Features & News

A Risky Game To Play: Video Game To Film Adaptations

I will preface this article by saying that a truly brilliant film adaptation of a video game is yet to be created. It is undoubtedly a very difficult task; trying to attempt to emulate a game’s tone, how much to alter the original story and whether to utilise the game’s voice cast are just a few of the decisions that plague this task. The transition is a complex one, making one mistake is inevitable and multiple, likely. I propose to examine which projects have come close to success, which fell short and which were downright awful. It is also worth looking to the future and considering whether we will ever get one that will achieve acclaim.

As film audiences are more passive than gamers (no controllers in cinemas, yet) failure to expand upon a game’s core mechanics for story purposes results in something dull and uninspired. The strengths of the Hitman game series; player choice, weapon variety and open-ended scenarios is impossible to translate into film and would have benefitted from an exploration of Agent 47’s mental instabilities and social incompatibility. Yet, Xavier Gens chose not to include these smarter, broader topics and Hitman (2007) became another run-off-the-mill action flick and disappointing adaptation. Max Payne (2008) took an interesting neo-noir approach, unfortunately hammy acting and a weak script failed to adequately communicate the anxiety and stress felt by a man who had lost his wife and child.

Unfortunately, some adaptations of beloved franchises seem to make no attempt at critical acclaim and hold almost no merit as a result. Super Mario Bros. (1993) doesn’t seem to know if it’s meant to be taken seriously; featuring our two favourite plumber brothers in gaming, it charts their ‘real-world’ journey to rescue Princess Peach and prevent Koopa from merging both dimensions together. It sits in the same sub-category of ‘novelty’ adaptations in which Doom (2005) also resides, waving the banner of ‘so bad it’s good.’ This is the depressing rock bottom of adaptations, where a lack of passion for the original material results in something that no one wants to see.

However, there are some ‘gems’ in the rough, if not diamonds; 2007’s Prince of Persia: Sands of Time showed directors have had a decent stab at adapting video games. Despite wooden acting and poor writing, the blockbuster action sequences did evoke the original game’s revolutionary free-running mechanics and offered cheap thrills that were almost worth the price of admission. Moreover, correct casting of famous video game characters can be highly profitable: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) was marred by cheesy action sequences that (ironically) emulated video games a little too closely, but was partially saved by Angelina Jolie’s remarkable central performance as the iconic Lara Croft.

There have been some stinkers, many disappointments and a couple of pleasant surprises, but I can safely say, we have had nothing definitive. Several projects are in the works that may pull it off. Can Aaron Paul channel Jesse Pinkman into Need for Speed? Will Michael Fassbender give Assassins’ Creed some reverence for the past? Could Splinter Cell yield nail biting thrills if the likes of Paul Greengrass are at the helm? Might Deus Ex: Human Revolution make us consider what truly makes us human as the fantastic game of 2011 did? It’s a monumental challenge to successfully make the leap from one medium to another, but, done well, one might create something that’s extraordinarily fresh and yet comfortingly familiar. We live in hope.

Tom Welshman

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