Games As Movies: The Problem

If you’re reading this, then there is a near 99% chance you like video games. A lot. If you aren’t, then why are you here? But if you are, you probably also would like to see a really good movie based on your favorite game. And hey, there have been a lot of movies. Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Super Mario Bros., Tomb Raider, DOOM. The problem is, none of them have really been spectacular.  So, what are we looking for, really in a movie adaptation of a video game? I don’t really think it’s that complex.

I think the problem is that you’re choosing the wrong games to adapt. Remember, cinema is a more story-based medium than games. Super Mario Bros. doesn’t really have a deep and complex story. Or compelling, iconic story details. So screenwriters do a lot of reworking to make it make sense as a movie. If I remember correctly, Super Mario Bros. The Movie had a de-evolution gun and dinosaur-headed Goombas. It wasn’t really “faithful.”  I heard something about an Asteroids movie. I don’t even want to think about that.

Next up, a movie is about two hours long. A video game? Eight to ten is a healthy length. Final Fantasy XIII is about a gazillion hours. So the movie would need huge amounts of cutting, or being broken up into a series. Additionally, I don’t think a game story would realistically survive being cut up into a set of movies. Really, video games are a closer medium to television, with levels much like episodes, as have been established in games like Alan Wake, Alone in the Dark, and LOST: Via Domus. That last one was kind of cheating, but as an adaptation, it worked better than I expected. Certainly wasn’t great, but it had its moments.

What is incredibly important to note is that when playing through the story of a lot of games, the protagonist doesn’t matter. Gordon Freeman is not a “real” character. Mario has no real personality. Mario and Gordon and Master Chief are all just you, inhabiting a body for a few hours. People talk about how great a story Half-Life is, and how great a movie it would make–This is problematic. Gordon Freeman doesn’t talk. With the exception of WALL-E, what movie protagonist in movies from The Jazz Singer on doesn’t talk?

Finally, a real effort made by people who truly love the game is always welcome. A cheap cash-in doesn’t work on the long term.

So, how do you fix it?

Well, I give you four points:

1) The game lends itself to film in plot without great changes.
2) The game can survive being compressed to fit in a movie time scale.
3) The story is extremely character-driven.
4) That the movie is made by people who love that game.

The last point is simple enough, it’s the matter of the rest that are concerning. So, what games do you pick? I’ve got two good ideas. I do wish to note that this isn’t a wish list, but I really have thought about what goes here.

First of all, and what I feel is an obvious choice, is Left 4 Dead. Ever since the game released in 2008, I’ve been dreaming about how a movie could be made out of it. Finish the circle already, it’s a game about horror movies. The secret is that since L4D’s campaigns are so disparate, you can make a movie about a single campaign and not miss anything. Making a movie about No Mercy (the first of the game’s 4.5 campaigns) makes a lot of sense. The campaign has a definite sense of flow, and with its massive amount of different sound files leads to a lot of already-written, already-excellent dialogue. The intro cutscene already looks like it fell out of a movie anyway.  The characters both instantly relate and are fully realized. Louis might be like you, but he isn’t you. You may have the same goal, but you aren’t just playing the protagonist in a game. You might only see a HUD and a gun, but if you take the player control out of the equation, there’s still a character there. Gordon Freeman, without a person controlling him, is just an orange-suited nerdy-looking automaton. Left 4 Dead is a great choice.


Secondly, what I feel is an overlooked choice is Halo 3: ODST. Not the plain vanilla Halo 1-3 with Master Chief, ODST. The problem of adapting Master Chief’s story, is that he isn’t a particularly compelling character in the games. In fact, he’s exactly as compelling as you are: Master Chief is an empty shell for the player to occupy. The Rookie in ODST is similar, but he’s also surrounded by a cast of colorful characters who really drive the story forward. Again, without a player to drive Buck, Mickey, Romeo, and Dutch forward, there is are still characters there. The plot is much more intimate than Halo, which is far more emotionally solitary than ODST. Also, it’s shorter than a lot of games, clocking in at about four or five hours.

Also, remember, the ODST actors have all played psychopaths. Just sayin'.

(Also, it would be an excuse to give Nathan Fillion more money. Just hire him and Alan Tudyk and Adam Baldwin and Tricia Helfer. Everyone will be happy.)

As a lowly unemployed student, I have no control over these things. Hey, maybe a really good video game movie is somewhere in the pipe. I know the Halo movie farted out, but hey, dreams come true, right?

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  • I felt L4D already had a movie, it’s called Zombieland, the whole movie just felt so L4D. Now what game I’d love to see made would be Uncharted, it has so much potential to be made into a great movie

  • Sam Handrick

    I think movies such as Final Fantasy VII Advent Children work really well because the developer is very directly involved in the production. And also, it allows a much bigger leash creatively as it is not intended to be a sort of remake from a game to a movie, but instead a sequel, story-wise.

  • The key to making a good video game movie is to choose a game with a great story that can be adapted. Making a Guitar Hero movie (which was in the works) or a Mario movie, is and was a terrible idea because they are CASUAL games. We need to see films that are compelling. For example, a movie version of Heavy Rain would be great simply because of the quality, the script that’s already there and the huge fan base that’s behind it.

    Plus it would be a genius idea to get us fans to vote as to what scenarios from HR get put into the films.