Why are Video Game Movies so Bad?

This is a question that seems to come up more than once, and usually after the latest “big studio” attempt to transition from the console to the big screen.

And sure enough, the topic has churned up now that Warcraft and Angry Birds stumb…

I still can’t believe that’s a thing.

But the fact that it is a thing ties into Problem #1:

Problem #1: Hollywood is picking up some REALLY dumb games.

This really isn’t something that’s too hard to figure out, especially since Hollywood has a really hard time producing good movies from screenplays developed right in their wheelhouse.

So, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that when they’re looking to adapt a video game, they’d point at the top sellers list and go, “Ehhh… that one.  Get the rights to that one.”

Which is how you wind up with Tetris: The Movie.

And I wish I was making that up.  Truth can be stranger than any fiction, and leads to Problem #2:

Problem #2: Let’s be honest… video game storytelling has traditionally stunk.

Sorry, but it’s true.  You know it.  I know it.  We all know it.  And that very painful trait isn’t something that translates well into a medium where the story has to carry the work.

Scoff at Mortal Kombat and Super Mario Bros. for how awful those movies were, but really… how many people have actually read the companion material for the really popular games in the medium’s history (i.e. the ones that actually get tapped to make that jump)?

For the longest time, video game stories were an afterthought.  The gameplay itself was expected to be the carrying element.  It’s only fairly recently that the storytelling in video games has reached a point where it reasonably is expected to be a primary (if not the primary) element in the quality of the product.

We’re only now reaching a point where the likes of Mass Effect or Assassin’s Creed will start drawing interest from major studios, the latter of which is actually being filmed as we speak, and one that I think has the narrative chops to make said transition well.

Except for Problem #3:

Problem #3: The Uwe Boll Effect

For all the blatant cheesecake and horny male pandering, underneath the Dead or Alive series hides a remarkably coherent plot (albeit a weird one).  So, obviously, the answer is to completely gut that plot, ignore everything about the characterization, relationships, interactions, and how events entwine… and instead mash together something that barely resembles what your audience has already demonstrated they resonate with.

This is hardly a problem with just video games.  Books to movies like to do this too; there seems to be a pathological urge by directors and screen writers to put their own “stamp” on the work by arbitrarily changing things.

At least with books, you can argue that cinematography requires some changes (things that happen in a book, like internal thoughts, don’t really translate well, for example).  But video games, being a visual medium itself, generally shouldn’t require that much narrative meddling.

There’s a bunch of other tripwires involved, but these are the three big ones from my angle, and until those have been resolved, I’m afraid we’re not going to be seeing too many good video game movies in the near future.

 

 

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