Video games seem to gain popularity every year, and movies, well, they've got a few fans too. So, why is it that when a sequel like Halo 5 or another Star Wars movie gets announced, the world rejoices, but when a movie about Halo gets announced, the world winces instead? Simply put, the history of movies based on video games is not a story of success. Rotten Tomatoes scores generally range from the teens to low 30s, proving that two good things combined can still result in one big pile of disappointment, and this trend isn't specific to a single studio or game publisher.
Forgetting the Source
The obvious argument is that Hollywood generally does not understand video games, or at least what it is fans enjoy about them. Look at Super Mario Bros. from 1993, arguably the most out of touch movie since The Star Wars Holiday Special.
Consider the 2016 film adaptation Assassin's Creed. It's definitely one of the better movies in this category, but still landed an 18% with critics for its incoherent plot. Fans also wondered why the movie focused so heavily on the least exciting parts of the games (outside the animus), instead of following the actual assassins in rich historical settings. Imagine a movie about James Bond in an exotic location, but most of the movie only follows his cover job working in a call center on the island.
This brings us to an unfortunate point -- a movie cannot please both fans and non-gamers in 90 to 120 minutes. The standard video game story might take anywhere from five hours (which is paltry) to 40+ hours. How does a screenwriter take an average of 22 hours of story and characters, and compress it into an hour and a half? There simply isn't time. Shortcuts have to be taken, whether characters are simplified, the world-building gets ignored, or entire subplots are left out. The same argument has been made for years with movie adaptations of books, with almost every fan of the novel stating with a sniff, "the book was better," or "they left out x or y." This kind of abbreviation causes the adaptation to lose the essence of the story, and it becomes a generic copy of other fantasy, action or horror films. WarCraft was a fantastic example of this. Fans were let down, and casual viewers were bored.
For example, check out a review snippet from a fan of the games:
"As someone who's been playing Warcraft games for over two-thirds of my life, Warcraft was just good enough to make me aware of what could have been -- and just bad enough to make me despair that it wasn't.' - Philip Kollar from Polygon
And compare that to another critic who is an outsider to the lore:
"Warcraft is a language you don't speak, a code you can't crack, a party you weren't invited to." - Will Leitch from The New Republic
Movies also strip away fans' connection to that world through loss of control. Films and video games are fundamentally different mediums of entertainment. In video games, the player is the hero of their own story, and the world is theirs to explore at their leisure. Depending on the complexity of the game, the main character's appearance, moral choices and fighting styles are all determined by the player. A while ago, there was some discussion about creating a BioShock movie, which initially sounded promising since the game was filled with a memorable setting, story, and characters. However, a core part of the games has to do with what kind of person you choose to be -- a monster who uses the inhabitants of BioShock for personal gain, or a hero who saves them. A screenwriter would have to make that decision for the audience, creating a narrative which would not accurately reflect how half of the people experienced the game.
From Super Mario World to Dark Souls, the player's own failed attempts can be part of the story, throwing themselves at a boss or tricky platforming over and over until failure unexpectedly and triumphantly turns into success. Ironically, the best movie to illustrate this feeling -- Edge of Tomorrow -- wasn't even based on a video game.
So is there any hope of reversing this trend, or are we doomed to receive more mediocre movie adaptions than Call of Duty sequels? If studios took a little more care choosing projects and researching games, there might be a sliver of hope. It would also help if they didn't retell the story of the game, but instead told a new tale in that universe. If it's a massive world, they need to provide a large enough budget, without overusing CGI. The best video games stir up emotions in the player, even if it's just nostalgia, and if a director and screenwriter could tap into those feelings, there might just be a chance.
What's your opinion? Let your voice be heard in the poll below!
Do you think there ever will be a great video game movie?
(Source: Rotten Tomatoes)