In the past two decades, few forces have invaded Hollywood quite like comic book movies and video game movies. We've seen nearly two dozen of each, marketed all over the world, making hundreds of millions of dollars while supplanting books as Hollywood's primary source of inspiration.
But when you line up the two film canons for comparison, you get a list of universally beloved, ripped-from-the-pages comics flicks ( etc.) paired up against a sad medium ( ) whose greatest moment is ... "Mortal Kombat"?
While the stars behind this weekend's are convinced that they'll reverse the trend, we can't help but wonder whether the deck is stacked against them. Below, high-profile personalities from the movie and gaming worlds weigh in on a question that comes up all too frequently: Why do video game movies suck?
Comic Books Are Older: One reason comic book movies have fared better than video game translations is a simple one: Comics have been around so much longer. "There has been 40 years of different comic books. ... Writers have had to really get into the characters of the superheroes themselves. They explore their relationships, their loves, their villains, their stories — there's so much more to draw upon," explained Sam Raimi, director of the "Spider-Man" films. "In the world of video games, it's usually more of an environment or a scenario, not character-based ... but they certainly could [be better]. There's 'World of Warcraft' — what an awesome video game! It has such great, adventurous characters in it and such fantastic landscapes and rules. ... You could make a brilliant 'World of Warcraft' movie — as fine as any of the best superhero movies — if you had the right writers and directors."
Game Movies Are Rushed Into Development: Most of the best games ever made were in development for at least two years. Game developers know great creative work takes time; Hollywood, not so much. Chris Taylor, owner of development studio Gas Powered Games and developer of "Dungeon Siege" (which was turned into a movie by Uwe Boll), insists that a slower, more careful process is needed. "We need to have longer preproduction cycles so that all the kinks can be worked out cost effectively. ... Art is something that needs to be lovingly crafted, and generally speaking, if you want to make something good, it takes time," Taylor said. "If you take a look at most projects these days, whether they are films or games, it's clear that there is little patience, and everyone wants the project to be done in the shortest time." For the record, Taylor doesn't dislike all video game movies — he cites as an example of a Hollywood adaptation that worked.
Movies Rob Games of Their Reason for Existing: From "Pong" to "Grand Theft Auto," people have always loved video games for one reason: You are the main character. When you're watching a movie, you can't make Max Payne shoot a good guy in the face for no particular reason. As much as you'd like her to, Lara Croft will never look to you for guidance. Strip away the audience member's free will, and all you have is actors walking into dark rooms you'd never go into, playing dumb when you've already figured out the plot twists, and otherwise turning the player/game conversation into a monologue.
The Wrong Games Are Being Turned Into Movies: Kyle Gabler, indie designer behind this week's downloadable Wii game "World of Goo," thinks filmmakers are simply working with the wrong source material. "Maybe one day we'll see movies based on creative games like 'Pikmin' or a witty Tim Schafer story line or a satire like the 'Oddworld' series. [Editor's note: Schafer directed comedic gaming classics such as 'Grim Fandango' and 'Psychonauts.'] The only trick is finding games that have strong themes and subtext and surprise." , meanwhile, wonders why Hollywood would even bother making a "Super Mario Bros." or "Mortal Kombat" movie. "Those were two really rough movies. ... Let's forget those ever happened," the "Max Payne" star grinned. "Their story lines weren't all the way right. It's good for a video game, but they don't take it to another level."
It's the Story, Stupid: "[Comic] stories are very classical," said star , saying he'd much rather do a comic film than a video game one. "The stories are very hero-oriented, they have their villains, and they are very clear and specific. In video games, it always feels that things are trying to be very complex. There's all these little things that are happening. But it's not as solid a story."
Filmmakers Don't Respect the Games They're Working From: Has there ever been a big director for a big movie about a big game who has admitted that he didn't play the game, but instead assigned that wretched task to an assistant? (Exhibit #489.) Veteran developer Harvey Smith of Arkane Studios believes that a wee bit more respect for games is needed. "Through our gameplay experiences, gamers respect games as a fledgling but sometimes sublime creative form," Smith said. "Moviemakers seem to see only the fictional surface of games and therefore see material that is inherently juvenile and not really worth their effort." For further proof, just ask Mark Wahlberg about the "Max Payne" game: "No [I don't play it]. I had my assistant, who's, like, a genius gamer. [I was] watching it."
The Genre Is Cursed: "Somebody brought it to my attention recently that there had been a lot of games made into movies, and not so many of them were successful," Wahlberg explained. "In the last couple of days, people started asking me those questions — maybe I should have [been scared]." Sure, the thought of a "video game movie curse" is preposterous, but the best efforts of Uwe Boll and Paul W.S. Anderson would seem to indicate otherwise. When mediocrity runs rampant, such beliefs tend to grow, and a "curse" becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Don't believe us? Just ask the Chicago Cubs.
Check out everything we've got on "Max Payne."
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