#Footnotes is Rachelle Riddle's weekly Explainer column about what's going on beneath the surface of the world of gaming.
Every time a video game movie is announced, there's excitement and dread. Historically they haven't fared well. Occasionally we do get a decent one, but more often than not they fall victim to the hype and just perpetuate the "curse" of video game adaptations. With the Uncharted movie in the works, let's take a look at why it's difficult to adapt video games to the big screen.
There's A Lot Of Story
For a video game to even be considered enough to make a movie about, it has to be well established. Video games mean a lot of story and they've been around long enough to accrue in-depth lore. Pacing moves faster in games to keep players entertained and expansions or DLC further progress the story.
Players can spend 60 hours until they beat the game and finish the story. How do you condense 60 hours of content and story in a 2 hour film?
What works in one medium doesn't always transfer directly to the next. Stories have to be changed for pacing, brevity, content, and flow. Take a movie like #Warcraft, trying to fit three games' worth of content and 20 years of story into a 2 hour movie. A lot of Warcraft's changes actually made sense, simplifying plot holes or story arcs that had become too convoluted over the years. But the amount of backstory was nearly enough for a separate movie itself, let alone the opening half hour.
The Story Doesn't Always Work
What makes a video game popular doesn't always translate into what will make a movie good. The #TombRaider games featured adventure and puzzle solving. The movie featured Angelina Jolie and a lot of action scenes that didn't make much sense; flashy to watch but little substance relative to the game. Super Mario is insanely popular because of the mechanics of the game and the challenge in overcoming its obstacles. There's very little story to even follow. So when they tried to make an Italian plumber with plants and dinosaurs into a movie, it was especially disastrous.
Trying To Please Two Different Fanbases
Video game movies also run into the conundrum of trying to please two different fanbases who have different desires — fans of the franchise and new viewers. They need to catch the game's fans, for without them there would be no reason to make the movie in the first place, but unfortunately a game's fans aren't enough to support a full Hollywood movie. They also need to appeal to a wider audience as well in order to make a profit.
Fans of the game want to see all their favorite moments and the characters they've played as. They want to see the stories they fell in love with up on the big screen. They want to see a faithful adaptation.
New viewers, however, won't understand the story right off the bat. Things need to be simplified and adjusted to draw attention from people who aren't familiar with the franchise. Warcraft came the closest with appealing to both, but fans were disconcerted with the pacing of the movie and new viewers found the deluge of exposition overwhelming.
Trying To Appeal To The Wider Audience With A Niche Genre
The point of movies is to make a profit. To do that they have to garner interest within the wider population. Unfortunately video games are still seen as something lesser or childish, both in the eyes of the public audience and Hollywood themselves. The movie studios try to make a quick buck off the game's fanbase and the directors oftentimes have never played or even heard of the game they're trying to bring to life.
Duncan Jones was intimately familiar with the Warcraft game and recreated it in great detail, capturing the essence that hooked fans. Unfortunately it couldn't command the wallets, and while it made $433 million (most of that in China), that wasn't enough to put more into the franchise for a sequel. #AssassinsCreed tried a different approach, making a movie within the universe rather than re-creating the game, but still fell short of expectations.
As video games become more widespread, perhaps their movie counterparts will get better. Video game adaptations are definitely much better than they were in the past, but we still have a ways to go. Everyone's always hoping for the next one to break the "curse."
What's your favorite video game movie?