Emma Kent looks into 3 reasons why video games cause so many 'moral panics'Written by Emma Kent on 22nd October 2017
The Curse of the Video Game Movie
With the (fairly) recent release of the Assassin's Creed film, Gaming Editor James Marvin looks into why these adaptations seem to consistently flop
Recently Gamespot reported that the planned Uncharted movie, written by Joe Carnahan, who also penned The A-Team reboot and The Grey, has an R-Rated script. On top of this, rather hilariously, is the fact that even though Carnahan said in a Collider interview that the “Naughty Dog guys are really happy with it”, Neil Druckmann (AKA the creative director and writer of Uncharted 4) on Twitter stated that he wished that Carnahan would “stop implying he has our support”.
Now this is a relatively dry bit of news to be quite honest. Uncharted as a game series has had a satisfying and fitting conclusion with its main arc consisting of the four core titles and a film adaptation would most likely be complete rubbish anyway considering the track record of video game adapted movies. But this, along with the recent Assassin’s Creed movie, got me thinking as to why these films suck so bad, and why they most likely will end up sucking so bad.
Before getting started, I have to say that I have not seen the Assassin’s Creed movie, and with a 18% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and through word of mouth, I have literally no desire to. I must also state that in terms of a reviewer or critic or whatever term is most fitting, I am a games guy first. Having never reviewed a film in my life. But I’m not looking at specifically why movies like Assassin’s Creed are bad in terms of their directing, their acting, editing or story, because these issues I believe are ones that all come from the same source; a misunderstanding of the source material.
Now adapting something to the big screen from another medium is not unheard from. We get it all the time. From books such as Harry Potter, Trainspotting and Fight Club to name a few, all of which are seen as hugely successful in terms of critical reaction. Comic books are one also, and whilst this medium suffers inconsistent success in terms of both fan and critic reaction, there have been absolute standouts, such as The Dark Knight, as well as many fine additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), namely The Avengers and Captain America: Civil War. Hell, even Suicide Squad managed to pick up an Oscar win recently. The point is that these films, particularly in regards to comic book adaptations, are all widely successful to some degree due to an understanding behind the source material. Let’s look at the MCU briefly to illustrate this point. Whilst the films in this saga have made changes to the source comics (such as making Tony Stark the inventor of Ultron instead of Hank Pym) there is, in layman’s terms, a huge team behind these films overseeing every detail that has a vast knowledge of these comics, and are crafting an overarching story piece by piece to huge success.
Then take a look at something like the first Resident Evil movie. Whilst the MCU has made certain large changes for various reasons the overarching story is mainly intact from the source as if the pages of the comic book have leapt off the page and onto the big screen, and the story behind them has been led by talented writers that just simply understand these characters. Then in Resident Evil, there is so little resemblance to anything from the game’s source material. Now, Resident Evil is hardly a perfect example of the perfect video game narrative, especially the later games, but the original does hold some potential for a proper thriller/horror movie set around the story of the first game. In an adaptation of a game such as Resident Evil, the characters of the series are somewhat pivotal to making anyone give a damn about said adaptation, this isn’t true of all games, but for this one I would definitely argue that this is the case. Yet, instead of a slow burn that may revolve around the mystery of a place such as the infamous Spencer Mansion with the game’s original cast, we get a balls-to-wall dumb action film that has since become most well-known for the idiotic set piece in a laser corridor. There is no mention of anything from the games apart from the big buzzwords such as “Racoon City”, “T-Virus” and “Umbrella” which without similar context to the games really means nothing. Not a single character from the game is even mentioned! This film could’ve been any other generic zombie movie but the Resident Evil name seems to have been just slapped on it for no good reason.
So how do we explain the critical failing of Assassin’s Creed? I mean this film was co-developed by Ubisoft Motion Pictures, a section of Ubisoft specifically made to aid the development of their game franchises into films. It was set within the wider universe of the game as an original story that acted as part of the overall arch, and had some amazing actual talent behind it. Such as Michael Fassbender in the leading role, and Justin Kurzel who previously directed Macbeth back in 2015. Are the writers to blame? No? I guess? Because they have a similar sort of sound experience. There was literally nothing that really could have stopped this film from at least being decent critically. From a quick bit of research, it seems a lot of criticism was aimed at the modern-day sections and how they were interweaved into the film, which is ironically one of the most vocal complaints about the games themselves, which is definitely why these sections were slowly pushed out following Assassin’s Creed III, even if Ubisoft never admitted it. This is the secondary source of why these films suck so bad. Which is simply that some games and their premises just don’t work or fit well in the film medium.
Let’s look at it this way. Games like Mario don’t work well in film form, as evident from Super Mario Bros. starring Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo, because transforming a cartoon-y 2D platformer that has a relatively thin story to film is difficult, and not everything from it can be accurately transferred to film in a good way, evident from the film’s Yoshi. It’s all about the source material you pick first. A straight up adaptation of something like The Last of Us, with the right talent and understanding of the game’s story and characters, could go down a treat. Failing that, think about a stand-alone film set in an open world universe such as Fallout just to further add to the game universe’s lore. Both types of adaptation with right with the talent can be done well. But that seems to be the third major issue. The talent to make these projects at least half decent never seems to come to fruition, and in a rare situation that it does, such as Assassin’s Creed, it goes wasted on a poor choice of adaptation.
Statistical probability does mean that one day, no matter how far away, we will get at least one half decent video game movie. That day will hopefully be a strong turning point in this age of atrocities, but until then, we will have to suffer the half-baked projects that studios spew out for a quick buck. It’s a massive shame considering the potential for games to expand their universes in the form of another medium, to further build upon their huge franchises. But until that day, I will patiently wait.