Why Movies Based On Video Games Are So Bad

By now, it’s common knowledge that (most) movies that are based on video games are, to say it nicely, not so good. A few examples would be Tomb Raider, Max Payne, Doom or Prince of Persia. Ok, not all of those are terrible, but they weren’t very good either to us gamers. Even though people outside of the gaming community saw some merit in it. The image to the right displays a couple of the review scores that movies based on video games got. Suffice to say that none of those are actually anywhere near other films such as The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile or The Dark Knight.

But why exactly are they not as good as other movies that are based on books or real life? Well, for a couple of reasons actually.

50% is good for a movie based on video games ...

First of all, the producers are often so focused on making money that they forget to make the flick a real memorable one. Most of the budget that gets spent actually goes to advertisement rather than actual production of the movie.

Secondly, video games aren’t good material to make into a movie. Most genres of video games have certain characteristics that make it very hard to pour into a movie format. For example, platformers tend to not have enough plot within the games themselves, so the writers need to improvise. The average First-Person Shooter has a few minutes of narrative cinematics, but even the more cerebral examples of the genre will, by definition, feature hours of plot-free gunplay to rival the dumbest Summer Blockbuster. Fighting Games tend to have a similarly flimsy plot with Multiple Endings depending on the player’s character, and the writers have to mishmash these various plot threads into a coherent whole.

The only video game genres that pay much attention to plot — RPGs and Adventure Games — tend to have far too much plot to squeeze into a two-hour flick without leaving a ton out. Casey Hudson from BioWare recently mentioned that Hollywood was interested in making a movie out of their sci-fi epic Mass Effect. The only problem? Mass Effect is a 40-hour game. Open-ended RPGs allow us to explore worlds, to screw around, to do optional tasks that have nothing to do with the main storyline. It’s what makes those games so immersive and enjoyable. But replicating that immersiveness on-screen in any sort of short order is downright impossible. Could you tell Mass Effect’s story in two hours? Sure, but doing so strips the game of its strengths and leaves you, well, unsatisfied. Which is about par for the course for video game movies. Not to mention all the choices you get to make as Commander Shephard, would the Shepard in the movie be a good guy, a bad guy or somewhere in between?

Next to that, watching a movie based on a video game after actually playing the game is like watching someone else play. When it comes to pure action and excitement, video games are surpassing movies as the medium du jour. Why bother paying 10 dollars to see Jason Statham beat up dudes for a few minutes when you can spend ten times as long beating up the thugs yourself? You see, while a video game can do this and entertain for hours, non-stop action movies can get incredibly tedious (Shoot ‘Em Up) because you’re only watching someone else. Video game movies therefore typically end up either dull, action-devoid adaptations, or boring, action-packed fluff like Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. Either way, you’re better off playing the game.

Thirdly, and this is more or less a result of the fact that video games aren’t very good material to convert to a good movie. The protagonists of video games often have their very own typical behaviour style, clothing, accent and character development throughout a game, which is strengthened further by the player’s imagination, experiences and values. This in fact is extremely hard for any actor to portray. Clothing and accent can be done of course, but the movie will often lack the character development and the sense of recognition we gamers get when playing the game. The most prominent example I have of this would be Max Payne. The Max Payne in the game is a deeply cynical, sad but also highly determined man with a gloomy past following him around like a shadow. Mark Wahlberg tried his best to portray all this, but in the end he just came off as a weak derivative of our dearest of all our friends, Max Payne (see what I did there?!).

In my opinion, producers should really stick to CGI so they can keep the character (and voice actor) and do away with weak real life substitutes (ahem, Dragonball Evolution).

Now, before I come off as too demanding there really are some movies that are based on video games that I liked. For example, I really liked Hitman, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and the first Resident Evil. The movie industry isn’t going to give a video game based movie an oscar any time soon, but there might be some hope for us left … maybe Peter Jackson will finally get his Halo movie going (even though I doubt it), maybe we’ll see a World Of Warcraft movie (it better be CGI or really good special effects), a possible Assassin’s Creed movie and last but not least there might be an upcoming Uncharted movie.

Also, BioWare and Blizzard should totally go into the movie business.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Let me know what you think about video game based movies or tell me why you think this or that movie was good/bad.