The Story behind the Story: Compulsory Knowledge for Video Game Movies

The era of geek is upon us, as much as I dislike this sentiment it’s here and without you knowing, it’s changed the way movies are made. Fan’s have made a difference in the stories that are adapted and what makes money for studios in the post-cinematic universe world. Video games and comic books are being adapted in a more faithful way than movies we started seeing in the 90’s were but there is still some issues that need to be examined.

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Comic book movies started the trend of building these cinematic universes and building them well. Extreme care and attention is put into being creative with these characters, their abilities, and adapting story lines that show exactly what  the character is about. Video game movies up until this year have shown very little respect for their source material. If we look back at movies like Super Mario Bros and Street Fighter, we see those trying to adapt those video games very literally. We have giant goomba men, weird evolution, and inter-dimensional travel thrown into a story about a guy trying to rescue a damsel in distress. When talking very abruptly about it we have the mario bros saving the princess from bowser; which sounds just like the game but also doesn’t do a good job of adapting the tone of the game to the tone of the movie. The tone in SMB is a bright, colorful and fun adventure where the movie is a dark and dirty tale of alternate realities and evolution. You can see why that might not work but you can also argue that maybe SMB isn’t the best game to try to make a big budget Hollywood movie about.

In Street Fighter, the story has nothing to do with the game besides M.Bison being the bad guy. A game where the main part of the sotry, the Street fighter tournament, isn’t apart of it one bit. It’s about a civil war between the UN and M. Bison’s army. Ryu and Ken are con-men,  selling faulty weapons to an arms dealer who just happens to be Sagat, and Chun Li is a reporter. There’s so many inaccuracies and attempts to make a movie that only uses the game characters likenesses (sort of) and none of their actual stories to build you’re movies characters or help flesh out the plot. In hindsight it makes sense for two games that don’t have direct story telling or plot to have movies that are so backwards from what the games were. This can also show a pretty big lack of communication between the movie studios producing the films and the creators of the game.

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Ever since then we’ve suffered bad video game movies, it’s a stigma when talking to someone about one of those movies. Some did get closer to the stories and tone of their source material, the original Mortal Kombat, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Resident Evil (1 and maaaybe 2), and Silent Hill. But with every good video game movie, we have way more terrible movies. Just to list a few:

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I believe many of these suffer from a lack of understanding, understanding of who the characters are, what’s good about the story, and the tone and themes of the game.

It’s only a matter of time though, this year we’ve had one video game movie come out and another coming at the end of the year. I’m of course talking about Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed. Normally I don’t like talking about critic scores in video games and movies, but an interesting thing happened with Warcraft; the movie sits at a Metacritic score of 32 and a Rotten Tomatoes score of 27% but the user score is between a 70-80% across both websites. Just by looking at these numbers you can tell that most critics didn’t care for the film, but it was for a fairly similar reason, they were lost. I’m not saying they didn’t watch it right, or that their in any way wrong about what they thought, I simply mean that they didn’t have the required knowledge that it seems to be needed to enjoy these movies. This stems from the opposite problem of movies I mentioned earlier, there’s too much story and the characters are exactly like their video game counterparts; even to a point where you need to have seen or played with these characters to know just on a visual scale, who they are. But, this doesn’t affect die-hard fans of Warcraft, it’s exactly what the people who’ve been with Blizzard since 1994 want. They want to see Anduin, Medivh, Orgrim and all the other iconic Warcraft characters on the big screen and know exactly who they are, what’s going on, and what might come next. Similarly this is how I feel about comic book movies; as a comic book fan I know about who those characters are, what they can do, and what makes them great. Seeing Captain America and Bucky bouncing Cap’s shield around while fighting Iron Man, seeing the Wakandan jungle, having Ant-Man grow big is exactly why I love these movies. It’s the attention to detail and being able to connect with these characters the same way in the books and games I love as I do on-screen.

Every bad video game movie that fails at the box office only fuels the fire to make more faithful adaptations, it shows that this isn’t what the fans want. But can this be a bad thing, can fanaticism curve what is green-lit in Hollywood and possible ruin movies for everyone else who doesn’t give a shit about orcs, Italian plumbers, or spandex clad wall crawlers? We’ve already seen Hollywood turn this way, with more and more reboots of movies coming out, banking on exsiting IP instead of original ideas. Most original ideas do get made into smaller independent movies or are crowdfunded on sites like indiegogo and kickstarter but these movies aren’t seen except by the fans; who are part of the reason they’re there in the first place. But that’s another piece for another day.

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