell of a lot more than they used to be, that’s for damn sure. Most video game libraries are filled to the brim with gripping narratives, intense action, engaging characters, expansive worlds to explore, it’s teeming with amazing things to experience. Many, including myself, would argue that much of what is on our Xboxs and Playstations are equal to, even surpass, the stuff we see in the cinemas. Unfortunately, the film adaptations of these games still don’t get the justice they deserve. It’s been twenty-three years since SUPER MARIO BROS. and Hollywood has still not yet looked at video games like anything other than childrens’ play things. Even though films like NEED FOR SPEED, HITMAN: AGENT 47, and SILENT HILL: REVELATIONS 3D were modest financial hits at the box office, they are still critically panned movies. Yeah, it sure looks like that’s just the Hollywood we have now: quick cash grabs, no effort for substance.

Or is it?

There may yet be hope for this genre of adaptations. Take a look at the adaptations that are coming out in 2016 alone: RATCHET AND CLANK, ANGRY BIRDS, WARCRAFT, and ASSASSIN’S CREED. A grand total of four this year! That’s kinda nuts! Yeah okay, 2006 had three titles, BLOODRAYNE, DOOM, and SILENT HILL, but tell me which of those titles you even remember, let alone saw. However, these four movies are making some serious rounds on the internet.

 

ANGRY BIRDS is probably the more advertised one, and is more than likely going to be a hit due to its family-demographic appeal, but there’s some gross-out humor that’s making me wary.

RATCHET AND CLANK might be good from what I’ve seen in the trailer, but I’ve yet to see that trailer in theaters and it’s coming out at the end of April. This marketing team better hit the ground running soon, or this film might be a flop simply because no one knew it was coming out.

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But it’s time to address the big ones: WARCRAFT and ASSASSIN’S CREED. Why are these the big ones? Because these movies clearly have the bigger budget of the four and failure will likely result in a painful gut-check for the studios financing the things. Not only that, failure will likely result in further incentive for studios to never drop 100+ million dollars on a film based on a video game again. Without the success of these two films, adaptations of HALO and MASS EFFECT might take even longer to see the light of day, and they’ve both been in production hell for years. And if my dollar tree-worth of research is accurate, ASSASSIN’S CREED really needs to be successful because it’s got a budget of nearly 200 million dollars. That’s almost the cost of 2011’s GREEN LANTERN! But due to its production period of nearly five years, a good movie might be a tall order… to the point where I’m calling it… it’s going to be a flop. Dear god, I hope not. To be fair, however, I bet only one of these upcoming films needs to be a success. One financial success might be enough for studios to say, “if it’s good enough, we’ll finance it.”

Weirdly enough, I do have a personal fear: that there’s a flip-side to the coin of success. If either or both films become a success, why do I have a feeling that the expectation would be similar to that of comic book movies? Elaboration: the budget for every Avengers-related movie ranges from 100 million to 200+ million. Few have the budget of, say, 2000’s X-MEN ($75 million) or this year’s DEADPOOL ($58 million). My fear is that if these movies do well, every adaptation will have to be big and grand. For franchises like HALO and MASS EFFECT, of course, they would have to be.

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But what if they wanted to reboot, say, MAX PAYNE? I doubt a movie like that would need a 100 million dollar price tag. Or maybe the talked-about reboot of TOMB RAIDER? Again, I doubt a high budget would be necessary. I suppose the real fear is that these adaptations may get overblown when they wouldn’t need to be. But this is probably just paranoia.

Honestly though, it’d be hypocritical of me to say that financial success is everything. At the end of the day, a good movie is a good movie. When all is said and done, that’s all I’m asking from WARCRAFT and ASSASSIN’S CREED. Don’t worry about making a franchise or building a universe, just focus on making a good movie. Marvel Studios seems to grasp that pretty well, but Warner Brothers’ DC comic movies are officially struggling with it. Bottom line, the future studios that will be distributing these movies shouldn’t try to be anything but their own thing.

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I feel so passionate about this subject because movies and video games go hand-in-hand to me, and if I think about it too much it baffles me how the times haven’t caught up with this concept. Hollywood needs to stop seeing this market as a quick cash grab. More often than not, when treated in that fashion, it’s only going to yield failure. Point to RESIDENT EVIL if you have to, but that shouldn’t be a difficult bar to surpass.

Video games are ripe with great, and to many gamers out there, meaningful stories. We want the world to feel for these stories like we do. To get as excited for them as we are. No one wants to see a bad movie, so lets up the ante. The world is ready for you to take a chance and give the movie-going masses something they didn’t know they wanted.

In my honest opinion, it worked for novels and it’s certainly working for comic books. Video games are just patiently sitting here waiting for their turn.

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