Games On The Big Screen
2016 is a big year for gamer films with Warcraft, Assassin's Creed, and even Angry Birds coming out soon, not forgetting Ratchet And Clank this month. I'm excited! But, it has been a bad habit of Hollywood not getting it right with a long list of examples. It seems the films based around an idea of a video game has had more success, like Wargames, The Last Starfighter, TRON and even The Wizard. Game parodies such as Wreck-It Ralph and the more recent Pixels have had semi decent box office results. But let's have a look at the films that have been spawned solely from the video game universe.
First was Nintendo's ever faithful Super Mario Bros. (1993) with Bob Hoskins playing the title role alongside John Leguizamo as Luigi and Dennis Hopper as King Koopa, who is incidentally Bowser by another name. I remember disliking the film, thinking it was an awful adaption and maybe would have been better as an animated movie. (Btw, Whatever happened to Samantha Mathis?)
What came after wasn't any better. Even though Street Fighter II was all the rage at the time it was Double Dragon (1994) to hit the big screen first. I can't help but think that studios got word of Street Fighter II being turned into a film and thought they better make the most of it and produce the other '87 coin-op first. Music film director James Yukich was at the helm who I think went straight back to directing Music films, possibly scarred by the experience. It certainly wasn't a good direction for both T-1000 Robert Patrick and Crying Freeman Mark Dacascos.
So, on to Capcom's Street Fighter (1994) which was released a month after Double Dragon with characters based mostly from the second game as oppose to the other '87 hit fighting coin-op prequel. Muscles from Brussels Van Damme was chosen to play the oddly decided Guile (not sure how Ryu and Ken felt about that) along side Aussie star Kylie Minogue as Cammy; who wasn't even in the original game line up, not even the championship or turbo edition. The late Mr. Adams Raul Julia who was suffering at the time, played the wrongly named M.Bison (should have been originally Vega) and something has to be said for the director, as little is know about Steven E. De Souza but he wrote and screenplayed some of the best action films of the 80's; like Commando, The Running Man, Die Hard and 48hrs, not forgetting Knight Rider. I think it's fair to say directing wasn't his strong point. Legendary film critic Leonard Maltin gave it his lowest ever rating. The anime release of the same year was far superior and truer to the game. You lose.
So far, games in films haven't done so well and can anyone guess what was next? The other 90s fighting phenomenon Mortal Kombat (1995) which was surprisingly good, especially compared to what has been released previously. It spent 3 weeks at number one in the US box office so that's saying something and spawned a less successful sequel in '97 Mortal Kombat: Annihilation; which was equally entertaining but replacing Christopher Lambert's Raiden with James Remar annoyed me a little; even though I wasn't even happy with the original choice of Lambert for Raiden in the first place. It was an early work for director Paul W.S. Anderson who then went on to direct Event Horizon, AVP and another game franchise which I'll get to shortly.
Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat was one of those 'you're either one or the other' arguments like today's iPhone Vs Galaxy. It was Nintendo/Street Fighter Vs SEGA/Mortal Kombat back in the day; I, myself being a Street Fighter but I much preferred the Mortal Kombat films.
What comes next is a man called Chris Roberts who not only directed the film but was also the man behind the games as well; who eventually became quite successful in Hollywood producing films like Lord of War and Lucky Number Slevin. Wing Commander was probably the first game that incorporated film into their games starring Luke Skywalker, Mark Hamill himself, alongside Malcolm McDowell and Gimli, John Rhys Davis back in the mid-nineties, even spawning a TV series; however none of the actors above appeared in the film of 1999 with Freddie Prince Jr. taking Mark Hamill's role. Got negative ratings and heavy criticism from fans regarding visuals and character casting. Funny how even one of the game developers can get it wrong when directing.
2001 brought Lara Croft to life in the form of the beautiful Angelina Jolie who did really well to capture the character of the famed Tomb Raider. Her real-life father, Jon Voight played her on scene father Lord Croft and was directed by Con Air director Simon West. And let's not forget Daniel Craig, Game of Thrones' Iain Glen and Noah Taylor. It was probably the best game to film adaptation to that date, being the highest grossing game/film at the box office which was soon followed by a sequel, The Cradle of Life in 2003 again with Jolie; but with Speed director and Director of Photography legend, Jan de Bont. Though neither were that well received by critics.
That same summer of 2001 brought gamers probably the biggest but most beautiful disappointment yet. It was the first CGI motion picture which, as a stand alone movie, was amazing however it was wrongly titled after one of the best game series ever; that being Final Fantasy. Fans of the series, especially of the famous VII denied the film's success and it didn't do as well as expected at the box office resulting in the studio, Square Pictures to close down and their only other credit was Flight of The Osiris which formed part of the Animatix in 2003. What's more surprising than the film being quite distant from its source material and it taking four years to complete, is that it was directed by none other than Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi. Surely you would have expected a true Final Fantasy film from him. But FF fans prayers were answered in 2004 with the CGI animated Advent Children which was directed by Kingdom Hearts and FF makers Tetsuya Nomura and Takeshi Nozue which I thought was amazing with great action and stunning animation.
2002 Paul W.S. Anderson picks up the controller again taking over from George A. Romero but this time filming the hugely successful Capcom game, revivals to his Mortal Kombat Midway creators. Resident evil was first released on PlayStation back in '96 and though considered the first of its kind, it was really the first game that got major recognition for horror games, being influenced by Alone In The Dark and Capcom's Sweet Home. The film had many elements from the game but was not a direct plot to plot and was the birth of a film franchise centred around a non-game character Alice, played by Milla Jovovich; with the sixth instalment, The Final Chapter being released next year. All directed by Paul W.S Anderson apart from the second film, Apocalypse (2004), which was made by Alexander Witt who has been assistant director or unit director on so many great films like American Gangster, The Town and the recent bond movies. This was his first and only main feature as director.
