A Brief History of Movies adapted from Video Games

There’s been a tumultuous history of trying to turn video games into movies. Since 1993, there’s been more than 30 live-action blockbusters that were adapted from video games, and they’ve been spotty. Some have just been mediocre, like Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, or Prince of Persia, that are enjoyable for fans of the game but don’t have much to offer in terms of mass audiences. But then there are some others… you know what I’m talking about; the historically bad. I’m talking Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, and of course, the big one, the 1993 fever dream/”What the hell were they thinking” adaptation of Super Mario Bros.

In an interview with Conan O’Brien some years later, acclaimed actor Dennis Hopper, known for great performances in Apocalypse Now and Easy Rider, explained why he played the role of Bowser:

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This is Bowser.

“I made a picture called Super Mario Bros., and my six-year-old son at the time — he’s now 18 — he said, ‘Dad, I think you’re probably a pretty good actor, but why did you play that terrible guy King Koopa in Super Mario Bros.?’ and I said, ‘Well Henry, I did that so you could have shoes,’ and he said, ‘Dad, I don’t need shoes that badly.'”

And of course, there are some other things you can look at. For example, the original Pokemon movie is still remembered fondly – albeit, not by critics – but by people my age who saw the movie when it debuted in 1999. What it might lack in plot or performance, Pokemon: The First Movie makes up for in a heartfelt purpose and being rather quotable, seen below:

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But looking back, the Pokemon movie is iffy at best, which is to be expected, as it is adapted from the Pokemon anime, which wasn’t exactly amazing itself.

But let’s look at the adequate/mediocre/not-absolutely-terrible movies. In 2002, Resident Evil came to the big screen, three years before the franchise’s most lauded game, Resident Evil 4, debuted on Gamecube. The film garnered some positive reviews, praising the fact that it acutely captured the sense of horror that is characteristic of playing the game. Critic Greg Maki even called it “The Night of the Living Dead for the 21st century.” This high praise comes among scores of negative reviews.

In writing this post, I even decided to watch Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, just to see how it was. I can tell you, that for all intents and purposes, it is, in fact, a movie. Pretty adequate. That’s all there is to it.

In order to address the movie, I’d like to table the issue that comes up with seemingly any movie set in medieval or ancient Persia: whitewashing, as seen in Exodus: Gods and Kings or just about any Bible adaptation. In this case it seems particularly egregious to have white Jake Gyllenhal play the lead role, since he is the Prince of Persia. Sir Ben Kingsley, who is of Indian descent, gives a descent performance. Then, in a secondary role, there’s Alfred Molina, of Spanish descent, which isn’t Persian, I suppose, but it’s a step in the right direction I guess? Now, yes, whitewashing is an issue, and I hope we see more minority casting in coming years, but I have more to say about Sands of Time. An issue along similar lines, though not as bad is that everyone in the film has a British accent where they should have a Persian accent.

Jake Gyllenhaal as the Prince gives a performance which isn’t fitting for an actor who gets as much acclaim as he does. Gemma Artherton plays his love interest, who proves to be a feisty and somewhat interesting character. Kingsley plays both wise and menacing, and does it well.

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Geez, Jack Sparrow right down to the eye shadow.

Since this a Jerry Bruckheimer film, it seems to take direct inspiration Pirates of the Caribbean, one can clearly see the inspiration it took, especially in Alfred Molina’s character. He plays Sheikh Amar, a bizarre merchant character who clearly interacts with the Prince and his love interest the same way Jack Sparrow interacts with Will and Elizabeth in Pirates.

Avoiding spoilers as best I can, I have to say that the movie went through a lot of work setting up rules about the central plot device, a dagger which allows the user to time travel, but the movie ultimately breaks these rules so that it can have its cake and eat it too.

But I digress. Above all, Jerry Bruckheimer films are supposed to be fun. That’s why I adore the first Pirates of the Caribbean. The action sequences in Prince of Persia are enjoyable, and there are some heartfelt moments, and it’s visually appealing. All in all, Prince of Persia does manage to be fun.

