It is imperative, at this point, to not discount the power of China in the entertainment industry. Hollywood has been catering to Chinese market needs for years now with big blockbusters, and Chinese companies like Tencent are making tons of dosh on video games. Now these two markets are about to intersect, and Konami stands to benefit quite a lot if it takes off. A movie and TV series based on the legendary Contra series is in the works, and a big Chinese media company is footing the bill. The company’s name is Starlight Media, and it is planning to release both Contra projects in some form worldwide, likely with streaming services. This could be a big chance for video game movies to take root in a new market and kick off what the genre needs: efficiency, style, and sustainability.
Video game movies as Hollywood blockbusters do not work. Resident Evil is a rare exception. Otherwise, people just do not give a damn enough about video game properties in a wide enough margin that intersects with people who go to see movies in theaters. Gamers are too busy spending their money on games and are savvy enough to wait for digital release, to pirate or just generally be aware video game movies have a bad reputation. Casual movie goers don’t know what the hell an Assassin’s Creed or Warcraft is and will only be confused. Filmmakers also struggle to hit a balance between catering to nerds and making the content accessible.
This is where the Chinese market has a golden opportunity to make some changes. First of all, these companies are shrewd and know how to make interesting, exciting movies on smaller budgets. This is true of most non-American movie studios, but especially in Asia. While not having ballooned special effects or marketing budgets, often keeping movies at well below the Hollywood level, the businesses have consistently done well with manageable expectations and reasonable costs.
Because of the style differences, these smaller, more efficient markets are able to actually cater to nerds without risking too much. The movies can be obtuse, stylish, and alienating because the movies are made with smaller, more focused audiences online, and grassroots content providers are hotbeds for sweet, sweet nerd money. Not everything is perfect, but look at any niche movie distributor, such as Magnet or Funimation. These small companies know to keep costs down and engagement high in their spaces.
Contra can be the beginning of something new and exciting for multimedia video game projects. If the people making Contra can avoid the trappings of making a generic action movie like the ones Contra is inspired by, instead embracing how weird the imagery in the games has been and dialing up the Asian-style camp a bit, the nerd scenes in the West will gobble it up. If the movie or show can be made available via a streaming service like Netflix, or other on-demand avenues such as VUDU, UltraViolet, or iTunes, people will show up.
The Contra projects still have to be well-made. The movie and show can’t be slapped together, rushed out, and tossed out into the void with no fanfare. Then it will crash and burn, nobody will care, and the world will move on without Contra. Konami’s involvement is likely scarce here, as is usually the case with these sorts of licensing deals, so even the bad mojo from Konami drama might be a non-issue. Besides, look at Castlevania. That show was four episodes and turned out to be a niche hit. Contra can be the same and ,with the Chinese involvement, even bigger.