Where Do Films Of Games Keep Going Wrong?

In a turn of events that will likely surprise no one, it seems that the Warcraft movie hasn’t exactly set the world alight. Tef didn’t exactly give it a glowing write up, and it seems much of the critical world is in agreement with him and Tuffcub, judging by Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes anyway.

It just seems that no-one’s really been able to get video game movies right yet, which is hardly a huge surprise. Making good movies is difficult enough without the added pressure of satisfying an existing fan base and their high expectations.

That’s not to say that there’s no hope for movies based on games though. It took decades of comic movie adaptations, many of which were truly terrible, before we got to the current surge of movies. Even now they’re often not all great – I’m looking at you Fantastic Four – but Marvel seems to have become adept at creating generally well received films.

FantasticFour-IL

One of the reasons that’s often cited by those analysing Marvel’s success is that fact they’ve brought their creation in house. When you compare the titles produced by Marvel Studios to those created by Fox or Sony, it’s clear that Marvel have done a much better job than the other two. The X-Men franchise has certainly improved since First Class, but the aforementioned Fantastic Four reboot shows that Fox can still misfire quite badly.

However, that does nothing to explain how poorly recent DC titles seems to have done. DC and Warner Bros seem to have taken the same approach as Marvel, with DC being able to take the reins of their own films. Despite this, they haven’t really been able to produce a film that’s had the same commercial or critical success as Marvel’s films.

It therefore seems unlikely that simply allowing a publisher to take complete control of a film based on one of their properties is the solution. The actual reason that Marvel have had success is that they hired competent people to create their films, and took the time to build out a vision of their cinematic universe and commit to that version.

That’s the key point to take from comic movies. While making genuinely good films is difficult, it’s certainly not impossible. You have to invest time, money, and the effort to create a cohesive vision of the game’s world that works on the silver screen.

Too many adaptations of games seem, frankly, like lazy attempts to make a quick buck. It actually seems to be the exact same problem that games based on movies have, just flipped the other way round. Both are so often accused of being cheap, rushed cash-ins, and both seem to be content produced with minimal effort at times.

It’s a shame that the Warcraft movie has fallen flat though, as it bucks that trend. Duncan Jones is certainly a more than competent director, and it’s clear that Legendary and Blizzard have put some real time and effort into the film; it’s certainly been in development for long enough.

However, the real problem seems to be that, for the most part, the writing in games isn’t exactly stellar; partly because it doesn’t need to be. While a game’s narrative is, of course, important, it’s interspersed with gameplay as well. The story tends to be broken up throughout the game, which can help when things go off the rails or fail to hit home. You also have far more time for the story to play out, allowing games that actually manage to succeed in the narrative department time to breathe.

This simply isn’t possible to replicate within a film. You don’t have the ability to take a break away from the story and you don’t have ten hours in which to tell that story – it turns out that 40 minutes were cut from the theatrical release, which could help the film’s rushed and confused opening half hour significantly. Compressing a story rarely results in improving it, and there’s a fear of changing it too drastically, for to avoid an inevitable backlash from fans of the source material.

Ultimately it’s possible for videogame films to transcend these issues though, it’s just a case of getting the right cast and crew, along with a studio that actually understands what makes the game work and is willing to give the film the resources it needs. Even then, Warcraft shows that sometimes this still isn’t going to be quite enough. It’s the same as any film that’s adapting source material really, you’ve just got to understand and translate what made the original tick.

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9 Comments

  1. oh c’mon mario brothers was an instant classic!!

    • Out. Get out. Take your TSA mug and get out!

      :P

      • “Street Fighter”?

      • Tis bad but the so bad it’s kinda good bad. Mario Bros was just stupid, bad and shit. Then there’s the shitty Resident Evil live action flicks featuring the Mary Sue known as Alice because Paul Anderson wants his wife to be the hero of everything.

  2. Good write up. I think part of the issues is studio interference followed by poor scripts and on occasions poor cast choices.
    Ryan Reynolds hated worked with the director of green lantern hence the remarks in deadpool due to poor choices. Like a animated green suit. Sometimes things should be left alone Let’s see how assassins creed pans out.

  3. Silent hill was pretty good IMHO

    • Yeah Silent Hill is good, and despite not having many characters from the game, the first Resi film has a lot of imagery and tone from the game.

      • Been meaning to watch it for god knows how long. Should watch it this week.

        But yeah, if i recall, SH does a much better job at being a decent film then the Milla Evil Films. Hell, anything is better then those films.

  4. They should basically stop doing it – games have surpassed films in terms of revenues and the way they tell stories is completely different to films.

    In some of the best story-focused games of recent years the player-character enters a world where everything has pretty much already happened. Then they story is revealed through exploration, NPC commentary, environmental detail, etc. The player’s contribution to the overall lore is minimal in the grand scheme of things. I’m thinking of Bioshock, Dead Space, Dark Souls, Destiny, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, SOMA and pretty much every zombie game. We come in after the world-changing apocalypse and the game gives us the freedom to wander around finding things out – rather than railroading us from event-to-event in a linear fashion.

    Films based on games are trapped between pleasing game-players with fanservice and trying to tell a traditional story – and they all do this pretty badly.

    The best adaptations tend to be ones which expand on the universe but tell a different story – and the best of these are fan-produced, rather than Hollywood – who want to please as much of the playerbase by including all the characters and events from the games themselves.

    I wrote an essay on this a few years ago – https://bladesew.wordpress.com/2010/11/21/videogames-and-film/

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