I was pleasantly ignorant of the Prince of Persia franchise, giving me an outsider perspective. Now let’s be clear – I don’t have anything outstandingly good to say about the film. If you aren’t a fan of the game, I’d have to recommend it under particular circumstances; that is, if it was free on television, if you were free for two hours, and there was nothing better on any other channels. But I have one high praise for Prince of Persia; it excels at being a video game. The action sequences are fun, the visuals are stunning, the world is vibrant. Watching the Prince jump up and climb around buildings while running from guards seemed like it would make a fun platforming-adventure game. The world-building made the fictional Persia seem enchanting, and it would be interesting to actually play through the game.

In this regard, the movie is strengthened by its loyalty to the game, but is weakened by its lack of an outstanding story and its lazy performances. It’s not a particularly bad movie, there’s just not a whole lot to it.

 

Now, I hope you’ll forgive me for doing an entire review of a movie in the middle of this general post, but I think it’s important to look at this movie fares, because it’s considered one of the best adaptations. In summary, Prince of Persia‘s strengths are found in how it emulates the game it’s adapted from. But its weaknesses are found in how it becomes more concerned with that than what a normal movie should be concerned with. So if that’s what a good video game adaptation needs, when will we see the first good one?

This year has been absolutely fascinating when it comes to movies adapted from video games. Four video game movies were scheduled to come out this year.

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First, in April, there was Ratchet & Clank, which bombed critically, only garnering a 16% on Rotten Tomatoes. Then, there was Angry Birds, (I hope you’ll forgive me for categorizing mobile games as video games), which did well. Comparatively. The RT critical consensus says it best: ” The Angry Birds Movie is substantially more entertaining than any film adapted from an app has any right to be – which may or may not be much of an endorsement.” This appears beneath a 42% positive rating.

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And then, we thought it might be Warcraft. Warcraft could be the oneWarcraft might be the first video game to make a good movie. World of Warcraft is a game that millions play, and likely has enough in-game lore to scratch out an interesting film. One would expect that  But critically, it panned.

Assassin’s Creed is up next. Set to debut in December of this year, the film will do the bold thing of taking the general ideas and mythology of the series, but focusing on an original character written just for this movie. This, I believe, is likely a step in the right direction. The idea at the core of the Assassin’s Creed series, which, for those who don’t know, is people traveling back in time to live the past lives of their ancestors, both of whom are involved in a great overarching conflict against a group called the Templars, who desire to control humanity.

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An executive producer stated recently that the movie would take place 35% in the history component of the game, and 65% in the technologically advanced future. This ruffled a few feathers, and I can understand why. I remember when the original Assassin’s Creed came out. I never played through it, since I didn’t own an XBox at the time, but everyone was talking about it, and it sounded so cool. It was a game where you played as an assassin during the Crusades and had to be stealthy and kill people! That seemed so awesome! And then when I found out that half the game took place in the future and that the Assassin was really just a time traveler, it seemed to cheapen it a little bit. But then again, that was the perspective of someone who hadn’t played the game, so I suppose I can’t truly know, but when the executive producer made that comment about 65% of the movie taking place in the future, most of the fans seemed to hold the same opinion.

Then, next year, we’ll have a movie adaptation of Uncharted. For those who don’t know, Uncharted is a series of acclaimed PlayStation games in the action-adventure genre, in which players play as Nathan Drake, a treasure hunter. The game plays like a movie, feeling like a combination of Indiana Jones and Jason Bourne. The action sequences are cinematic and exciting. While I think Assassin’s Creed could be decent, I think Uncharted will be the first one to be good.

 

What do you guys think? Will Assassin’s Creed be any good? What game do you think would be best to adapt into a movie? Personally, I think that Bioshock: Infinite could make a great film.

 

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I would also like to say that my heart goes out to the victims and families of the tragedy in Orlando. What happened is truly sickening. I have nothing to say about the tragedy that hasn’t been said before, but I hope and pray that it will never happen again.

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