Video Game Movies Are Doomed to Fail
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Do our game franchises belong on our consoles and not at the theaters?

OK, so I’m a movie fan. Not just your typical movie fan, but actually someone who studies the craft, and, at one point, saw myself getting into the industry. I’ve lost track of how much time I’ve spent watching behind-the-scenes documentaries and listening to the director’s commentary of every DVD I could get my hands on. I soaked it up like a sponge. The reason is that I just love the medium of storytelling that you find in film. There’s nothing quite like it. Sure, games have advanced over the years and have started to shift into a realm of theatrical storytelling rather than just simple one-off, level-based maps. Film, however, is still an animal all its own.

So why is it that, with all its brilliant writing and post-production resources, Hollywood absolutely cannot get, in most cases, a game movie right?

The most recent entry in the ranks of game-to-film adaptations is Need for Speed, starring Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul.

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Now, I’m a fan of Aaron Pual, and I know for a fact that the guy can act. If you’ve kept up with his work on Breaking Bad at all, you’ll know that he has the chops to really give a strong performance (especially if you’ve seen these last few episodes leading up to the series finale). So, why is it that when I see the trailer for Need for Speed, I once again hang my head? It starts out like any other action-film preview I’ve seen at the theater a thousand times. If I didn’t know better, halfway through, I would have already determined that this was a Fast and Furious sequel (or another spinoff such as Tokyo Drift). Then…I see it. Three simple words that made me literally cringe--”NEED FOR SPEED.”

Now, I’m not going to crucify this film without seeing it, because that’s just a hack thing to do. I should also mention that I love Need for Speed. It’s my absolute favorite driving franchise. However, I can make an educated guess based on past experiences, and that guess is that this movie looks awful. You get the basic gist of what they’re going for: lots of exotic exports get chased by the cops and then crash, crash, and crash—roll credits. Oh yeah, don’t forget the splash of the standard, token plotline of X girl being kidnaped/killed, thus forcing our hero to enact his vengeance via racecar. Now, you may be asking, “What else do you want from a Need for Speed film?”

On that point, you may be right. There isn’t much to the Need for Speed franchise regarding plot, other than racing and outrunning the cops. It’s pretty cut-and-dry stuff. So does that not beg the question, do we really need a Need for Speed film? With franchises such as the Fast and the Furious clearly doing it better, what is the point of slapping on a game license just to get a film made? If I didn’t know belter, I’d say this was a script that had been lying around for awhile, and when the game license became available, an executive seized the opportunity by dusting off the script, slapping on the Need for Speed name, and then boom…that’s how things get done in Hollywood, kids.
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It seems, based on our track record, a great film adaption of a game is like Bigfoot or the Chupacabra: often rumored, but never quite seen. I’ve referenced this many times in the past, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up one of the most famous game adaptations: the Super Mario Bros. film. This film was released in May of ’93 and was not only just a box office failure, but also a precedent setter that established that games make bad films. Even its star Bob Hoskins, who’s an accomplished actor in his own right, trashed the film’s director and literally called it the” worse thing he ever did.” Now, I bring this up because Aaron Paul is in a similar boat. He’s a guy coming off the huge success of a hit TV series, and his opening volley into the world of film is what could be a really bad game-movie. The fallout from this will once again be a nail in the coffin of our hopes that the film community will one day get this formula right. How many actors will want to sign on with this kind of stigma hanging over the production before it even gets started?

The question is, can it be done? Is there just something about the way a story is told in a game that doesn’t translate to film? One franchise continues to give us hope. Mortal Kombat may prove that it is possible.

The Mortal Kombat film is considered by many to be the best game-movie of all time. Released in 1995, it came during a huge boom where games were incredibly popular and people were not that far removed from the debacle that was the Super Mario Bros. movie. The MK film showed that it could be done in a way that is captivating and fun and still captures the spirit of the game while also not being completely ridiculous (if you’d like an example of a ridiculous MK, see Annihilation).

Now, the creators of a series known as Mortal Kombat: Legacy are proving that a big-budget film adaptation of a game might just work. It started out as a simple short, but fans really dug it and wanted to see more. It eventually led to Warner Bros. producing a new series (now in its second season). Once again coming full circle, this success led to yet another feature film based on the Mortal Kombat franchise being put into development.

There’s no doubt that, over the years, we’ve had far too many stinkers in the epic-fail category of game-to-film adaptations. The problem is not the content; I just think Hollywood gets the formula wrong. I have to believe this is due to the fact that the people behind films see games differently than mainstream media, which I have already expanded on. Game movies sometimes seem to be phoned in, with execs thinking that mindless gamers will just dump out their wallets at the ticket booth as long as the movie is “approximately” like their favorite games. I mean, what do we know, right? In their eyes, our brains have probably turned to mush by now from all the gaming we do.
 
This attitude has led studios to more financial failures from game movies than successes. Right or wrong, Hollywood is largely motivated by money. So, if they would just look at how it’s done correctly (and yes, it has been done), then they would garner a huge profit where they otherwise would have crashed and burned.

 What’s wrong Hollywood…you don’t like money?
Jason Messer
Jason Messer
@J8sonMesser

Contributing Writer
Date: 09/27/2013

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