I have a friendly rivalry with our movie guru Pete Vonder Haar...and by friendly rivalry I mean I've tattooed a reminder to murder him for his beat onto my chest so I see it every morning when I wake up. It's not fair, I tell you! He gets to go to movie screenings, and get cited by other journalists, and grow a real beard, and stuff. By contrast, one of my highest-rated columns involved steampunk dildos.
I console myself by being the staff video game reviewer, which while not as glamorous is still pretty awesome. They come right to my door; I don't even have to leave the house. Nintendo, Square Enix and other big boys of the geek world have my name on a list to send free stuff to. That's a good deal.
Yet, sometimes I remember that I just don't have the legitimacy that Pete has with his Hollywood blockbuster reviews and distinctive style. So in a state of utter and complete pissiness, today I present you with five things I've noticed that video games have over the Hollywood elite.
Name a cinematic remake that topped the original? The 1990 Night of the Living Dead? Maybe Cronenberg's The Fly? The rest are generally unnecessary crap that everyone hates but still goes to see because the American moviegoing public is a lot like Charlie Brown, with Hollywood being Lucy holding the football. We keep hoping, but no dice. Even when they do a shot-for-shot copy of the original like with Van Sant's Psycho, no one is happy.
By contrast, video game remakes are almost always better than the original, and fans clamor for more all the time, to the deaf ears of game makers. Look at the DS remake of Final Fantasy IV that utterly blew away the original, and it was the third remake at that. Or take Super Castlevania IV on the SNES. Here it was given the IV to make American audiences think it was a sequel to Dracula's Curse, but in Japan they knew it for what it was: an incredible reimagining of the first game.
Hell, I put together an entire list of games I keep hoping Nintendo gives the updated DS treatment too. It's a consistent and excellent phenomenon because fans like seeing classic stories given new life with the latest technology. Sure, there are misses...Chrono Trigger comes to mind, as does Ninja Gaiden Trilogy, but the complaint against those titles is that they didn't change enough. It's the opposite of what happens in Hollywood.
What do movies by Michael Bay, Roland Emmerich and almost every other big-budget action flick have in common? When they are released, they are going to derisively be called mindless popcorn fare. There are very few action films that ultimately break free of this stigma.
When it comes to video games and the opposite trend, you have to look no further than BioShock. The series is constantly applauded by critics for its amazing depth, plot twists and philosophical explorations. Those things are all there, true, but they make up maybe an hour total of the 20 or so hours you'll play the game. What makes up the other 19? Shooting murder mutants and setting them on fire with pyrokinesis.
Now, I'm not taking anything away from BioShock. It's my favorite non-Batman game series, but if you made a film with 1 percent deep philosophy and story and 99 percent murder and explosions, I'm pretty sure folks like Pete would call it destruction porn drivel. Put it in a video game and it's like Thomas Aquinas.
Another sad tale I've tackled before is the number of good films that we'll never see in theaters because a studio didn't have the guts to let the directors go R-Rated as they insisted. You can't be too hard on the studios, though. PG-13, and the merchandising and toys that go with such films, is the breaking point for many big-budget vehicles. You can blame the crappy ending of Watchmen all you want, and it deserves that, but I bet you the pinky on my left hand that if they'd toned it down to PG-13, it would've made a lot more money.
Games haven't had this problem since the first Mortal Kombat. Sure, back in the day even the pixilated violence of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for Atari got it banned from stores, but that's long since over. Game makers have almost complete freedom over content now. God of War, Dead Space, the new Sleeping Dogs, these are all big flagship games with incredible amounts of sex and violence thrown in.
But nobody cares because the industry isn't supplemented by toy sales and family night outs. The average gamer's age is 30, and we like to watch boobs jiggle and eyeballs pop. Game makers know this, but there's not a massive league of accountants standing behind them neutering the work like there is for movies.
In the same boat as remakes are sequels. Not many in Hollywood are even up to par with the original, let alone better. Godfather II, of course, and The Dark Knight, and Spider-Man 2 are all on that list. I'd say Gremlins 2: The New Batch, but I've been informed by the Wife With One F that that is a sign of hating life and the light and the laughter of children, so I won't.
Movie sequels have so many rules they have to follow. Fans will bash continuity errors. Losing an actor can be the death of both the script and the turnout. Plus, no matter what you do, there is always the feeling that the whole thing is just kind of pointless anyway. There's a reason all three films I cited are part of trilogies. Trilogies turn sequels into acts rather than films to be judged alone.
Games, though, are meant to seem like endless continuations. A game series is never over, it's always meant to be continued forever until someone stops making them. Why else would people watch Mario beat Bowser and save Peach for almost 30 years with little to no change-up in the overall story?
The Legend of Zelda series is where you want to look for how game sequels compare to movie sequels. Continuity? Hell, until Nintendo finally put out an official timeline a half century later, nobody had any flipping idea how all the sequels tied together and couldn't have cared in the slightest. Losing an actor is also not as big a problem. Sure, it's hard to imagine any future Arkham games without Mark Hamill's Joker or what a Legacy of Kain entry would look like without Tony Jay, but voice actors are and always have been replaceable.
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Here's a cautionary tale to all the aspiring scriptwriters out there. Once upon a time, Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris wrote a script called Nottingham that would've kicked more ass than Liam Neeson trying to get his daughter back from a gang of kidnapping donkeys. It followed the Sheriff of Nottingham as he used 12th century detective techniques to track down a brutal serial killer. Along the way, he runs across a dickish outlaw named Robin Hood, who was being framed for the murder. The whole thing climaxed when Richard the Lionheart lays siege to Nottingham, with the sheriff desperately trying to solve the crime amid the battle.
"Wow," you say. "That movie does sound awesome. Why doesn't someone make it?" They did. In 2010 they called it Robin Hood and it was an absolute insult to the concept of fun. What happened was basically Ridley Scott came in and decided a Robin Hood movie should be exactly like what every other Robin Hood movie before it had been, and more or less gutted a film that might have redefined the historical epic as we know it.
That happens all the time in Hollywood. A big director or an A-list star comes into a project and the next thing you know, they're cutting something to pieces in order to either fit their personal agenda or just make themselves look more badass. Game studios don't have that problem because I dare you to name five game directors off the top of your head.
You can't, because celebriculture doesn't extend to game makers the same way. That's not to say there aren't politics involved. Of course there are. It's just that you'll never see Ellen McLain waltz into Gabe Newell's office, demand she be given a scene where all the turrets tell her how pretty she is, and he gives in to her because otherwise Portal 3 will fail.