Now the next five years contained not just some of the worse game/films ever made but the worse films full stop all made by Uwe Boll. He at first directed the arcade FPS House of The Dead with a cast of unknowns in 2003. Then Alone In The Dark in 2005 with Christian Slater, Stephen Dorff and Tara Reid. Next was the even bigger casted BloodRayne (2005) with Terminator 3 T-X Kristanna Loken taking the lead role as the Blade type hybrid Vampire/Human alongside Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, (who hated the film) Michelle Rodriguez and Meat Loaf. Totally bombed at the box office yet still spawn two sequels, one of which was again directed by Boll. Postal was next in 2007 starring J.K. Simmons and Mini Me Verne Troyer; which is the lowest grossing movie of the game/film genre, raking in just under $150,000 only. He didn't stop there and made the Jason Statham starrer, In The Name of The King in 2007 and Inglorious Basterd Sgt. Stiglitz (Til Schweiger) starred in his 2008 film of Far Cry. None of these films were successful and are rated as some of the worse films ever by both gamers and film critics.
It wasn't all bad during this period but wasn't amazing either. In 2005 we saw martial art new comer Andrzej Bartkowiak (Romeo Must Die, Exit Wounds and Cradle 2 The Grave) direct Karl Urban and The Rock Dwayne Johnson in Doom based on the infamous game of the same name. Personally I didn't think this was a bad film, above average and the first personal perspective was a nice nod to the game. However, Moviegoers and non-gamers demanded more.
Fantasy Horror director Christopher Gans gave us Roger Avary's version of Konami's super scarer Silent Hill in 2006. Avary being a talented writer, he was and is a good friend of Quentin Tarantino, winning an Oscar for writing the screenplay to Pulp Fiction. But did he work his magic for Silent Hill? It looked and felt great, being, not necessarily the most successful, but one of the best adapted. It certainly did better than the 2012 Revelation sequel.
2006 gets worse when Hong Kong legend Cory Yuen directs Tecmo's Dead or Alive using a headline cast without or little martial art background. Only to be saved by Matrix's Seraph Collin Chou and Sho Kosugi's son, Kane. It felt that the film was trying to be a career launch or relaunch vehicle for many of the cast. It actually contains some good fights and sticks to the games minimal plot, however it was poorly received at the box office and quickly got forgotten about.
2007 brought us Eidos' Hitman with Timothy Olyphant as agent 47. It was a slow burner, but as was the game in my opinion. I've enjoyed most of the games and it was nice to see the film giving quite a few nods to its source material. The hitman stride and the camera angles, though Olyphant didn't quite suit the ballers; he does a better job than Rupert Friend in the 2015 Agent 47. Again, this wasn't well received.
A Good Day To Die Hard director, John Moore, directed Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis in Rockstar game Max Payne which actually won a award for, wait for it; the Golden Raspberry award for worse actor which went to Marky Mark. The game producer, Scott Miller actually spoke out against the film, criticising it for it's plot differences and like everything else before, was poorly reviewed by both critics and gamers, again. It did however get awarded best Videogame Adaption of 2008 but was reluctantly given by IGN because of whatelse was out there.
Now Jerry Bruckheimer and Disney had a go with Prince of Persia: Sands of Time in 2010. Four Weddings and Donnie Brasco director Mike Newell was at the helm with Jake Gyllenhaal, Sir Ben Kingsley and Gemma Arterton. The bigger budget and bigger names seemed to work bringing in a return gross of over $335m making it the biggest grossing game to film adaption overall. As a stand alone movie it was entertaining and I enjoyed it. But it was certainly missing loads from the game franchise. Yes there was some interesting parkour and fight scenes but where was that tension? That annoying, controller-breaking frustration players got when trying to solve one of the games many near-on-impossible puzzles.
Finally, Electronic Arts Need for Speed came out in 2014 in an already Fast and Furious cinema world. Newcomer Scott Waugh (Act of Valor) directed with Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul taking the lead. As always, the film received negative criticism from all rides; critics, gamers and even car enthusiasts. It didn't break any speed records and disappointed majority of viewers.
So over the last twenty plus years of game to film adaptations only a few had slightly better than average ratings; and that average using Rotten Tomatoes scoring is an awful 17%. The highest being Prince of Persia at 36% so you get the idea, game to film adaptions are some of the worse films ever made.
Are this years future releases going to follow trend or actually pull something off? Is there a fundamental reason why these adaptions fail to impress both gamer and viewer? Could it be the studio? The film makers? Have they even played the games? My theory is that the games offer so much more and have the added dimension of allowing players to interact with the story, that's what makes them games; whereas the films takes that controller away and forces the viewer to just watch the story and let's admit, early game storylines were normally quite cliched and linear but that's because the real storytelling came from the gameplay, unlike today's where some game plots could rival Hollywood.
Anyway. thanks for reading if you made it this far down and a thanks to IMDb, Wikipedia and Rotten Tomatoes. Which games would you like to see made into a movie? Who would you cast? Hugh Jackman for Metal Gear Solid Snake, Sam Elliott as Ocelot or maybe The Witcher and the Last of Us. Let's hope Warcraft and Assassin Creed can pull it off and I have a good feeling about Ratchet and Clank.