| Sometimes I wonder about the state of entertainment. When one form becomes profitable, it is inevitably ripped off, hijacked, or ruined beyond all recognition. The driving force of this is Hollywood, a city that doesn’t know the meaning of the word original. The case in point being the recent rash of video games that has been commandeered by Hollywood.
A relatively new form of entertainment, video games are no stranger to cinema, though the notion that they can be real movies seems to be. The once and future king of the video game world, Mario was one of the first game characters to receive the silver screen treatment, way back in 1993. The movie was at best, a camp classic and at its realistic worst, one of the worst films ever made. Undeterred by the critical and commercial lambasting the movie received, Nintendo licensed yet another one of its franchises to be made into a live action movie. Double Dragon hit theatres the next year and made Super Mario Bros. look like Citizen Kane by comparison.
You’d think that with the way these films tanked, that Hollywood would get the idea that the limited storylines of video games circa 1993 did not translate to film. You’d be sadly mistaken as Street Fighter: The Movie saw the end of two careers. One was the esteemed Raul Julia, an actor famed for roles in such acclaimed films as Kiss of the Spider Woman who died shortly after filming. The other death was the career of Jean Claude Van-Damm, a man who shouldn’t have had a career in the first place. The great tragedy of this movie was the fact that it spawned a video game of its own. Street Fighter:The Movie: The Game is easily one of the best examples of how badly this franchise was milked.
Not all video game movies were total commercial failures, though not one yet has received critical acceptance. There is one movie that raked in the money, despite overwhelming negative reviews. It goes to figure that the one franchise that could do this would be the one that resurrected the pop culture connection with video games; the highly controversial Mortal Kombat. This uber-violent game spawned a feature as milquetoast as possible, probably to secure the all-important PG-13 rating. This of course was to draw in the crowds of junior high school kids, but did nothing for the quality of the movie. Of course it was just an S&M session disguised as a game, so I guess reading too much into it wouldn’t be healthy.
The success of that movie ensured that there would be successive films featuring video game characters, though none save a second MK movie garnered any attention. . In 1995, something massive changed in the world of video gaming and that something was the Sony Playstation. Now across the entire country gamers were united by one system, as even non-gamers found this system in their possession. This set the stage for a pop culture phenomenon not seen in the world of video games since Pac-Man fever. The current rash of casual gamers can be traced back to the Playstation’s crossover success, and most of that popularity can be traced to one digital creation. Wearing shorts that would cause Daisy Duke to blush, Lara Croft invaded the game world and did something a thousand Ms. Pac-Man’s couldn’t do. Video games finally had a sex symbol of its own, and as any 14 year old with a Hillary Duff movie can tell you, sex sells.
Tomb Raider was a game that almost made a fatal mistake that would have ensured that it’s name would never have been mentioned in Hollywood. The lead character in Tomb Raider was almost a man. The initial design called for an “Indian Jones type character” in order to better fit with the theme of, well, raiding tombs.
That was not the case however, and one of the most recognizable game creations was brought to life in no less than six video games to date. That kind of success in the 90’s almost assuredly spawned a connection or two in Hollywood, and this was no exception. What has been given the dubious honor of best video game adaptation, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider had some genuine moments of actual film making, though most of the dialogue seemed to be geared towards 9 year olds. Hollywood has pandered to every single interest group in the world so I suppose gamers should be no different. It is interesting to note that video games rake in millions of dollars each year, and yet they are still viewed as something done by immature basement-dwellers, which is ridiculous. Some of us live in the attic.
Be that as it may, the Tomb Raider movie was a commercial success, which of course led to a resurgence of game properties being bought and sold in Hollywood. Some of the odder ones snatched up included the light-gun game House of the Dead, and the arcade hit Crazy Taxi. It is another interesting point to ponder when you consider plot heavy games such as Metal Gear Solid have all but been ignored. Again, this is a symptom of the perceived image of video game players. We couldn’t possibly sit still for 2 hours unless there are lots of explosions, breasts and kung fu. Never mind that video games are never two hours long, and most gamers have spent more than one night playing until the break of dawn. We do have attention spans; they’re just very selective.
