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1-UP….This Ain’t No Game: Or my case for why videogame films never work

As we roll into the start of the New Year (which seems to be going quicker then usual) I have started doing what most mid-20 year olds would possibly do, thinking about my future. Looking at my family I see things change pretty quickly, age wise and what not (seems Ferris Bueller was right). Fear not this is not going to go all sentimental and serious, but one thing I have noticed is that tastes change. I know that because of university and meeting different people my tastes in film have changed (for the better) and that certain films no longer appeal to me.

This seems relevant as I look over my film collection and can see the change in my personal taste. It is almost a filmic timeline; ones which I am almost ashamed to own now are films from my teens. Films such as video game adaptations are not at the top of my list of must see films. With the maturing tastes the films from my teens sit awkwardly with my classic universal horror films, my Fassbinder boxsets, Bergman films and the multitude of Jodowosky, Svankmejer and LaLoux collections I own.

But of late I have had a regressive need to re-watch the various video game films I have owned (I know shame on me). Which of cause led me to watch the new piece of resident evil trash (wait come back… this has a point!) as it got me thinking, there will never be a good video-game to film cinematic venture. But it seems production companies do not seem to learn from there mistakes. When I was in my early teens I was overly excited to see how a video game film would turn out, only to be either disappointed or severely underwhelmed.

So why did I bother to sit down and watch a new video game adaptation, even though I knew deep down that it would be awful? Well because I know that inside me I have a small part of that teenage wonderment that needs to see the light of day occasionally. Although this might well seem like a weakness (particularly given the fact that I love well crafted films so much) I have learnt to embrace it from time to time. Keeping the urges (I hope) strictly in check within the confines of my own home.

What have I learnt from all of this? Well that after nearly 18 years there still has not and will not be a good adaptation. Sure the new Resident Evil looks lovely and it contains elements from the recent Resident Evil 5 video game (which unashamedly put a minor twitching grin on my face). But it is just a trashy film with little to redeem it and this goes for all videogame feature films. The one reason there will never be a successful conversion is due to the fact a video game is an immersive experience dependant on the player. Whether it is a single player or a multiplayer experience which is fun and enjoyable, it just is not the case for a videogame film. The immersive experience is different as you no longer have control over the characters and it quickly becomes tedious and boring.

What could be seen as inventive within the confines of an artificial world will more then likely become old hat or uninteresting within a cinema or home. Take for example Silent Hill, the first 3 games in the series allowed me to be scared for nights on end as a teenager.  While also frequently being unable to sleep if I heard an out of place sound from within my room, particularly after long gaming sessions. So when the film was released it looked promising and was from a trusted director in the form of Christophe Gans (his Brotherhood of the Wolf is an over looked gem).

When the film finished (although it was faithful to the source material) it was nothing more then eye candy. The cinematic equivalent of fairground candy floss, looks pretty but if too much is consumed it is inherently bad for you. So after watching my fair share of poor video game films (the less said about Hitman and Max Payne the better) I found the reason. Not only do they not have the aforementioned immersive experience (which draws a player in but not the viewer) but they are boring. I liken it to a simple example, how much do you enjoy playing videogames?

Right and as soon as you have answered that ask yourself, how much fun is it to watch someone else play the same game while you idly watch images flicker past you? In all honesty it’s not really that fun. Admittedly some past films have been so bad as to evolve into trash viewing, Super Mario Bros the movie while inept in everyway, is still staple drunken viewing between me and a university friend.

My point is (after this rather long winded and incessant ramble) that there will never be anyone or set group of people that could make a good video game film. They can try but will ultimately fail (that is not pessimism it is realism) while films that implement game elements, references and or subtle nods within their making, have succeeded. Scott pilgrim while based on a comic is one which manages to be a better video game adaptation not based on a video game (possibly due to the heightened reality within its film universe).

To truly get the balance right would be impossible and my sentiments lay with Tim from Spaced (as he so aptly puts the core theme of resident evil 2) ‘It’s a subtle blend of lateral thinking and extreme violence’ which when you think about it, is not the easiest thing to pull off within a film. Let alone a feature based on a video game, seems the case for a good conversion does not actually exist. Now if I can only stop Uwe Boll from making any type of film full-stop, then the world will be a better place


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January 2011
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