Sunday, August 28, 2005

Editorial - Games to Movies & the Big Three

Instead of a morning post I've decided to start today off with a short editorial, this one regarding video games that are adapted for the silver screen.

As you're all aware, there have been several game to movie translations over the last decade: Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, Alone in the Dark, Double Dragon, etc. I could go on, but you shouldn't need me to, and you also shouldn't need me to point out that all these films suck. In fact, as far as I can recall, the best game to movie adaptation to date has been Resident Evil: Apocalypse, not for the film itself which was rather awful, but because there was a brief shot of two topless zombie strippers; and when a boob shot is the best thing that any of these films have to offer, that's pretty pathetic.

So why do most game to movie adaptations suck? Simple, it’s all in the presentation. All of these movies have awful pacing, sub-par plots, and a lack of quality that scream "I was cobbled together to briefly entertain the ADD-riddled youth of America."

If Hollywood continues this trend, and also continues to hire sub-par directors (Paul Anderson) to create these films, they will continue to suck.

This now brings me to the "Big Three." The second half of 2004 saw the three biggest first person shooters of recent memory have a sequel released: Doom 3, Halo 2, and Half-Life 2. Two of these three franchises already have movies in the works; Doom being released late October '05 and Halo set to release summer '07.

Doom is heavily based off of Doom 3, which in itself is the 4th Doom title and a remake of The Ultimate Doom (Doom 1). The basic storyline behind Doom is the same as the original game back from '93: Scientists are conducting secret experiments on Mars and accidentally open a way for demons from Hell to invade the research base. A team of soldiers are sent to eliminate the problem and secure the facility. If the trailers are any indication, Doom is going to follow the same trend as all the other game movies before it; in other words, I expect it to suck and jump from one pointless "shoot everything" scene to another. The only saving grace I can see for the film is that in the final trailer, many shots were first person in traditional video game style; something that to my knowledge has never been done on the silver screen before.

The Halo movie is being targeted for summer of '07. The script has been completed by the writer of 28 Days and Fox and Universal are the studios behind it, however that's all we know at this point. The basic story around Halo: Combat Evolved is that humanity is fighting a loosing war against an alien empire known as the Covenant, and as one ship escapes the destruction of a key human world they stumble across Halo, a gigantic ring floating in space. The humans, mainly focusing on the super soldier Master Chief (his rank, not his name) and the Covenant then battle for control of the ring only to discover the terribly truth about Halo's existence.

It's too early to tell how good Halo can be expected to be; even the actual story to the film has not yet been released. However one interesting thing is that some big name directors have been tossed around, such as Ridley Scott. Imagine someone of the calibre of Rid Scott doing a video game film; with the high quality acting, plot development, and style of such an accomplished director. Something like this would create a great deal of hope that Halo would actually be a good film.

Then there's Half-Life. Released in late '98 with it's sequel in late '04, Half-Life has been regarded as an interactive movie. The entire game is seen from the POV of the player character, Gordon Freeman; never once, not in the game's intro or ending does it deviate. Gordon also never once speaks (grunting excluded) to add to the sense that you are Gordon Freeman. Seeing as how it's regarded as one of the greatest video game stories of all time, would Half-Life make an great film? Well in truth I'm not sure. Why, because Half-Life is the story of Doom with aliens instead of demons, on Earth instead of Mars, and staring a scientist instead of a nameless marine; it was simply presented much better and that's the key.

From video game story perspectives, Half-Life is leaps and bounds ahead of The Ultimate Doom, with virtually the same story, because it was presented to the player in a very realistic fashion that took the medium it had to work with and crafted a world that was so teeming with life the player felt a part of it. This kind of presentation was so successful it revolutionized how FPS games were made afterwards, including titles like Doom 3. This is the sort of approach that needs to be taken for video game to film adaptations.

The plot, whether the same or different from the game, needs to be fleshed out and presented well with characters, true to the game or not, that an audience can care about and empathize with. Rushing from one action scene to another with no real purpose doesn't work, it becomes tedious and boring and that's why the current crop of video game films fail. Even if that's how the game is, a game can get away with this more simply because the player is actually experiencing the events, he/she has a stake in them which is not the case when watching a film; instead of a participant the audience members are observers.

At present there is no Half-Life movie to speak of, and I have little hope for Doom. However there is potential for Halo. In general, the future of game movies will all depend on how they're presented and how seriously Hollywood execs. want to take them. If they keep churning out crap than that's all game movies will ever be.

Many video games have solid stories these days, with characters and plots that rival most big budget flicks. If the Halo film is actually executed with care, perhaps it can raise the bar enough for video game flicks to be taken seriously before they're made and thus have them made well.

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