One franchise in particular was ripe for a movie license, and finally received one in 2001. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was supposed to be a revolution on many fronts, but ended up destroying an entire company. Touted as the first American produced, fully computer-rendered movie aimed at adults, the movie consisted of some beautiful character models, celebrity voice acting, and a massive advertising campaign. As a life long FF fan, I was first in line to see this movie. Unfortunately for me, I had ignored most of the reviews, in an effort to avoid any and all spoilers. This of course was a double-edged sword, as I missed all the negative comments leveled at the film. To say it was disappointing would be a massive understatement.
The first, and biggest mistake of the Final Fantasy movie was the fact that it ignored the lengthy history of the games entirely. The first hint for the scriptwriters was right in the title. FANTASY. What they decided to produce instead was a tired science fiction movie, which made about as much sense to fans as a Star Trek movie with ninjas. (Admittedly this would make the franchise watchable again.)
Stripped of everything that made the series popular in the first place The Spirits Within was a movie without an audience. Fans of the video games expected a fantasy movie, you know like the games while regular moviegoers saw it as just another cartoon. Add to the fact that the plot seemed to be taken from a “How to Write A Big Budget Movie…In Less than A Day” book and this movie was bound for obscurity. Unlike the whimsical animation of Toy Story, the CGI in Spirits has not stood the test of time. More realistic renders have been seen on my X-Box. The movie was so bad it bankrupt the American movie studio of Squaresoft, which was too bad. A second movie was definitely there, which was evident in the short animations seen in the Animatrix.
This movement of disappointing box office hits led to smaller directors getting ahold of some choice property, and in one sever case, destroying the franchises completely. World renown hack Uwe Boll, know for his atrocious butchering of cinema everywhere has bought some of the hottest properties, including BloodRayne and Far Cry. Both of these in the hands of the right director could’ve been huge, but as it stands they will amount to nothing, much like his previous attempts at game cinema. He is the director of the afore mentioned light gun movie, the atrocious House of the Dead, which defined horrible film for an entirely new generation. Within this movie, Mr. Boll decided that camp was necessary and intercut scenes from the arcade game with the action scenes. The final product looked like so many high school film projects undertaken by football players forced into the class. His most recent movie is Alone in the Dark; another venerable franchise that is sure to be ruined by the time the movie leaves theaters later this year.
Not all the news is bad though; actual filmmakers have picked up the rights to some of the greatest games ever made. Cory Yuen, famed Hong Kong director/actor has picked up the rights for Dead or Alive, which I’m sure will be a though provoking piece on the perils of thong wearing. Mr. Yuen was directed over 30 films and the latest was the fairly entertaining The Transporter, so I have some hopes for this one. The long running Tekken franchise has also been optioned, this time by the director of Mr. 3000 and Drumline. While he might not have been anybody’s first choice, it can be argued that at least his movies don’t cause brain damage.
While these small time (at least in America) directors handling game properties might not make you excited, the news about the Metroid movie should make you scream in fanboy delight. For the first time a game property is being handled by a major director, John Woo. Famed for his unique style and plot heavy action pieces, Mr. Woo is better than perfect for bringing game moves to the mainstream. If this movie is successful, then I can see other franchise being snapped up by action directors. In five years video game movies could be the new comic book movie meaning many more roles for Ben Affleck. Makes me wonder if he’d look good in green tights.
Zelda jokes aside, there is a lot of potential in the game world for an entertaining movie, but little has been done to exploit this. A lot depends on the success of the current crop of movies, as their monetary yield will determine if the hallowed franchises will become the next big thing, or just another badly implemented fad of cinema. Very little has been shown that filmmakers are interested in creating art from this material, though I really don’t blame them. With the money that companies like EA make, it is inevitable though that somebody will tackle it seriously. In the meanwhile I can still dream of a movie based on Space Channel 5, starring Kylie Minogue as Ulala.