DAVID HAYTER GUEST BLOG: Looking At The Best And Worst Of Video Game Adaptations

Welcome back to this week’s series of guest blogs with David Hayter. The accomplished screenwriter/video game voice actor was kind enough last week to spend some time discussing a range of topics with me about games, film and the interplay between the two industries. With “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” hitting theaters tomorrow, Hayter’s extensive background on both sides makes him the ideal person to commentate on what is certainly the largest video game-to-film adaptation to date.

Today’s blog focuses on the adaptations that have come before. While there’s never been an across-the-board success story, numerous attempts have been made to translate a variety of popular games for film, and in a number of ways. It’s a difficult thing to do, taking an interactive experience and turning it into a passive one while maintaining the spirit of the source. In my chat with Hayter, we discussed a few examples that have gotten it right and a few that haven’t, as well as the unique challenges filmmakers face when taking on such an endeavor.

“My wife is a huge fan of the ‘Resident Evil’ movies and I did enjoy the first one,” he said. “It had a cool attitude and I think that it did capture what ‘Resident Evil’ is, tonally. I’ve played a lot of the ‘Resident Evil’ games and I really like [their tone]. There’s something cool and weird about that world that goes beyond zombies and beyond just the T-virus. They captured sort of a neat thing there.”

“I also liked the fact that [Alice (Milla Jovovich)] just wakes up and has no memory of who she is. And so… you are dealing with a movie character but you’re sort of dealing with her from a video game perspective in that we the audience have just jumped into this person’s identity as she has just jumped into it and off you go. I thought that was a creative way handle adapting a video game character.”

He makes a compelling point here. One of the great challenges in adapting a video game — particularly when it’s not a sequel — is that most games start out with a tutorial sequence that serves to introduce players to both the basic game concepts and the key story points. “Resident Evil” director Paul WS Anderson worked out a clever way of addressing this in giving his protagonist, Alice, a believable, justified case of amnesia.

Then there are other games/movies, like “Tomb Raider,” in which the setup isn’t necessarily a problem. Even for those who aren’t familiar with the franchise, it’s easy enough to bring across this idea of a sort of female Indiana Jones, a wealthy treasure hunter with a sharp mind and an ability to kick some ass. In the case of “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” Hayter zeroed in on a different sort of issue.

“I think the ‘Tomb Raider’ movies had a problem… in that I don’t think [the filmmakers] really understood what it was that made Lara Croft so appealing, and made that world and those games so appealing. [It seemed like] they thought it was just about the guns or the gadgets. To me, the idea of this character, this wealthy girl, being thrown into larger than life situations and having to deal with those things… that makes it interesting.”

“Whereas in the movie, Angelina Jolie… was perfect casting, but they sort of made her this Teflon superwoman who wasn’t affected by the danger because she knew she wasn’t going to die, and that sort of took away some of the drama of it all.”

Then there are just the flat-out clunker. Uwe Boll is widely regarded as a major offender in this category. “Alone in the Dark” in particular draws some very harsh criticism. Hayter pulled up short of calling Boll’s work bad, but his sole experience with the filmmaker’s work — “BloodRayne” — proved to be a memorable one.

“I did see ‘BloodRayne.’ It was really… something else, that film. I was working on a ‘Black Widow’ adaptation at the time and I looked at all these female-driven action movies of their day and came across ‘BloodRayne’ with Sir Ben Kingsley. That was unbelievable in the very truest sense of the word.”

The above-referenced efforts are all examples of more recent adaptations. Going back to the early/mid-’90s, you see some of the more prototypical efforts. Your “Super Mario Bros,” your “Double Dragon,” your “Mortal Kombat.” Of the three, that last one stands out most for Hayter.

“I saw ‘Mortal Kombat’ and ‘Super Mario Bros.’ in the theater. A friend of mine made me go. And ‘Double Dragon’ I think. ‘Mortal Kombat,’ I kind of enjoyed. The first one… was sort of at the advent of CG effects. They did some fun stuff and they had Scorpion running around in the woods and throwing his chain at you and saying [‘Get over here!’]”

“Mortal Kombat” certainly wasn’t a perfect film, but Hayter is quick to point out exactly what made it work. “That’s an example of—when they have done it in a decent way, adapted a video game into a movie, what they’ve really done is just sort of taken the elements of the video game and transferred them to film in a way that felt true.”

“These larger-than-life situations and characters that have to use their brains to solve puzzles to get through these things. I think they all appeal to the same portion of the brain that video games do. That’s really, in the end, what you’re trying to do is you’re trying to activate certain areas of people’s brains to make them feel engaged, either with the story or with the character or with the puzzle-solving.”

“I think the next level of [game adaptations] has to be, you take all the elements and you put it forward in a way that reminds you of the game but takes it to a next level in terms of storytelling. Without that, I think there is no point to making a movie of it. Would I rather watch the ‘Mortal Kombat’ movie or play the ‘Mortal Kombat’ game? I’d rather play the game.”